Pink. Everywhere. And not soft, gentle pastels. Pink as in screaming Mardi Gras hot pink.
Jasmine Carter of Richmond can laugh now about the color her roommate chose for decking out the dorm, but this past fall, when she arrived at UC Santa Barbara, Carter was hardly amused.
"I'm not a girlie-girl," she says. "I was more into the black-and-white, classic look. When I walked into my dorm room that first day, it felt like I'd been swallowed up in Pepto-Bismol."
Carter's solution: mix and match. She convinced her roommate to add some black and white throw pillows and hang classic black-and-white movie posters. In exchange, Carter gussied up her bed with pink throw pillows and draped a pink and black swag over the room's neutral beige curtains.
"We sort of met in the middle," Carter says.
When it comes to living in the often cramped confines of a college dorm, personalities can clash easily, ruining the concept of "Dorm Sweet Dorm." The trick, say the experts, is to strike a balance and maximize space.
"Tuition may have increased over time, but the size of the average dorm room has not," jokes Bari Fagin, spokesperson for Bed Bath & Beyond. "Planning in advance and using some basic tools will help make getting to college a lot easier than it was to get into college."
Dorm decorating is a big business — students and parents spent $4.7 billion in 2007 on dorm and back-to-college merchandise, says the National Retail Federation — which is why many retail outlets offer resources for college-bound students.
Bedbathand beyond.com has a checklist for students to mark off items they are bringing from home or still need to buy. The Container Store hosts annual college night events around the country (although there are none scheduled for the Bay Area this year). IKEA has a dorm-themed Web site (www.roommateliving.com) with pictures and video. And Pottery Barn's PBTeen packs products and ideas in its online "Dorm Central" (www.pbteen.com).
Retailers aren't the only ones dispensing advice. DormDelicious.com, an online site maintained by college students, includes decorating tips, articles and user-submitted dorm photos.
Andrew Skinner, who graduated in May from Brown University, founded the Web site in 2006 because of the dearth of relevant online resources. "All the articles were outdated, impersonal and often written by people who had been out of college for decades," Skinner says. "Needless to say, the advice wasn't very good, and they weren't that entertaining to read. I wanted to make a relatable and humorous Web site that would offer relevant and practical advice in a way that didn't seem parental or pedantic."
For most college-bound students, dorm living is their first foray into living parent-free. And they want their new space to reflect who they are.
"Teens today are really tech-savvy, so they're looking for new innovative ways that suit their lifestyle," says Sarah Plamondon, PBTeen spokesperson. "They want functionality, but also products and decor that are innovative, fun and look good."
Add trendy to the mix, too. "Teens are very aware of the events going on in the world today," says Olescia Hanson, spokesperson for the Container Store. "A really hot trend is going green and eco-friendly."
While all of these may come into play, sometimes the end result is more about flexibility than duplicating something pictured in a catalog.
Kat Loo of Walnut Creek has to wait until August for details about her room at UC Davis, but the incoming freshman has given plenty of thought to bedding.
"Because I'm a girl, I like to color-coordinate things," she explains. "My comforter is black and white. The sheets are baby blue. My towels are baby blue. But then someone bought me a throw blanket that's red."
Loo paused. "I haven't quite figured out how everything will go together."
And if her roommate's style is different from her own? "As long as she doesn't do anything to my side, we won't have a problem," she says. "But if she migrates over to my stuff, then we might have to talk."
Reach Ann Tatko-Peterson at 925-952-2614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
tips for decorating
The average dorm room has two roomies sharing a 12 feet by 19 feet area. Here are a few ways to maximize space in tight quarters.
Before making any major purchases, check with school officials on what is and isn't allowed. Lofts: Not all colleges allow these, but if they do, it might be a worthwhile investment. A loft raises the bed off the floor, while leaving space underneath for a desk or sitting area. PBTeen packs a lot into its Sleep & Study Loft (available in white or espresso): a desk with a pullout keyboard, two bookcases with lots of storage space and a corkboard. ($1,799.) Underbed: Many dorm beds already sit high off the floor. For those that don't, try bed risers or the RackRaiser (www.rackraiser.com) to create more underbed real estate. Then invest in some durable underbed boxes, such as the 3-foot long canvas underbed chest from DormBuys.com. It features a clear zip-up top so you can seal it and still see what's inside. ($9.49.) Shelf systems: Olescia Hanson from the Container Store reminds students to think vertically. "Dorm rooms are usually pretty high, so you want shelving to utilize that vertical space." And not all shelf systems require wall mounting. Bed Bath & Beyond has a no-tools-required Dorm Space Saver, a shelf system that spans the bed and includes an adjustable shelf and beverage holder. ($59.99.) Multi-use stands: These range from file carts to night stands that serve multiple functions. The Container Store has a nifty compact fridge cart by elfa that features three deep drawers for storage, a sturdy shelf to hold a refrigerator and wheels for movability. ($129.)
