Design Lesson

Decorating a dorm room on a budget

Style at Home
Design Lesson

Decorating a dorm room on a budget

One of the biggest adjustments for students going off to college or university is getting used to dorm life. Whether it’s a move to a residence or a small off-campus apartment, space is limited when you’re on a student’s budget, not to mention the difficulty of creating a look of your own.

STYLE AT HOME’s style editor Karl Lohnes has teamed up with online community marketplace to create a dorm-style room fit for any student or city dweller living in a very small space. With a budget of $1000, Karl set out to create a dorm room for less, and ended up cutting his budget in half – the entire room was put together for only $500!

With expert advice from Karl, we show you how to create a budget-friendly and stylish dorm-style room, complete with tips and tricks on how you can make this work for any small space in your own home.

1 Storage, storage, storage
When dealing with a small space like this one, storage room and organization are absolute essentials. “For this room, I chose a captain’s style bed,” notes Karl. “There are drawers under the bed, which means you can save room on a dresser, and that cuts down on the budget.” By incorporating multi-functional furniture into your space, your money can be saved to put towards accessorizing your room rather than having to purchase more items of furniture. Also, by purchasing a few plastic rolling storage units and baskets, you can easily change up storage areas in any part of your room.

2 Create changeable seating options

Just because you’re in a dorm room or small space doesn’t mean you can’t entertain. Meeting new people is an exciting part of starting college, and inviting friends to your dorm can only be possible if you incorporate different seating options. “In this room, I’ve bought this vintage chair from for $60, and there’s also the option of turning your desk chair around or using a storage ottoman as a seat,” Karl points out. “Since this bed isn’t very deep, it can be made into a day bed. Just throw some pillows along the back by the wall, and you’ve created another seating option.”

3 Choose your colour palette wisely
Karl’s tips on choosing colours for your dorm room decor? If you’re a student on a tight budget, use neutrals for your furniture so that you’ll only need to update your accessories when colour trends change. “The rug, which was a steal on for $60, established the focus on bold colour in the room. However, if you look at the furniture in the room, which was also bought online, it’s all neutral.” So, with the walls, Karl chose to paint one wall a monochromatic grey, and left the rest a neutral shade. “If you’re able to paint, use a colour that will make the rest of the colours in the room pop. And if you can’t paint, maybe hang some vintage drapes up behind your bed,” he says.

4 Stick to your budget
We all know what it’s like to fall in love with a piece of furniture or home accessory, only to find out that it’s far beyond our price range. Karl advises to set a budget and stick to it absolutely. This means going to box stores that you know are in your price range, as well as checking out the discount stores that have items priced 20-60% off (like HomeSense, where all the room’s accessories were purchased from). It’s also a good idea to plan out how much you want to spend on each item in the room, and avoid visiting stores that you know have beautiful items that are outside of your budget.

5 Use the internet
Coming from a computer generation, today’s students are super savvy with the internet, making it easy to navigate all the great sites for home decor. Not only do many online retailers allow you to search for items with a maximum price level – ensuring you’re within your budget – but you can also choose to buy new from businesses or buy used goods from online communities. “Sites like are great because the price is right, and since it’s people selling great items they no longer need, it saves them from dumping it at a landfill,” Karl adds.


Karl Lohnes’ DOs and DON’Ts for a dorm-style small space

DO use ambience lighting. Many residences don’t allow for candles to be lit, so an alternative option is to purchase a small light with a low wattage so you can leave it on at night and feel safe coming home to a room that isn't completely dark.

DON’T overuse patterns. A lot of pattern in a small space can be overwhelming, so it’s best to choose solid colours for larger items, like the fuschia rug. That allows for more patterns to be used for the room’s accessories.

DO buy items that are proportionate to your room size. Buying a queen or king size bed might suit your fancy, but it won’t leave you much room for anything else in a dorm-style space.

permanently attach things to your walls. The last thing the landlord wants is for you to drill holes in the walls, so another option is to use Sticky Tack to hang items on the walls or have a freestanding bookshelf to display items rather than a wall shelf.


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Design Lesson

Decorating a dorm room on a budget