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By Julie Pennell

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Living on your own for the first time can be exciting, but it takes a lot of work to make an empty dorm room feel like a home. Those drab cinder block walls, flickering fluorescent lights and lumpy mattresses aren’t going to change themselves, after all.

If your kid’s going away to college, you may be plotting out ways to jazz up the new digs together. We’re here to help with your shopping list.

We chatted with Elyza Brillantes, a designer for online interior design company Havenly, which helps people decorate their personal spaces. Brillantes said the key to a good dorm design is bringing in essentials that give the place personality and character.

Start with a neutral palette

When meshing two roommates' different decor personalities, “no one can argue with a basic black, white or gray,” she said. “It goes with a lot of different styles, and each person can put their own personality in there.”

Brillantes said to bring in pops of color with things like artwork, posters, prints and wall tapestries.

“Since most kids won’t have a living room or kitchen, they’re spending most of their time in a small space, and the biggest piece of furniture is going to be the bed,” she said, adding that a new bedding set can really make the room.

“I always recommend adding at least one fun throw pillow to make the bedding look and feel pulled together,” Brillantes said.

“Day Dreamer” Duvet Cover and Sham Set: Twin/ Twin XL, $99, Dormify

Equip Your Space 6-Piece Phillip Reversible Twin/Twin XL Comforter Set, $50, Bed Bath and Beyond

Surya Trenza Pillow Cover with Down Insert, $30, Walmart

“Good Vibes” Pillow, $8, Amazon

Bring in double duty items

“You never want something that’s a unitasker,” Brillantes said. You can get a storage bench or ottoman that can store things like shoes inside of it, but also provides extra seating when friends come over.

Storage Ottoman, $34, Amazon

Save floor space

Look for things that save floor space such as items that can be mounted to the wall or stored under the bed.

Trellis Wall Grid, $60, Walmart

Zober Underbed Storage Bag, $12, Amazon

Make the space feel bigger

Dorm rooms aren’t known for their square footage, but there are ways to make the place feel bigger than it is. “Mirrors help expand space and bounce light,” Brillantes said. “And avoid the overhead light as much as possible.” Get a good bedside table lamp, desk lamp, floor lamp or even wall-mounted sconces.

Household Essentials Wall Mirror, $34, Amazon

Pineapple Lamp, $88, Dormify

Simple Designs Floor Lamp Etagere Organizer Storage Shelf with Linen Shade, $38, Amazon

Ramezay 1-Light Matte Black Plug-In or Hardwire Task Wall Sconce Light, $19. Houzz

Dress it up

Make the space feel warm and homey with things like rugs, curtains and wall hangings. “I love using tapestries because they cover a lot of wall space for not so much money. It’s a good bang for your buck,” she said.

Ruggable Washable and Stain Resistant 5x7 Rug 2 Piece Set, $129, Amazon

Bandana Print Window Panel Set of 2, $39, Dormify

Surya Amare AAE-1000 Wall Hanging, $46, Havenly

RoomMates Gold World Map Peel and Stick Mural, $30, Walmart

Temporary wallpaper is another great resource. You can create an accent wall or do something simple like accent above the bed to create a DIY headboard. “There are also temporary wall murals you can buy. They’re cool and abstract, like a wallpaper but a little on a grander scale.”

Want more personal dorm design help? You can get free advice from a Havenly designer at