Living with Libby

We asked a pro for all the insider tips and tricks.

When I was a college freshman, Pinterest wasn’t really a thing yet. Technically, it launched just before I started at the University of Michigan (shameless plug here, Go Blue!), but it hadn’t taken over as the fashion, style and DIY go-to resource that it is now. So, when it came to decorating my dorm room, I was lucky that my roommate and I had similar aesthetics and a shared love for ‘Gilmore Girls.’ But now, roommates everywhere are creating shared Pinterest boards for their ~~Dream Dorm~~ like this extravagant space.

But even despite all this inspiration, college freshmen inevitably run into the same problems over and over again on move-in day. So, we asked Chad Esslinger, a Chicago Merchandise Mart Designer-On-Call, for some tips on those age-old dorm room problems.

Problem 1: Size

The average dorm room is only 12 x 19 feet, which comes out to 228 square feet to split between two people! If possible, Esslinger recommends lofting your bed and putting your desk or a futon underneath to utilize all the space you have.

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If you choose not to (or aren’t allowed to) loft your bed, you can use shallow bins under the bed to store items you don’t need to get to as often. Esslinger also strongly believes that as hard as it may seem, your room should be a “clutter-free zone.” When everything has a designated place, your space will feel more roomy. Take five minutes before collapsing in bed to tidy up—it’ll go a long way.

As for the rest of your furniture, while there’s no magic way to arrange it perfectly since all pieces are different, Esslinger recommends leaving plenty of walking room to create the feel of more space in the room. And even if you love your furniture on an angle, arranging pieces at a 90-degree angle against the walls maximize your (tiny) floor space.

Bonus: string lights add a cozy feel under a lofted bed. It also helps to create a little “me space” which can be useful living in such close quarters.

Problem 2: Roommate Collaboration

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Not everyone gets to room with their best friend from high school or meet someone perfect at orientation, so when you show up on move-in day and your styles clash like socks with sandals, Esslinger says there’s really no getting around it. He recommends embracing the eclectic nature and having fun with your differences. You can even make a whimsical divider on the wall to delineate the two sides and styles of the room.

Problem 3: Decorating Rules

When you’ve hauled all your boxes and bags into your room, your inevitably too-peppy RA will hand you a packet of dorm rules that will surely cramp your college dreams in more ways than just decoratively. But to skirt the annoying decorative rules (like no holes in the walls, no painting, etc.) Esslinger recommends making good use of double-sided adhesives—like Command Strips—to hang posters and artwork to the wall with no problems.

To add even more flair to your beige walls,washi tape has taken off as a fun way to create photo frames or other cool designs without leaving any damage behind.


If the small flair isn’t your style, you can cover a huge portion of your wall with a bold tapestry instead.

To make the most of ‘hidden space,’ add over-the-door hooks and/or a hanging mirror on closet doors to add space for coats and sweatshirts that are super bulky and take up more than their due space in drawers.

Problem 4: Blah Dorm Furniture

And finally, the biggest downer of a dorm room, the fact that your furniture staples and lots of cute accents (carpeting, curtains, lighting) are provided for you with no other options.

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Esslinger loves to add accent pillows to give a room color and style against the blah backdrop. Patterned blankets and pillows also help make your bed even cozier since usually the mattresses are standard issue, too. Having some lightweight and versatile pieces like folding chairs or bean bags can also help create more seating and a personalized (but portable) hang out area.

Chad says a rug can make a huge impact on a small space.

As for the carpeting, he recommends getting a stylish area rug or two to put in the middle of the space to liven up the whole room. It will even help cover ugly or boring carpeting.

The fluorescent lighting in most dorms makes you feel like you’re in a classroom, and trust us when we say you’ll have plenty of that anyway. Esslinger prefers ditching the overhead lighting completely and using lamps in a few different places instead.

Definitely get one floor lamp and a stylish desk lamp or two to brighten up your space at night, and keep your curtains pulled open to make use of the sunlight for as long as you can.

Target has tons of cute (and affordable) lamps, so you can ditch the fluorescent ones.

No matter how you end up decorating, Esslinger recommends you keep the three main purposes of your dorm in mind as you make decisions: sleeping, studying and socializing. Take each into account and figure out how to incorporate them into your perfect design!