Dorm room ideas: 16 budget-friendly looks and products

These cute dorm room ideas are fun, on-trend, and affordable, so you can live a cool college life without homeware hand-me-downs

A grey dormitory room with bed, cushion decor and faux brick wallpaper wall covering
(Image credit: Dormify)

If you're heading back to campus, then our dorm room ideas are all you need to help inspire your space. Dormitories aren't known for their dreamy interiors, or lighting so it's the perfect opportunity to get creative with your surroundings. 

This is your home-from-home for a while, so it's worth going all-out in your dorm room to make sure that you have your own personal piece of paradise to come home to everyday after class.

Whether you're studying, socializing, watching Netflix or snoozing, we've rounded up our favorite dorm room looks that are both stylish and comfortable (including turning that far-from-best bed into something you can sleep on without a sore back).

From preppy to jockstar and everything in between, these diverse dorm room decor designs get an A grade for aesthetic and affordability. Because college is expensive enough as it is, but you still deserve a stylish space.

Dorm room ideas: preparation is everything

'Before you start, make sure you know the dorm rules about decorating and bringing in your own bed or other furniture,' says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot (opens in new tab)

'If you can’t make holes in the walls, for example, you can hang posters and other wall art with an adhesive or hanging hooks or strips that won’t cause damage. Some schools charge fines for altering dorm rooms without permission.'

Before you turn up, we recommend checking out the Command store on Amazon (opens in new tab) for hooks, strips and clips that can be attached to your wall damage free. They can be used to put up pictures, fix fairy lights (a dorm room must-have) and create a place to hang towels, coats and bags.

1. First things first, invest in a good mattress

A Happsy organic mattress on wooden bed frame with wooden breakfast tray, ceramic mug, and colorful cushions

(Image credit: Happsy)

College deadlines are stressful enough without a rough night's sleep on a worn worn bed. So Investing in the best mattress will ensure that dorm dwellers won't wake up with aches and pains after all that studying (and a little partying).

'Dorm mattresses are notoriously uncomfortable, plus, they’ve been around,' says Happsy, who produced the first certified organic mattress-in-a -box and have their own Amazon shop front (opens in new tab).

'Whether you’re searching for the perfect Twin XL (opens in new tab) or are moving into your first off-campus apartment, you’ll want a comfy mattress to come home to after pulling an all-nighter,'

'With the stress and workload that comes with college life, nothing is more important than getting healthy sleep.'

'If your child is going to a college where they do not allow you to bring your own mattress, our Happsy Organic Mattress Topper (opens in new tab) could be the perfect addition to make your child’s bed comfortable and their own.

A simple solution is to contact the residence hall office and verify whether you can take your own mattress. They will allow it for certain circumstances, but you should always get permission first.

And while we think you need to buy the best mattress you can afford, you can actually get some really good cheap mattresses under the $500 mark. Once done with it at college, you could use it on a spare bed or sleeper sofa.

2. Go boho in your dorm room

A shared bedroom with olive green bedding, butterfly motif wall hanging, macrame decor and round wooden open shelving

(Image credit: Dormify)

Bohemian style is everywhere, so why not channel this instagrammable style with tons of pale pink and burnt orange, woven wall hangings, piles of throw pillows and plenty of the best indoor houseplants (because that dorm-room air can get stuf-fy so the benefits of houseplants will definitely kick in here).

It is a versatile look that lends itself well to mis-matched eclectic finds and lots of these elements could be used in a living space or studio apartment when you leave college.

3. Snag a stylish (and ergonomic) desk chair

A student bedroom with white work desk, pastel green chair from Article and Snake indoor potted houseplant

(Image credit: twist_of_lemons)
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If your school doesn't provide desk furniture, take this as a chance to BYO in style. Instead of a standard, corporate-looking black design chair, opt for a brightly colored retro-inspired version, or go super-sophisticated with cane details. While screen breaks are essential, if you're sitting in a comfy desk chair like this SVELTI seat from Article (opens in new tab), you're less like to procrastinate or go on the hunt for snacks.

'Students spend hours working away sat at their desk, so it is crucial they invest in a chair which is going to support them properly,' says Lucinda Newbound, senior ergonomics advisor at Back in Action (opens in new tab).

'Sitting in unsuitable chairs will lead to back pain, poor posture, sore neck and shoulders, and sitting still for prolonged periods of time can lead to reduced circulation, with blood and lymph systems working more slowly.'

'We believe in "Active Seating", a process of keeping the body moving whilst sat down, to strengthen the core muscles and allow the spine to be in its natural curved shape, replicating the position of the spine when standing. What’s more, upright sitting opens up the chest for deeper breathing which is a must when it comes to dealing with stressful deadlines at University.'

