Sentimental photo walls, twinkling LED lights and bright tapestries give character and familiarity to the Georgetown University student’s small living space. The artistic and skillful presentation is no small feat considering most dorm rooms begin as 200-square-foot cells with cinder block walls and harsh fluorescent lighting. With a little bit of creativity and effort, though, students turn their cramped dorm rooms into cozy accommodations that reflect their aesthetic vision and provide emotional comfort.
While the traditional interior design industry is shaped by the work of educated professionals, students are the tastemakers of dorm design. Students use each other as a resource for inspiration.
Social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram highlight and advertise individual pieces like shaggy pillows and crisp monochromatic bedspreads as well as entire bedroom ensembles. Instagram accounts like @dorm_decor, which has 10,400 followers, advertise elegant design options with the option to view products through their posts. @dormify, with 214,000 followers, prides itself on its large inventory of home goods and decor of all kinds, with easily accessible links to its products.
Pinterest holds significant appeal for millennials, 50% of whom use Pinterest on at least a monthly basis. Of that group, 47% purchase something they interact with on the site as more and more brands and global marketers dedicate attention to Pinterest advertising. Thousands of posts are dedicated to showcasing picture-perfect dorms on move-in day. While many posts flaunt thoughtful design taste, others give practical advice. A board by Studentrate Trends titled “[Dorm Room] Trends” has nearly 10,000 pins, providing viewers with “room ideas,” “hacks & tips” and “easy DIY” inspiration.
Pinterest offers models of specific aesthetics and themes to be emulated, according to Francesca Burke (SFS ’22), who lives in Copley Hall. Her design style draws heavily on inspiration from Pinterest, with an abundance of fairy lights and tapestries. For Burke, creating a space that is well-lit is valuable not only aesthetically, but practically.
“Decentralized lighting improves my mood and helps me study,” Burke said in an interview with The Hoya.
Cohesive, thematic designs that capture a specific interest are made accessible by Pinterest, allowing students to realize their aesthetic vision. Incorporating travel and international appreciation is a focus of interior design efforts for Max Levine (SFS ’22), who lives in Alumni Square. (Full disclosure: Levine previously served as a staff writer for The Hoya.)
An antique-inspired world map hangs above his bed with classic gold and neutral hues, on which he has marked the places he has traveled to. Beside it is a carefully arranged collage of international postcards, some even written in German, Russian and Chinese.
Pinterest is also a resource for students to get tips and tricks on working with such a difficult canvas like university dorms. Its wealth of hacks on saving space and minimizing clutter can be useful in optimizing these small spaces. Accomodating for space is another issue to be considered in decorating, according to Levine.
“When I lived with my parents, I had too much going on, and I had to scale down,” Levine said in an interview with The Hoya.
Combining practicality and design can be achieved with an eye for detail, according to Escadar Alemayehu (NHS ’22), who lives in Copley Hall. She even finds ways to spruce up her storage.
“When I was at home, I found some decorative storage boxes at Home Goods and decided to bring them over and use them as inspiration,” Alemayehu said.
Still, some prefer to cultivate a distinct aesthetic rather than opting for a cohesive Pinterest-esque theme. Conglomerating diverse interests and specific references to beloved pieces of media and art is an approach to decor embodied by Margaret Neely’s (COL ’22) room in McCarthy Hall. On Neely’s wall, postcard-sized images of “The Simpsons,” ancient pottery, religious iconography and colorful 20th-century advertisements all appear next to each other. Neely’s abundant postcards and tchotchkes reflect disparate interests in a chaotic and almost overwhelming way, yet they all come together in that they each hold value for Neely.
“I would characterize my decorating style as eclectic, probably approaching the ‘I’m a hoarder please help me’ look,” Neely wrote in a message to The Hoya.
The choices students make for their decor does not only involve the realization of an aesthetic vision, but creating a home away from home is also a matter of representing emotional and personal elements to make a room look and feel good.
Using wall and desk space to remind themselves of home gives students’ rooms a comforting ambience that brings liveliness to otherwise cold and sterile walls, according to Neely. She incorporates both the old and new in her photo wall, with printed snapshots of friends as well as years-old black and white photos of relatives.
“I like having reminders of different people and places that I’ve held onto over the years,” Neely wrote. “So I think, at the end of the day, my style of decoration carries with it the intention of creating a personal space that is uniquely my own and full of reminders of things that bring me joy, so that I have this makeshift home just for me.”
For some students, moving to school and condensing their belongings into whatever will fit into a dorm room means prioritizing the objects that reflect their values. Creating photo walls and hanging mementos and souvenirs keep amusing times with family and friends at the forefront of their memory, according to Levine. Across the top of Levine’s bedroom wall hang glossy group photos, strung up with dainty miniature clothespins.
“As I’ve gotten older, the things that matter to me are less material things but more the people that matter to me, so my items are more sentimental. I like to see the people I love when I get up in the morning,” Levine said.
Photos of those near and dear — or often, far away and dear — are not the only memories some students like to incorporate into their decor choices. Baubles from time well spent on campus make for pleasing ornaments and desk adornments, according to Ashley Chen (MSB ’22). She lives in Ida Ryan and Isaac Hawkins Halls, which students must apply to live in. Residents of the hall frequently engage in community events intended to encourage self-reflection and build stronger community bonds, beginning with an orientation to their unique living experience.
“The activity for the Jes Res orientation retreat was actually planting succulents & decorating pots, so you’ll find succulents in all [Jesuit Residence] rooms,” Chen wrote in a message to The Hoya.
Within the four walls of a standard dorm room, students experience everything from late nights studying to relaxing with friends. Some students consider how their decor contributes to their mood and how they might craft a haven amid the tumult of college social and academic life.
Representing positivity with physical surroundings aids in acclimation to living away from family, according to Neely.
“Moving to Georgetown for college was the first time I really had to live away from my family. I think creating a space that reminds me of the people I cherish, as well as my other personal interests (film, The Simpsons, etc.) has been a grounding and calming experience amidst the chaos of college life,” Neely wrote.
Chen employs a minimalist approach because physical clutter reinforces a mental kind of disorganization. She makes a conscious effort to cultivate a tranquil environment by keeping her furnishings simple, clean and bright white, with plenty of open space.
“My design style: minimalistic, open, bright [for a] stress free environment,” Chen wrote.
Despite their small size, dorm rooms can also be transformed into spaces for uplifting social activity and liveliness, as proven by Alemayehu. She sought to create a warm and cozy ambience. To create a more homelike space conducive to social interaction, she and her roommate constructed a makeshift living room with floor pillows and a shag rug in one corner and hung string lights.
“When we were designing we were thinking movie nights and study sessions, just a fun warm vibe where people could come in and talk. We like to leave the big overhead light off and just turn on our string lights! Just a warm and inviting room,” Alemayehu wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Students design their living spaces with consideration for how their surroundings make them feel comfortable and shape their mental states. In this way, the environment students create has much more than just aesthetic value, according to Neely.
“Decorating a dorm isn’t just about curating a space, it’s the opportunity to tailor a space to your specific needs and interests,” Neely wrote. “It’s a valuable way to bring stability and a sense of permanence to your life in college.”