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The Dorm Room Edit: Designing a Classic Dorm (Part One)

You'll probably remember me talking about my tentative dorm ideas last August here on the blog. I already have some key pieces that I bought for my time at Governor's school last summer (bedding, lamp, and some storage), but one of the biggest things I learned during my time in the gov school dorm was how much I'll actually need to bring for my college dorm.

With that in mind, and now that I officially know where I'll be headed next year, I've been really getting into the nitty-gritty of planning out exactly what's needed to make a dorm a home. Of course, however, I won't be the only one in the dorm - cue my amazing roommate (actually sent from heaven), who has very similar tastes to my own and is just as excited as I am to design our space. Having someone else's input, ideas, and inspiration to bounce off of makes the whole process that much more fun! After several months of planning, revising, and reworking, I think we've finally come to a final product. I'll wait to show you what made the cut until the room itself is put together (just a month away!). In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share the process we went through to design the dorm, and maybe pass along some wisdom and inspiration as well. Warning: this will be a long-form post and a little scatterbrained, but I've broken it up into sections to make it a bit easier on the eyes.

The Vision

First and foremost: every design project has to start from a concept. For a lot of people, that's a color scheme. Colors are a great place to start, as they can help you narrow down the vast sea of decor items and hone in one exactly what mood/theme you're going for. You can have a whole color palette or just stick to one or two shades; we went for something in the middle, with two main shades and then two accent shades. Navy was a no-brainer (I love this color, and it's a neutral!), and to keep things simple my roommate and I plan to pair it with white, gold, and red accents. We'll also have some pops of color incorporated into our wall art.

If starting with a color scheme seems too daunting or just unappealing, you can also start by making a mood board. My favorite way to do this is to spend a few hours scrolling through Pinterest, and pinning things that inspire you to one board. After you've got enough pins to be satisfied, go through them and pick out common threads.

  • Do certain colors, accents, themes or textures repeat themselves?
  • Can you sum up the majority of your pins in one word? 

You can use those observations as a jumping-off point to create a color scheme or, if you already have your general concept in mind, you can use a mood board to refine and tailor it further.

Our decor inspiration comes mainly from traditional collegiate style, clean lines, pattern mixing and refined florals. We used Pinterest to share ideas with one another, organize our thoughts and keep track of the items we were interested in. It's an amazing tool and I would definitely recommend using it if you're designing a room, especially with a roommate!

The Process

My high school art teacher (if you're reading, hi Ms.Wallestad!) always reminded me that your first idea or draft is rarely your best, even if it seems like you couldn't imagine anything better at the moment. If you keep creating, revising, and reimagining a project, you're more than likely to discover that your later versions are better than the original. I've found the same to be true with dorm shopping. The items in the first graphic were all included in my original dorm plan a few months ago. Now, after finding my roommate, learning the exact specifications of my room, and going back and forth about how we wanted our room to look and function, nearly everything from my original plan has completely changed. Funny enough, I like the current plan so much better!

As I considered different possibilities, it was so helpful to be able to visualize how everything would look pulled together. I used photoshop to throw product photos together to see our ideas come to life. These mock-ups and our shared Pinterest board were definitely invaluable to our decision-making process.

Below, you can see us trying out different lamp/rug/ottoman combinations, placing them with our dresser and bedding to simulate how they would look in the room. After seeing the gold/tan/navy combination on the right, we decided that it definitely didn't work as well as we thought it was in the context of the room as a whole. A note: don't worry about making your mock-ups look professional or exact. The idea is just to see how different colors, textures, and items work in the same space, so it's totally okay to be a bit haphazard with it.
I also used mock-ups when deciding what art would go on my gallery wall. I knew that I ultimately wanted three pieces, so I pasted all the different prints I was considering next to one of my mock-ups to see how the colors and patterns of the art would look next to those which already existed in the room. It was also so helpful to see how the different prints would look next to one another!

Once I had a combination of prints that I loved, I then make a mock-up of how they might look framed. This helped me to decide the balance between vertical vs. horizontal pictures, and matted vs. unmatted prints. 

These models were so helpful in the process of choosing different items for the room, and I would definitely recommend doing something similar (whether it's with photoshop, Canva, or just pasting photos next to each other in a word document) to make sure that you not only like each item individually, but that you love how they work together. 

Another invaluable tool was this 3D room modeler.  Credit to my roommate, who found this site and used it to create a to-scale model of the room and the furniture we were considering. 

You're able to input the specific dimensions of your room and each item of furniture, allowing you to simulate different room layouts and eliminate any guesswork as to whether or not certain things will fit. The last thing you want is to buy several pieces of furniture and then arrive in your room, only to find out there isn't enough space! 


If I were to condense the lessons I've learned from the past few months of planning into six tips I could pass along, they would be as follows:

I hope you found seeing my process helpful or interesting in some way! I'll be sure to update you in a month or so once the room is finally together.



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