Dress it up
Functional accessories now come in jazzy decorative styles to add color and art to plain dorm rooms. Here are a few ideas: Screen dividers: These can provide a little privacy in a shared room without taking up much space. A personal favorite is the Sporty Room Divider by PBTeen. A corkboard, pinboard (covered with decorative fabric) and dry-erase board make up the three panels of the screen. ($299.) Trash can: Who says these have to be boring? Decorative trash bins are all the rage. Check out the Container Store's Umbra Graphic Cans in three computer-generated designs and made of biodegradable plastic. ($14.99.) Tote boxes: Plain cardboard boxes and solid-color plastic bins are out. Decorative totes are in. These are great for storing books and supplies, clothes and other odds and ends. The Container Store has a large array of fabric tote box designs. The boxes come in three sizes with zippered closures, Velcro tabs and labels on the outside. ($14.99-$24.99 each.) Wall decor: Posters aren't the end-all for covering plain dorm walls. Removable wall murals, decals and other decorative touches are "fun but not permanent ways to add color and art work without punching holes in walls," says Sarah Plamondon, PBTeen spokesperson. Style Tile sets from PBTeen combine a pegboard, chalkboard, corkboard, dry-erase boards and fabric-covered tackboards in stylish designs. Teens can mix and match to build their own. ($299.)
Just plain cool
Although not necessities, these gadgets are irresistible and available from multiple retailers: Bed desk: The adjustable bed desk from As Seen on TV has multiple angle positions, a built-in mouse pad and a built-in LED light. ($29.99 and up.) Mini-Mantle: Stuck on the top bunk? Two college students designed a shelf that fits on the post of most beds and is strong enough to hold an alarm clock, book or beverage. ($19.99 and up.) Socket Pocket: This plastic pocket sticks to the wall next to an outlet and fits most cell phones, iPods and digital cameras so they won't get lost on a messy desk while they're charging. ($6.99 and up.) Neverlate Alarm Clock: This clock features seven independent daily alarm settings and a nap timer that won't disrupt them. It also has a custom snooze duration from 1-30 minutes and an AM/FM radio. ($34.99 and up.)
Check out the resources referenced in the story: Bed Bath & Beyond -- www.bedbathandbeyond.com; 800-462-3966. Container Store -- www.containerstore.com; 800-786-7315. DormBuys -- www.dormbuys.com; 866-502-3676. DormDelicious -- www.dormdelicious.com. IKEA -- www.ikea.com/us/en. (college site: www.roommateliving.com.); 800-434-4532. Pottery Barn's PBTeen -- www.pbteen.com.; 866-472-4001.
Trying to prepare your home away from home? The Container Store suggests considering what you need based on the basic six areas of organization. Closet -- "Usually dorm room closets are tiny and dark with just one pole on the top," says Container Store spokesperson Olescia Hanson. "So we suggest students pack for that season." Also add utility to a closet with double-hang rods and hanging shelf bags or shoe pocket bags. Walls and doors -- Walls and doors aren't just for decoration. Make the space usable with adhesive hooks (Command makes some that can hold up to 10 pounds) and over-the-door racks. For hanging posters, pictures and more without damaging wall paint, try Cling Thing Display Strip ($8.49) and Removable Glue Dots ($1.99) from DormBuys.com. Desk -- Turn a small and plain space into a functional desk with stacking bins, drawer organizers and file boxes. A personal favorite: Bed Bath & Beyond's Organizer Desk Lamp, pictured right ($12.99), which features a tape dispenser, pen holder and mini storage containers in the lamp's base. Laundry -- "Chances are, you're going to have to haul it across campus, so you need something portable," Hanson says. Collapsible hampers take up minimal space and come in a range of options, including an overdoor cargo hamper from the Container Store ($24.99) and hampers with three compartments for sorting as you go. Bath -- Portable and organized are key here with students often sharing a communal bathroom. Among the many shower caddy and tote options, the Pop Up Dorm Caddy, pictured right ($3.99) from DormBuys.com. has a drain hole and a spring frame to let the nylon mesh tote stand or fold flat. Storage -- "The average college student moves eight times from a dorm to an apartment and back home for the summer, so they need flexibility with their storage," Hanson says. The options are seemingly endless, from shelves, drawers and cubes to baskets, storage boxes and bins. A multi-use favorite is the storage ottoman (starting at $69.99, available at multiple retail stores). Remove the top to reveal space inside and a tray on the flip side.
-- Ann Tatko-Peterson