Dorm room décor on a dime

03/01/2013 12:00 AM

02/27/2013 10:45 AM

Sherry Petersik’s 8-by-8-foot dorm room, which she shared with two roommates, was so small they could legally invite only two friends over at a time.

“You weren’t allowed to have more than five people, because it was a fire hazard, and there were three of us in there to start,” said Petersik, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2004.

But the trio managed to make the tight space work, and even make it inviting to those who could squeeze in. And it’s where Petersik began honing many of the designing tips that she uses today.

Petersik and her husband, John, shared a few of those pointers last month when they visited UNC Charlotte to sign copies of their new bestselling book, “Young House Love,” a collection of projects for the do-it-yourselfer.

For more than five years, the duo have documented their own DIY escapades on their popular blog,

Most of their ideas are low on cost but high on creativity, making them the perfect match for college students decorating their dorms on a dime.

“One of the biggest challenges is that every dorm room is so generic-looking,” said Petersik. Making your room stand out from the clones is a challenge, but there are opportunities.”

Most dorms come with a set of rules, such as her own college’s maximum occupancy. Some of them – such as no nails, tacks or paint on the walls – can discourage decorating.

Add the standard beds and desks issued by schools, and most college dorms take on a dull, uniform feel.

“You have more freedom than you probably think you do in a dorm,” she said.

One of the best ways to decorate inexpensively and without breaking rules is by using fabric.

“If you have a wooden headboard, drape a piece of fabric over it,” said Petersik. The same goes for a corkboard. “Drape some fabric over that and pin photos on top that.”

In the past decade, ways to spruce up the walls without damaging them have improved. Heavy-duty Velcro and mounting strips can hold large, even framed photos on the walls without taking off paint. Removable decals – new to the market since Petersik went to college – come in everything from monograms to artwork.

“There are some amazing ways to impact your room without painting that makes just as big a difference,” said Petersik.

To avoid a cluttered and busy look, stick with the same palette when decorating your room. Bedding, wall décor and accessories should complement, not compete with, each other.

“If you pick everything you’re drawn to, it might seem like a mishmash,” said Petersik. “You don’t want them to clash or fight with each other.”

Kiara Whitefield, 21, a sociology major at UNC Charlotte, chose green for her dorm in Maple Hall. Her bedding, curtains, even her ironing board share the same color.

“I didn’t really pick anything by design. If it had a little bit of green in it, I was with it,” said Whitefield.

But what if your roommates’ tastes differ from yours?

“That is hard,” said Petersik. “If there is some insanity, like they have leopard and zebra prints and you have neon pink and neon green, then you need to both compromise by removing a few things. Don’t push your vision on them or let their vision take over.”

For the homesick, she recommends bringing comforting reminders of home. “Even bringing your alarm clock from home or something on your desk that you always kept your pencils in,” said Petersik. “Any of those little touches can make you feel like adding roots for a little while.”

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