Dorm On A Dime: Top 10 Tips To Decorate On The Cheap

Who better to get advice from than someone who has just been there, done that?

Enter Lauren Handler and Taylor Anderson. Lauren, a De Paul University junior (and former Trevian from Winnetka), has an apartment now but well remembers her days at the 1237 West dorm in Lincoln Park. And Taylor, a Glenbrook North grad who’s also heading for his junior year but at the University of Montana in Missoula, gives us the male perspective on dorm-room essentials and comfort.

“Basically, every dorm has two desks, two beds, two mirrors, two dressers. After that, it’s up to you,” Taylor says. “It’s kind of like an art piece, trying to create as much room as you can in a small space and making it livable . . . [a place for] your friends to hang out.”

So here are Lauren and Taylor’s top 10 ways to cozy up that dorm room “on a dime.”

1. The cube.
Lauren, whose eye and attention to decor could have her destined for a career in design, can’t say enough about the virtues of the cube unit that’s got 9 cubby spaces and is available at Target ($50) and IKEA ($59.99 for a larger version). Use it as a bookshelf or add baskets to keep DVDs, books or take-out menus tidy.

“It’s a great way to use the vertical space because that’s so important in dorm rooms,” the savvy Lauren says.

2. The comfy bed.
Creating a “cushy bed” is a priority, Taylor says, because you’re going to be on your bed a lot. He suggests looking for a good deal on a featherbed or memory foam padding. And don’t forget a comfy quilt.

3. The more the merrier.

Lauren suggests adding tons of throw pillows “so you can make your bed like a couch.” Great affordable sources:

  • IKEA (consider getting their pillow innards, $4.99, and either buying their cool covers or making your own)
  • Pier 1
  • Cost Plus World Market
  • Home Goods
  • T.J. Maxx
  • Marshalls

4. Deal or no TV deal.
Check with your roommate to see if this item is welcome and, if so, who’s bringing it. Also discuss the mini-fridge and microwave, which are pretty essential, Taylor says. Actually, he notes, more kids live without TVs than without microwaves.

5. Up against the wall.

Lauren, our diva of creativity, thought paintings would add more character to her room and make it more finished-looking than posters, so she bought art canvases for $4 and some inexpensive paints and painted “little things to have around the room.” Dormers also can blow up photos of things from the ‘hood that they’d like to look at. And one more poster alternative is a tapestry or cool piece of fabric, Taylor says.

6. Sitting pretty.
If you loft your bed, you’ll have room for a small futon to slide under it, so you’ve got a place for friends to hang out, Taylor says. For this item, he did a lot of shopping on

7. Repurpose.
Do not pass up a garage sale if you’re in the market for a little table, Lauren says. And then become friends with a brush and a can of paint. A cool color can make Grandma’s castoff into something pretty darn chic.

8. Let there be light.
Lauren says think about a floor lamp. “They light up the room nicely and they’re not shining in your face. And they don’t take up a lot of room.”

9. Bank on it.
Bring a favorite coffee mug from home to collect quarters for the laundry and other vending machines.

10. Go green.
As in living plants. “It adds a little bit of a homey feel. It adds a little bit of love. It’s something you have to take care of, so you have to be responsible,” Lauren says.

Two final tips: Consider buying online and having your purchases sent directly to the dorm (less for you to transport). And before you do any buying online, check out the many discount coupon/code Web sites online, such as for savings at a myriad of stores.

Elaine Matsushita is the girl behind “The Snoopster,” a blogzine for Chicago-area folks looking for inspiration and ideas for their homes. For many years, Elaine was the editor of the Chicago Tribune’s House & Homes section.

All Photos by Lauren Handler

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