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Dorm Decor 101: Designers transform WSU dorm rooms

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Call it the Detroit dorm decor challenge of 2015.

As college students across Metro Detroit start writing up their school supplies checklists and checking them twice, Homestyle asked two local interior designers to work their magic on one of the blandest rooms around: the dorm room.

Our goal: to show the possibilities. And there are certainly many.

Each designer had a $1,000 budget — though they could also use some of their own supplies — courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond and was given a 10-by-14 foot dorm room in one of Wayne State University’s Detroit residence halls. Their mission was to transform such a small space into not just something livable, but inviting.

Dorm rooms can be “pretty hard — there’s linoleum, Formica,” says Tanya Hamilton of Studio Tanya Interior Design in Rochester, one of the two designers. “So it’s nice to use anything you can to make it more like home, more comfy.”

For Hamilton, that meant using bright colors such as orange and teal, throw pillows and rugs to create a feminine room for girls.

Amanda Sinistaj of Ellwood Interiors in Birmingham, on the other hand, decorated a more masculine dorm room with blues and grays, cool local artwork and wire mesh desk accessories.

Both designers started with bedding and built their color scheme and decor around it. Maximizing storage also was key in both rooms, as was creating a little area for food or coffee.

But while Hamilton’s room was bright and bold, Sinistaj took a more streamlined approach. Starting with blue and gray bedding, “we worked around that,” says Sinistaj.

There were definite challenges (aside from the budget). Like most residence halls, nails are off limits. So is painting. Candles are a no-no. And furniture is limited to two desks, two twin beds, two wardrobes, and two dressers (but students can bring more).

Sinistaj opted to join the twin beds as bunk beds and separate the wardrobes to give the room some breathing space. Hamilton, on the other hand, decided to set up one twin bed as a loft and elevated the other. The wardrobes are side by side in the front entry.

So let’s take a look at this two spaces in detail. And use these rooms to get ideas for your own kids’ or grandkids’ space.

Bright and cheery

Hamilton loves color — and it shows.

She started with a fun comforter covered in purple, teal, orange and blue watercolor medallions (Bed Bath & Beyond’s Samantha Dorm Kit) and used that to pull other bright colors into the room.

“You’re in your room a lot studying and it can get kind of boring and stale so if you have some color it can make it more enjoyable,” says Hamilton.

Under the lofted bed, she put a desk and a stacked microwave and small fridge. Nearby, a very fun chair made of bungee cords offers extra seating and a small ottoman doubles as a foot rest and storage space.

“This is kind of a fun chair that doesn’t take up a lot of space, but it’s got a lot of look to it,” says Hamilton. “You can just plop in it and sit there and study. You can sit there and read, study, and put your feet on the cute little ottoman — plus its got storage which is a bonus.”

On the floor, she layered two rugs — an indoor outdoor rug and solid purple rug with an imbedded floral motif.

That adds “more impact and color,” says Hamilton. “...I thought the indoor outdoor rug would be good for school, for durability.”

Near the front entrance is the Loft Living Wood & Metal 4-Tier Rolling Cart, an rustic-looking cart perfect for small essentials such as a small coffee pot, cups and storage bins.

“You can store anything you want,” she says.

Framed artwork from Bed Bath & Beyond — tribal prints, an adorable watercolor giraffe — hang on the walls. And since nails weren’t an option, her solution: Velcro. Wall decals also offer a fun way to write notes and reminders.

Hamilton says she didn’t want to be too “mixy-matchy,” but the colors all coordinate, including bright pink sheer curtains hung with a tension rod.

She says her biggest challenge was simply figuring out where to start.

“It was fun!” she says. “We got here and it all just kind of flowed.”

Classic and streamlined

In Sinistaj’s room, designed more for guys, the decor is sophisticated and streamlined. She and her colleague, Maria Louisa Belmonte, started with bedding — reversible blue and gray striped comforters from Bed Bath & Beyond’s Brett 7-piece dorm kit, which includes a comforter, sheets, pillow shams, a throw blanket and hamper — and used that to tie into the rest of the decor.

“It’s a dynamite deal,” says Sinistaj, says referring to the dorm kit, which several retailers offer, including Macy’s, Wayfair and Walmart. The bag “turns into a hamper. It’s super crazy functional and not very expensive.”

Instead of keeping the two wardrobes together in the room, Sinistaj separated them and put a desk next to each one to give each roommate their own space. She stacked the beds as a bunk bed to open up the room more.

“We thought this would give it a little more space so each roommate would have their own thing,” Sinistaj. “My thought was if someone wanted a TV, they now have space to do that. And they could put a small sofa or loveseat under the window.”

She also used a multi-part mattress protector, pad, and foam topper, which Bed Bath & Beyond recommends.

Huge blown-up photos of two iconic Detroit locations — Comerica Park and the Joe Louis Fist near Hart Plaza, both shot by local photographer Jeff White — printed on canvas, add character and personality to the room. Sinistaj had them from another project, but says photos can easily be blown up to poster size. Both were hung up with Velcro.

“This makes a dreary room kind of cool,” says Sinistaj.

Storage was key. In the bathroom, she used an over-the-toilet 3-Tier Metal Space Saver. Three-pronged over-the-door hooks on the wardrobe doors are perfect for backpacks.

For Sinistaj, she says the biggest challenges were not being able to put anything on the walls and maximizing the square footage. “The only thing I wish we were able to get was a floor lamp, but we were just maxed,” she say.

Now, with the transforming touch of these interior designers, these aren’t just dorm rooms. They’re home sweet home.

(313) 223-4686

Amanda & Tanya’s Dorm Must-Haves

■ Bedding

■ Hamper

■ A food space with coffeemaker

■ Refrigerator and microwave

■ Storage racks and bins; look for rolling carts or containers that fit under the bed

■ A body pillow or backrest

■ Shower caddy