How to Furnish Your Dorm Room

We're featuring cute and inexpensive dorm furnishings for college. Includes: Stylish rugs, nightstands, and desk chairs.
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Have you ever felt slightly overwhelmed when you were presented with a blank piece of paper and told to make art? In elementary school, I felt like Regina from Regina's Big Mistake (remember this book?) every time I picked up a crayon and stared down at my sheet of white construction paper.

Furnishing a dorm room, oddly enough, makes me feel like Regina all over again. I've been given 100 square feet of white wall and tile, equipped with nothing more than basic furniture, and have been told time and time again that my dorm room should reflect "who I am".

The sheer size of the dorm room shopping market, as well as the seemingly boundless choices available, are what prompted me to write this CF article series. We've already learned about creating color schemes, room layouts, and choosing bedding, so let's tackle shopping for dorm room furnishings! These budget-friendly tips and picks will guide you in your shopping and help you deck out your room for fall.


As we've said before in our previous post on furnishing your dorm room, the main things to keep in mind are your roommate and the size of your room. It would be awful to drag a six-shelf bookcase or heavy nightstand up three flights of stairs, only to then realize a) your roommate already brought one or b) It. Doesn't. Fit.

That being said, read on to find out about some chic, inexpensive furnishings that will make you feel more at home in your dorm!

1. Rugs

Even if you are blessed with gorgeous hardwood floors, rugs are simply one of the easiest ways to make a room feel welcoming. The styles on the market vary tremendously from Oriental to shag to Flokati, and the prices can be astronomical if you don't know where to look.

Tips for Buying Rugs

  • Consider your needs. Shag or Flokati rugs will feel amazing against your toes, but are usually costly. Standard polyester rugs will save you a lot of grief in the spill department, but they aren't the most attractive. Practicality is key, but don't lose too much aesthetic appeal.
  • Buy dark rugs. Even if you want a white or ivory rug to match your color scheme, it's always best to err on the safe side in a college environment. Try to select one in the darkest color of your scheme.
  • Check out your local wholesale store for inexpensive ones. I found a 6' x 8' crimson rug for only $30 at mine.
  • Area rugs or accent rugs? A few circular accent rugs can look much more cheery than a standard rectangular area rug.
  • Try making your own DIY rug!
  • Anthropologie has a fantastic list of rug tips for the decorator in all of us.

Some of Our Rug Picks

Click through the gallery below to see our favorite rugs for 2015:

2. Nightstands

Nightstands are possibly my favorite room furnishing, apart from, of course, my bed. There are so many ways to use them, and even more creative ideas for nightstands themselves! They bring so much charm to a room, and obviously provide ample space for the tottering pile of books I peruse every evening.

Of course, you can purchase a standard nightstand (like the one pictured above) from nearly any furniture or home decor store, but what about something more unique? Keep reading to hear some in-lieu-of-a-nightstand ideas!

Instead of a Nightstand, Try...

  1. A bookshelf. Try a shorter one (like three shelves) if your bed isn't lofted, or a regular one (5-6 shelves) if you're on the top bunk. This is the perfect nightstand for a bookworm, and you can pop a nice lamp on top, as well your iPod docking station, photo frames, or even a plant. It also doubles as storage space for textbooks and display items. (I'm using a bookshelf in my room!) You can even put shoes on the lowest shelf, lit by one of those stick-on lights from the dollar store.
  2. A filing cabinet. If a file cart won't fit under your desk, use a nice rolling one to kill two birds with one stone! Keep important papers in the bottom drawer and books or journals in the top one, and your reading lamp can go on top.
  3. A chair. Hate the standard wooden chair that came with your dorm? Sit it against the wall next to your bed! The seat can be used as a place to put your things, coats and throw blankets can be hung on the back, and a clip-on reading light can be attached to the back as well. (Don't forget to get a desk chair if you choose to do this!) It can easily be converted to extra seating when you have guests.
  4. A ladder. Sound unorthodox? This might be easier for apartments rather than dorms, but there's no denying that there is something gorgeous about using a wooden ladder as a nightstand. It can be easily propped against the wall, a clip-on light attached to a rung, and books and clothes or blankets can be draped over the rungs or simply stacked on them. A ladder is definitely one of the more space-efficient nightstand ideas, building up instead of around.
  5. Your desk. Placing your desk next to your bed is a nice way to double the use of your workspace. Using your desk means you won't have to purchase a lamp exclusively for your nightstand, as you can probably use your desk lamp to light both areas.

Some of Our Nightstand Picks


Product Information, left to right, top to bottom: LACK Side Table (IKEA), Yellow Nightstand (Urban Outfitters), 3-shelf Bookcase (Target), Rolling File Cabinet (Walmart), White Chair (Target), Wooden Ladder (Amazon)

3. Chairs

I've never been one to be picky about where I sit. I actually favor hard wooden chairs when I'm studying, as I often find myself drifting off if I'm in a comfortable one. However, this might not apply to you, and you may develop a terrible hatred for that awful rocking wooden chair with the puce-colored upholstery that you see on move-in day.

Where to place our (stylish) posteriors, then, on those long all-nighters? Read on for tips on selecting and buying the desk chair that will last you through every midterm and final!

Tips for Buying Chairs

  • There are many categories of desk chair, including swivel, pod, and task. Find the type that suits your needs: will you be using it primarily for sitting and chatting with friends, or will you actually need to hunker down and get to work in it?
  • Don't get a huge leather office chair, unless you recently won a partnership at a law firm or something equally marvelous. It won't fit through your door, and may take up more space than your desk does.
  • Try to get a chair that will fit, at least partway, under your desk.
  • Get a chair with wheels for easy movement.

Some of Our Chair Picks

Click through the gallery below to see some of our favorite chairs for 2015:

What Do You Think?

Were these tips for furnishing dorm rooms helpful? What furnishings did you bring to school with you, and why did you choose them? Do you like the rugs, nightstands, and chairs we selected? What advice do you have for students setting out to furnish their rooms? Let us know with a comment!

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