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Dorm Room Design Hacks with Elizabeth Aaron

Dorm Room Décor

Elizabeth Aaron makes the definitive list of tricks and tools to make your dorm room a real home away from home. Elizabeth is an acclaimed interior designer, founder of Elizabeth Aaron Interior Design, and author of the Four Friends Design Blog.

Congratulations! Countless hours of studying and years of hard work have paid off – you’re college-bound! Now what? Time to get organized! You’ve come to the right place. I’ve divided the task of packing into key categories:

  • Décor
  • Furniture
  • Linens
  • Storage / Organization
  • Bath
  • Cleaning
  • Kitchen
  • Personal


It’s amazing how trendy dorm rooms have become. Students today spend a lot of time and take great pride in personalizing their home away from home. An area rug is a great way to warm up a utilitarian space. Outdoor rugs stand up to heavy traffic and are forgiving with spills. Surya offers hundreds of options at affordable prices. (You can save more buying through a trade source. Feel free to order through me at elizabeth@4friendsdesign.com)

Ikea has always been a favorite source for affordable framed art. Avoid damaging walls by picking up Command picture hanging strips from Target.Task lighting is helpful when reading “the old fashioned way” from a text book. Ikea offers lots of affordable options including this colorful USB powered LED desk lampIkea’s Rice paper lanterns are an affordable way to soften utilitarian overhead lighting.

Gotta have a full-length mirror! Ikea has everything from a simple over-the-door model to stylishly framed versions. Keep your desk clutter-free and everything in view with The Container Store’s multi-function utility board. If your school is strict about hanging art, a simple solution is wall decals. Amazon features dozens, from inspirational quotes to polka dots to life-size trees.


If you’ve got the room and the budget, you will not regret this purchase. These Modway swings cost designers half of what they sell for at retailers and are so comfy you’ll never want to get up! (I’m happy to process Modway to-the-trade orders on your behalf at elizabeth@4friendsdesign.com).

If you don’t have the room or the budget, a simple butterfly chair never fails. Students will spend countless hours at their desk. Switching between standing and sitting has become a more ergonomic way to work. Yes, students get a desk in their room but for under $200 they can have an Ameriwood lift-top desk that will make getting through college that much easier. And when it’s time to sit, why not do so in a Modway knock-off of the big name, state-of-the-art adjustable desk chair for under $100?

A headboard might seem like a luxury reserved for home but at under $100 for a Modway twin headboard, it’s a plunge some students are willing to take to make their rooms extra special. A functional nightstand is important. Bed Bath & Beyond’s adjustable storage cart is a practical solution at an affordable price.


College towels rarely get hung up properly to dry. I highly recommend oversized Command hooks from Target to make it easier. And Quick Dry hand and bath towels from Bed Bath & Beyond. While everyone loves the luxury of an oversized bath sheet, standard size bath towels just dry faster.

Bedding is very personal. I am a big fan of an all-white bed so sheets can be bleached to keep them clean. I advise against percale sheets since their trademark crispness can make them surprisingly noisy. All cotton sheets help minimize sweaty nights. I prefer the smooth feel of sateen. Be sure to buy Twin XL for all bedding unless your school indicates otherwise. Pillows should be selected based on how you sleep (side vs back). A standard size down-alternative has the most appeal. I especially like the quality and value of The Company Store. The Company Store also offers a variety of colored, quilted comforters that require no cover. As with pillows, I prefer a down-alternative comforter. You’ll want to choose the weight based on if you’re a hot or cool sleeper and where your school is located. Better to err on the side of a light or medium weight comforter and add a cozy fleece blanket in the winter if necessary.

Why do you need a waterproof mattress cover, you may ask? Have you considered how many students slept on that mattress before you? Have you ever spilled your coffee in bed? Choose wisely. The lesser quality ones have crinkly waterproof layers that are noisy. Target offers affordable laundry bags that stand on their own so, technically, double as a hamper. You’ll want two: one for lights and one for darks. It will negate the need to sort in the dungeon your college calls their laundry room. Last but certainly not least: the memory foam mattress topper. This item will make the difference between a good night sleep vs tossing and turning. Costco offers a good selection at a great price.


Bed risers. Greatest invention ever. Double your storage space by raising your bed. This model from Bed Bath & Beyond even has an outlet and USB port! Target has a big and affordable selection of underbed storage bins.

Slim flocked hangers. Another genius invention. Hang more in less space without items slipping off. If you only get one style, the suit hanger works well for both tops and pants. If you want even more room in your closet, consider The Container Store’s Lynk Double Hang Closet Rod. Why clutter the floor of your closet when you can hang your shoes? Bed Bath & Beyond’s 10-shelf  hanging shoe organizer is a great and affordable solution.

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