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September 17, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, September 17, 2004

A room of one's own A room of one's own (September 17, 2004)

Personalization is key when decorating a dorm room

By Anna Galan

Stuffed animals, thrift-store finds, furry rugs and poodle-shaped string lights. You won't find these items in any designer's top-10 list or in any decorating magazine. But for many college students, that is what decorating their dorm room is all about.

It seems that at any home or decorating store you visit these days, there is a huge push toward dorm-room style. From entire Web sites dedicated to college "necessities" and specialized product lines, to car giveaways and promotions, the market for college students is getting hotter as the school year starts. The choices are greater than ever before; never have so many extra-long twin-sheet sets been available.

But some college students say that the hype just isn't for them. Decorating dorm rooms isn't just about picking perfectly coordinated sheets, rugs, kitchen appliances and organizational accessories, they say. It is about creating self-representative, personal space that is both stylish and functional.

While getting matching everything can be fun, for many students on a budget, that is out of the question. Personal items, such as pictures, room accents and wall decor become the defining characteristics of a room.

"Aside from sheets, towels and clothes, to make a dorm room feel your own, you need to bring things from home, like photos and posters," said Laura Pearson, an undergraduate student at Stanford.

As a resident assistant in Otero dormitory a year ago, Pearson was a live-in counselor and adviser to 82 freshman residents. She witnessed many students' approaches to decorating while also attempting to create her own ideal space.

"Decorating a dorm room is harder than people think," Pearson said. "Often, it's the first time decorating your own room. If you're a perfectionist like I am, you want it to look great."

That year, Pearson, who, for the first time did not have a roommate, struggled to fit a full-size futon, twin-size bed, desk, armoire, chest of drawers and bookshelf into her room, which measured about 6-and-a-half by 11 feet.

Pearson's room was decorated with her own personal touches -- a quilt she had made herself, posters of London, where she studied during a summer, and pictures of family and friends.

She noted that "a lot of boys don't do that kind of stuff," but instead, leave their walls bare. "Although it makes the room look bigger, it doesn't look very inviting."

Pearson said that most freshmen in her dorm kept distinct sides of their room to themselves. One roommate would take the left side of the room; the other would take the right. It was a rare case where students would bunk their beds and "mix things up a little."

"People tend to do that more after their freshman year, when they are choosing the people they live with in dorms," Pearson said.

Some schools tell students their future roommate's name and phone number during the summer, so they can plan who will bring certain items, such as a television, phone, refrigerator or microwave.

"Stanford's different in that you don't know who your roommate is before you get there, which makes it hard to coordinate who is going to bring what," Pearson said. "But, it kind of makes it more exciting too."

Pearson recalled her freshman year, when one of the first things that she and her roommate did together was go shopping.

"We coordinated on the colors a bit," Pearson said. "Our patterns (of bedspreads) were different, but we both had the pastel colors going."

On the other hand, for first-time decorators, without years of college under their belts, the "one-stop shopping" lure of some places can simplify life. Bed Bath & Beyond's "Shop for College" Web site is organized into categories, such as sleep, eat, study and organize. There is even a section called "survival 101" full of articles about college life, classes, decorating tips and strategies for getting along with roommates.

While some students dislike the commerciality of these places, they say that they still enable them to create an original look, if you just know where to look.

Lucy Goodnough, who is studying architecture at Stanford, recommended Target for inexpensive finds.

"I've used Target as a resource since they've recruited top designers, like Michael Graves and Cynthia Rowley," Goodnough said.

Goodnough purchased a colorful rug by Todd Oldham at Target for the room she lived in last year. She lived on Stanford campus in the cooperative house Chi Theta Chi, where she shared a room with four other girls.

Her sense of style comes from contrasting patterns she says most people would shy away from mixing, like florals and stripes.

"My favorite part of the room is an area that has this blue-and-while polka-dotted chair belonging to my roommate sitting next to my red antique cabinet."

Her decorating secret? Grace Josephine Décor in Palo Alto, which she recently discovered.

"They import Chinese antiques, and sometimes they put stuff on sale, and that brings it into my range. A few of their smaller items are affordably priced, and those make nice accents."

Many of the room's focal points were centered on things she has created herself. Above her desk hung several of her paintings. Her desk had many accessories from Levengers catalog. She also used wooden dowels to hang curtains that were hung above windows and from the ceiling to create partitions in the room.

"We've gone through several furniture iterations as we juggle four preferences for where people like to have their sleeping, studying and relaxing centered."

Goodnough had several recommendations for creating a suitable living space. The three essential elements that should be considered: seating, storage and bed.

"Social seating is important because otherwise you just get people lingering in the doorway, or in the middle of the room, and you don't want to have to kick your roommate out of their desk chair so you can make room for your guest."

Goodnough also said that "since you're spending half your time in your bed anyway, you need to invest proportional amounts of money and thought in that space."

Other key elements: good lighting, laundry and shower totes, a big rug, bulletin board or white board, a full-length mirror and filing space. Many products can help with storage and organization, like double-hanging racks and shoe shelves in the closet, under-bed storage boxes, mesh or plastic shelving and behind-the-door units.

"Decorating is mainly just trial and error," Goodnough said. "A big part of creating a space is just being able to invest a lot of time into rearranging a room."

Since most students move from year to year, decorating seems to be a continuing process.

"Part of the fun of being a college student is that mostly you have roommates, and it's always a roll of the dice what aesthetic sense they'll have," Goodnough said.

"Maybe they'll have an entire line of leopard print, but you just have to lower your expectations a notch for how well your room is going to coordinate."

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