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Dorm room design goes a few degrees beyond the milk crate

“I don’t really know how I want my dorm room to look … but I know how I want it to feel,” says rising high school senior and Dormify style advisor Chloe Gordon, contemplating her dream dorm more than a year in advance. “I want to feel at home, cozy, comfortable. Just because I’m away from home doesn’t necessarily mean I have to feel that way.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by a new generation of college-bound kids who, empowered by the Internet and subsidized by mom and dad, are swapping out milk crate decor for deluxe dorm living that includes everything from Kate Spade storage boxes, Jonathan Adler accessories, hot pink mini-fridges and temporary peel-and-stick wallpaper to professional interior design consultations and concierge services.

Leaving the nest has “become a bigger deal,” says Jeff Gawronski, product development director for, a site that sells “dorm essentials.” How big? We spent $48 billion on back-to-college stuff last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Not surprisingly, retailers are happy to fan the flames. Bed Bath & Beyond is renowned for its free Pack & Hold service that allows students to shop for items at a store near home and pick them up at a location closer to campus. Target recently launched a college registry tool similar to those used for brides and babies; and any retailer worth its dorm-regulation twin extra-long sheets provides a detailed college checklist. Even Amazon is getting in on the act, rolling out Amazon Campus, on-site distribution centers offering free, unlimited next-day delivery for Prime members attending Purdue University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and UC Davis — with more locations to come.

However, it is not just stuff but style that savvy students are seeking. On Pottery Barn’s PB Dorm website, the Design Your Own Bed feature allows shoppers to virtually test drive wall colors and dress a single or side-by-side twin beds with a chic selection of duvets, shams, sheets, quilts and throw pillows. PB Dorm also offers 30 inspirational vignettes, cleverly identified by room number, that provide visual tips for pulling it all together.

Along the same lines, Dormify, a dorm decor website and brainchild of formerly frustrated freshman Amanda Zuckerman, offers free online design consultation. “We ask a range of questions, from what is your preferred color scheme to what’s your favorite beauty trend,” says Zuckerman. Results help shoppers get started. “Plus, it provides ideas your roommate might like if you want to match.”

In true digital native fashion, clients who take the company’s design survey start by connecting through Facebook. If you have friends who are on Facebook and have taken the survey, you can compare your results with theirs — and perhaps even be influenced by their choices.

In fact, all those status updates and selfies may hold the answer to why decorated dorms have become the hottest thing since keg parties. “Students’ tastes have evolved to be more sophisticated,” says Bed Bath & Beyond spokeswoman Jessica Joyce, “especially with the sharing of ideas and inspiration through social media.”


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