Whether you spent hours scrolling on Society6 trying to find the cutest tapestry for your freshman dorm or grabbed the first twin XL comforter you saw at Target, you know the grueling process that is styling a freshman dorm room.
Harsh overhead lighting, minimal storage space and clunky, standardized furniture can quickly hinder your dreams of a dorm fit for Instagram.
But there can still be hope for a stylish, functional space — A&E talked with five University of Minnesota dorm dwellers to hear about how they’re making the most of their cinder block shoe boxes.
Emma Otremba, a freshman studying political science and philosophy, blended functionality and fun to optimize her single dorm.
The standout feature is a projector that allows her to watch movies on the big screen — in this case, the white wall above her bed.
“Watching movies was huge in my room with my sisters, so it kind of just makes [my dorm] feel more like home,” Otremba said.
The rest of Otremba’s room — full of mementos — echoes this sentiment.
“Picking [decorations] is a process. It’s not just a shopping trip,” Otremba said. “You have to pick and choose things that make you think, ‘Oh — this reminds me of my home.’ And when you unpack all of that you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable in your dorm than if you had just picked up things at Target that looked trendy.”
And if you need a movie recommendation, Otremba’s childhood favorite is “The Goonies.”
DIY art and a warm cup of tea
Roommates Callianne Jones and Stefanie Amundsen are both freshmen studying art at the University — can you tell? From the up-cycled wicker shower caddy-turned-wall-art to the tiny, hand-painted canvases on their desk (made during a roommate bonding night), the room echoes the pair’s artistic flair.
“We are both nature girls. We love pastel hues, and we definitely wanted to add a bunch of alternative lighting … and plants to brighten it up,” said Amundsen.
The cuteness has kept growing even after move-in day. The pair plans to add more decor, floor pillows and seasonal touches as the year goes on.
“We just added a vine and flower wall together,” Amundsen said. “We went out on campus and picked different flowers and vines.”
One of their secrets to cultivating their ideal atmosphere is finding common ground. Both lead plant-based lifestyles and share reusable bags and mason jars for bulk shopping, for example.
“One of the big things is expanding on shared interests,” said Jones, who is also studying marketing. “For example, we both are really big tea people, so together, we got this tea cart and stocked it with tea and different mugs.”
Both Amundsen and Jones describe their room as a serene gathering place for themselves and their friends on their floor. “We always say we have very positive, good vibes in our room,” Jones said.
From the crisp, white futon to the shiny, retro red fridge, freshmen roommates Ellie Schmitz and Julia Jakubiak have kept their shared room polished and stylish.
“Once we made a Pinterest board together, it was pretty clear that we were going for more of a cozy look — like neutral colors with maybe a pop of color or two,” said Jakubiak, a freshman studying Spanish and communications.
Both Schmitz and Jakubiak like to keep the room organized and neat, with hidden storage — sweaters and towels under the futon, for example — and functional furniture.
“I feel like we made the room really efficient, with the entertainment center, the kitchen cart and the bookshelf, and I think those pieces all together make it feel like home,” said Schmitz, a freshman studying political science and philosophy.
These roommates stuck with style right down to the details, like a pair of matching mugs with their names written in rose gold cursive.
“Don’t be afraid to go over the top. … If you’re someone who wants to have a dorm that feels like home, don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it. … You don’t want to have a dorm room where you aren’t necessarily happy to come back to it,” Jakubiak said.
Looking to improve your own dorm?
A&E has you covered — we talked with Abigail Lundstrom, a fourth-year interior design student to hear her thoughts on optimizing a small space.
Her biggest piece of advice? Maximize the small space you have.
“What I’ve seen that works really well is lofting both beds and under one putting a TV, and under the other putting some seating elements,” Lundstrom said. “Storage is super helpful. Target has a bunch of cube-style storage items.”
Lundstrom also recommended the University's ReUse Center, which sells surplus furniture and supplies from the campus. It's open on Thursdays and Saturdays in the Southeast Como neighborhood.
Just because you’ve already moved in doesn’t mean that you can’t add on to your existing decor. Beyond decorating for the season — pumpkins or holiday string lights, anyone? — you get to bond with the person you’re sharing the room with.
“[Decorating] allows us as roommates to bond more, because we’re doing crafts together all the time,” Jones said. “One of the first nights, we became friends together by staying up until 2 a.m. making things for our dorm.”