Dorm rooms 2022: Let there be light, and tapestries

By Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

As college students soon descend upon their apartments and dorm rooms in Michigan and beyond, decorative items take temporary housing from blank canvas to comfort zone. The latest selections can reflect their personalities and become conversation pieces that make great icebreakers. Just ask Ann Arbor-based Kyle Leighton, founder of Tapestry Girls, a global distributor of home decor for college students and post-grads.

Tapestries offer an affordable way to decorate a wall in a small space like a dorm room or apartment. “The styles and colors promote well-being and personal identity,” he says.

Leighton began his career in the lighting industry and authored several engineering and scientific lighting studies that were published nationally and internationally. The University of California Davis utilized his studies when developing the Title 24 Energy Codes for the State of California. Leighton also went to Washington, DC to help the US Department of Energy develop federal lighting codes. Later, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine would publish his lighting studies. 

A palm tapestry gives an indoor space an outdoor feel with a tropical motif that lends a sense of calm.

This recognition and achievement would lead him to a role in higher education with a teaching position at Jackson College that would inspire his latest endeavor. “I was asked to teach and develop an energy sciences degree for students interested in the same line of work,” says Leighton who happened to notice all the colorful tapestries on campus.

His original career had taught him that lighting was mainly manufactured overseas and he found the same to be true for tapestries following an online search. “There wasn’t a US-based company. They just don’t make them here,” says Leighton. “I had a light bulb moment, no pun intended.”

So, the 37-year-old entrepreneur who also owns 26 rental properties in the Midwest, set out to become the only tapestry company headquartered in the US. Shortly after the website was up and running, the orders soon followed and grew from there. The tapestries and other unique products for small spaces are also available through Society6, Redbubble and Walmart.

In addition to their origin, Leighton says the quality and color of the tapestries also make them stand out, along with the emerging trends that shape them. “They have been shifting from VSCO to cottagecore, boho, e-girl, goth and indie groups,” he says. “Aesthetic trends can be inspired by music and we tailor our products to these trends.”

Fashion plays an important role, too. “The style of a student’s dorm room is a lot like what they would wear,” adds Leighton. “It’s fashionable and it has an identity to it.”

For instance, the indie aesthetic features décor inspired by popular indie music. “It’s one unique style entrenched into that culture, which is the same with the grunge or the goth look,” he says.

Y2K décor that features retro colors like purples, pinks and blues has been another current trend. To simplify the selection process, shoppers can search the website (tapestrygirls.com) by aesthetic.

The washable tapestries can go beyond the walls of dorm rooms and starter apartments to embellish picnics, tables and beds. In addition, a variety of unique décor pieces are available to complement them, from a heart-shaped alarm clock to a shiny disco ball. Bedding sets, posters and lighting are among the other options, like the LED Wall Vine Lights that remain a top seller.  

Softy bedding sets are another popular item, while seashell pillows offer a fun take on the standard square. “They’re summery and cool,” says Leighton. “We have a ton of products with over 2,000 SKUs for college students looking to establish their own identity.”

Social media contributes to his growing customer base while offering a glimpse into the creative process. “Students tend to get products and put them in their rooms. When they post them, we can see how they decorate,” says Leighton. “It’s like paint. Every time they post, they are painting a different picture and assembling how they want their space to look.”

LED Wall Vine Lights have a curtain effect that blurs the lines between inside and out with some greenery.

Having a home away from home becomes an integral part of the college experience. “They will be spending the next four years of their lives there, so it’s important to have spaces that they’re comfortable in,” he says.

“This is an incredibly important journey for students,” adds Leighton, who mentions a dorm checklist on their website for incoming college students to download and print. “It’s not just the bed and the tapestries. There are storage solutions and bath essentials for them to be able to get comfortable in their own personal space. They’re coming out of their parents’ house to be out on their own. It’s a big experience.”

He encourages the next generation of entrepreneurs to pay attention to their surroundings and ask what products are made of and how they work.  

As for the products from Tapestry Girls, Leighton continues to set them apart. “Going forward, we want to be a fashion company for the home where there is a real opportunity to establish your identity,” he says. “We are embracing the intersection of home décor and fashion with an emphasis on fashion. We are looking at home décor through a fashion lens right now.”

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.