4. Create a comfy space that's injected with identity

A grey dormitory room with bed, cushion decor and faux brick wallpaper wall covering

(Image credit: Dormify)

We can't stress enough: accessories are your BFF when it comes to creating a home-from-home bedroom idea. And while you can't transport your room in your family home to your dormitory, you can do a darn good job with soft furnishings, wall decor and the sort.

This dreamy millennial-inspired scheme, with bedding from Dormify (opens in new tab), takes inspo from the 90's/Y2K with pastel purples, greys and pinks, and bits and bobs that pay homage to popular culture. It's girly, but not granny! Cushions can also double up as floor seats and something to rest your notebook on (though we recommend investing in a proper laptop stand to avoid straining your back – because croissant-shaped posture isn't cute!)

5. Get a rug to hide all former sins 

A college student bedroom with bed, white bedding and black/white area rug floor decor

(Image credit: @goldenhourabode)
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We hate to break it to you, but that dorm floor has seen it all. Liquor, vomit, gum, you name it – the carpet in your room has paid the price through collateral damage. But, if you're the type that likes to sit on the floor to study, or like inviting friends over, invest in a rug to hide gross stains on your bedroom flooring.

If on the flip side you've had a vino-shaped accident and don't want to pay damages here's how to remove red wine stains off of your walls, floors and furniture.

'Area rugs add a pop of personality to your dorm room while serving as a soft element under foot.' says  says Sherri Monte, interior designer and owner of Elegant Simplicity (opens in new tab).

'Along with your bed and bedding, a rug can be a focal point in your dorm room.'

And interior specialist, Nicola Croughan of Blinds Direct (opens in new tab) concurs. She says: 'Rugs are a perfect way to bring your own personal touch to your room. The reason for this is because a rug doesn’t need to be secured down, which means you aren’t restricted to where you put it, giving you creative reign.'

Shop this exact Moroccan ornate plush rug at Ruggable (opens in new tab)

6. Add a mirror

A student bedroom with white wall paint decor, framed wall art and black framed mirror

Shop the look at Dormify (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Dormify)

Unfortunately, dorm accommodation prices are what they are. Ultimately, they are close to campus and provide the basic amenities you need... even if they are the size of a shoebox.

With that in mind, trick yourself into a bigger space by opting for a strategically-placed mirror idea. 1) You'll need it anyway to check your outfits pre-party, and 2) It'll create the illusion of a larger floorplan.

7. Invest in multiple light sources

A very small bedroom with bed, assortment of bedding and soft furnishings and tall black lampshade fixture with windowsill decor

(Image credit: Dunelm)

Dorm rooms can be a real gamble when it comes to lighting. Some come with large windows, others are essentially 'land-locked' into the property with little light. And what is it with the bed and light switch being on the opposite side of the room?

If you like to sit in bed to read or study, or need to pee in the middle of the night, it's nice to have additional small bedroom lighting options dotted around the room. One next to the bed, and a good desk light should see you through. Don't forget LED strip lighting – such a cheap and easy way to makeover the space, and they come in a variety of bright and pastel shades.

And, if you do suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp (available on Amazon) (opens in new tab) will do wonders to boost your mood.

8. Go for a neutral color scheme

A nautical-themed blue and cream shared bedroom with two single beds

(Image credit: Dormify)

Prefer a modern look? You can't go wrong with a black and white design, or a neutral theme. Among the many benefits of a monochrome color scheme: it's easy to pull together, it's soothing, and if you're looking for shared bedroom ideas, this simple scheme go with almost anything your roommate adds to the space.

'Make sure your dorm room ideas for decor won't bother your roommate,' says Fishburne.

'Get in touch before you move in and talk about coordinating your color scheme, wall art and bedding. Many college students go dorm shopping together for items like a desk lamp and matching bedding.'

A light neutral scheme will also help a dark and gloomy dorm feel fresh and brighter. Bedding is a great way to get to do this, as this scheme from Dormify (opens in new tab) shows, and means you can switch up and coordinate the look at random.

9. Give your walls some love

A tie-dye wall planner from Wayfair in bedroom with boucle cream chair and pen pot

(Image credit: Wayfair)

While you can't paint the walls in your dorm room, you can still add a pop of color with a little creative thinking. Treat it like a rental property and try wall decals, like this wall planner from Wayfair (opens in new tab) shown above, and a painted peg board in a color that coordinates with your decor.

The best peel-and-stick wallpaper is a little more of an investment, but can do wonders to that questionable shade of magnolia that might adorn college rooms.

