Designer dorms: Comfort, style and technology — today’s dorm rooms have it all
By the end of July, the advertisements are inescapable: The back-to-school commercial bonanza has begun.
New backpacks, new shoes, new clothes — this is the year to be in style, to have the hip new notebooks and pens, the coolest phone case and hottest apps.
And that’s just for the K-through-12 crowd.
First-year college students are shopping for their first “homes,” aka dorm rooms, and instead of flatware sets and armoires, they are looking for collapsible shower caddies and shoe-storage racks that hang off the backs of doors.
Outfitting college students for life on campus is big business. A 2012 report by the National Retail Federation found that shoppers in the United States spend about $50 billion dollars a year on dorm room decor, or $1,000, on average, per student.
You can see it at Target this time of year, where “On to College” displays are scattered throughout the store. Special shelves feature all-in-one XL-sized twin sheet and comforter sets, body pillows with furry microfiber pillowcases and “Task Lamp” desk lights that come with office-supply organizers at their bases.
Bed, Bath & Beyond offers a “Campus Ready” checklist sheet. “Everything you need, plus some awesome extras,” the sheet reads.
There are reasonable items listed, such as surge protectors and laundry baskets, and there are more niche items like Fitbits, water-filtration pitchers, wall tapestries and string lights, for example.
Those last two items — tapestries and string lights — have been very popular lately, said Taylor Gunn, a Colorado Mesa University senior nursing student who has been a resident assistant for the past three years.
CMU has just over 2,300 students, professors and administrators living on campus, putting the school at 93 percent occupancy, said an official at the Residence Life office.
On Saturday, about 700 freshman moved into the dorms at CMU carting plastic storage bins, huge LCD TVs, brightly colored fuzzy pillows and even a fish tank.
Gunn also has seen a lot of giant bean bags, which residents use to make a napping-and-reading corner, two activities that can overlap while students are trying to make it through an arduous textbook reading assignment.
And of course, there are toys.
“I feel like longboards are kind of taking over campus,” Gunn said.
She also has seen students with two computer screens set up at their desks, so they can study and play video games at the same time.
On the more practical side, Gunn said microwaves and mini-fridges are standard dorm accoutrement at CMU, so students can zap up some ramen and popcorn and keep leftovers and sodas cool.
But for Gunn personally, one of the most important dorm luxuries is a comfortable bed.
“A mattress topper is key,” Gunn said. “I like my sleep, so I’d invest in a good one — especially if you’re going to be on campus for more than a year.”
As freshmen moved into the dorms Saturday, a mountain of discarded cardboard boxes piled up outside of the residence halls. There were boxes for Keurig coffee makers, clothes drying racks and, yes, the obligatory microwaves and mini-fridges.
Have students always been so invested in the appeal of their dorm rooms?
Surprisingly, the answer might be yes, according to Rick Adleman, CMU’s associate director of development. Adleman is from Delta and spent his freshman year in the then all-male Tolman Hall in 1986, when the university was known as Mesa State College.
He remembered the dorm room he lived in as being “very institutional.” There was lots of Formica and tiled floors, trundle beds that folded up during the day and had desks attached to their headboards.
“I don’t remember anybody that I knew who had a microwave or fridge,” said Adleman, mentioning there was a microwave in the dorm lobby that students used.
But still, he remembers working to make his dorm room feel “homey.”
He and his roommate decorated with posters of rock bands and they had a wall-to-wall rug on the floor, an unusual luxury at the time, because Adleman’s dad was in the carpet business.
“I don’t remember it being uncomfortable,” Adleman said.
At that time, fewer students lived at the commuter-based college, and he appreciated the on-campus lifestyle.
“That was as much of the college experience as the classroom,” Adleman said.
Now Adleman has a daughter in her senior year at CMU, so he’s acquainted with the evolution of dorm life, and he sees the introduction of technology as the critical change.
“Maybe someone would bring a boombox with a cassette player,” Adleman said of his era. But there were no HDTVs, iPads, gaming chairs and wireless headphones. There were few shopping sprees on move-in day.
“In ‘86, we were just starting to recover from the oil shale bust — half the stores in the mall were closed,” Adleman said. “I packed up everything in my little El Camino and brought it up from Delta in one night.”
Adleman is glad his daughter has more “options” when it comes to living on campus. There are various prices and styles of housing, allowing students to thrive in themed dorm buildings. There are study communities, substance-free communities, arts communities and more.
“When they call them residence halls, these days, it really is true,” Adleman said.
And there are far more students living their lives full-time on campus than there used to be, students who need and want to personalize their lifestyles with stuff.
Need a rotating disco party light? A mini karaoke microphone? A monogrammed throw pillow? Bad, Bath & Beyond has it covered.
Students can even choose the items they want to buy in one store — say, at the Bed, Bath & Beyond in their hometown — and have it all automatically packed up and waiting for them when they arrive in the city where their school is located, a service offered to college students for free.
Need a shower caddy? Of course.
“You’ve got to have that!” said Gunn, taking a spin through CMU’s campus while cartloads of dorm accoutrements rolled by.
“I remember my freshman year,” Gunn said. “I was like, ‘Mom, I want everything.’”
But now she’s wised up and focuses more on sense than style when she shops for her dorm.
She also is more concerned about the price tags on what she buys than she was as a freshman, and she has pared down her wardrobe and belongings over the years.
It’s no longer “let’s make it cute,” Gunn said. It’s “let’s make it a comfortable environment where I can thrive in school.”