A pink dorm room with neon LED light fixture

(Image credit: Dormify)

Another great way to add life to your walls without causing permanent damage is to hang art without frames. Gather a bunch of wall art prints you love from places like Dormify (opens in new tab) (seen above), Society 6 (opens in new tab), or Etsy (opens in new tab) and use washi tape to hang them to the wall. Bonus: Buying art without frames is way cheaper, too.

11. Style a storage trolley

A mint green storage trolley with castor wheels in bedroom

(Image credit: Walmart)

In a small space like a dorm room, bedroom storage is essential, so don't forget to add plenty to your design plans. We love storage trolleys like this one from Walmart (opens in new tab) for both storing things such as school supplies and shower caddies, but they're also a fun style opportunity, too. 

Designate one or two shelves for decor like fancy candles, or your favorite books to create a homey vibe. 

12. Add a faux headboard

A bedroom with faux brick wall wallpaper decor, tufted velvet upholstered headboard and cushion with eyelash detail

(Image credit: Dormify)

Let's face it: the dorm room furniture your school provides isn't the most stylish. But, you don't have to settle for a standard-issue bed.  A faux headboard, like this one from Dormify (opens in new tab), attaches to the wall behind your bed with Command picture-hanging strips, available on Amazon (opens in new tab)

Failing that you could have a go at a DIY headboard.

13. Buy coordinated bedding

A small bedroom with bed, green and white botanical duvet set, monochrome checkered rug decor, purple LED strip lighting and gallery wall

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

If you're not really sure how to pull together an entire dorm room look that feels cohesive, try a ready-made dorm room bed and bath set. Fear not, it doesn't have to be your parents beds-in-a-bag, and you can find some really gorgeous pieces. Just check out these stylish sets from Amazon (opens in new tab)). These typically come with sheets, a comforter, pillowcases, and towels that coordinate without being overly matchy-matchy. 

And don't forget to check out the best places to buy bedding if you'd prefer something different that's not on the e-retailers site.

14. Set up a breakfast and snack station

A dorm breakfast bar set up with mini fridge, white microwave oven, yellow toaster and ceramic mugs

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Communal kitchens can leave little to the imagination when it comes to mess – after all, you can't expect everyone to keep to the same food hygiene standards you were brought up with. So if you can't bear to wait for a free hob, or the shared microwave is a bit whiffy – take matters into your own hands with a small kitchen idea in your room.

You'll need to check whether this set-up is fine with the building manager, but if it's A-OK, consider buying a mini fridge, microwave oven and the best toaster and kettle setup so you can have coffee and toast on the go at all times. If you have the budget, the best coffee maker for a small space will really elevate your study space.

This Burdue 72.75" H x 33.75" W x 22" D Yak About It Mini Fridge Dorm Station (opens in new tab) on Wayfair is a super-sleek way to organize your appliances and takes advantage of vertical wall space.

15. Add privacy with a divider

A boho-inspired rattan room divider screen in bedroom

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

Things can be a little #awks if you're sharing a dorm with someone you've just met. So set some physical boundaries with a room divider. This way you can get dressed discreetly, have some dignity when you jump out of the shower, and study in a (somewhat) solitary space.

This on-trend rattan divider is from Urban Outfitters (opens in new tab). If you can't stretch to new, they come up pretty often on Facebook Marketplace or eBay (opens in new tab), or if you feel crafty, you could try making your own with some lightweight closet doors, hinged together.

16. Boss laundry day with a rolling basket

A brass-colored wire laundry basket with black caster wheels in bathroom with indoor houseplant and coral/white bathroom rug

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

Slacks for seminars, shorts for sports and skirts for that sorority soiree – your laundry room organization needs to be on point. But after a long day of carrying books and sports equipment, who then needs to drag a heavy washbag to the laundrette? (Answer: not you, queen).

Keep the good times rolling with this Abby Wire Basket from Urban Outfitters (opens in new tab). And if you don't know how to do laundry, don't run the risk of shrinking or ruining garments, instead take a lesson in laundry 101 with us.

What should you not buy for a freshman dorm?

'Never ever use filament bulbs in your dorm room!' warns Lucy Kirk, creative and photography manager Lights4Fun (opens in new tab), who have a store on Amazon (opens in new tab).

'They can be a considerable fire risk if left near flammable materials like bedding or dollar shop fancy dress costumes (of which you’ll amass a fair collection during your time at college).'

'Instead, stick to LED fairy lights, which are always cool to the touch and don’t pose the fire hazards associated with traditional filament bulbs.'

Kaitlin Madden Armon is a writer and editor covering all things home. In addition to Real Homes, she's written for Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Refinery29, Modern Luxury Interiors, Wayfair, The Design Network, and lots more. She graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, two sons, and black lab.

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