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Dorm room décor makes a statement

College students shop for furniture and accessories to reflect their unique style. By Teri Goldberg

Bean bag chairs and futons still top the list for dorm room must-haves. But today’s college students also want to make a statement, says Jeff Gut, founder of collegiatemall.com, a one-stop shop for the collegiate crowd. In addition to value, students shop for style and design, says Gut, who started the business in 1999 when he was a sophomore at Boston University.

A recent survey confirms students are willing to spend a bit more for style. This year, college students are expected to spend an average of $605.69 of their own money on college merchandise, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation from August 4-11. In total, the collegiate market will generate $25.7 billion in sales, almost double the $14.8 billion projected for dollars spent for elementary through high school students.

Style seekersSeveral retailers are taking advantage of the trend to shop for style. Collegiatemall.com caters to this more discerning clientele by stocking a limited selection of products rather than a huge inventory of products typically found in a house wares superstore, says Gut. “We don’t carry lava lamps,” says Gut but offer products with “the right mix of value and style.” At collegiatemall.com, students can choose from a classic desktop lamp for $19.99 or a collection of trendier Torchiere standing lamps, priced from $42.95 to $169.99.

Studentmarket.com

Multi-functional is the best way to describe the selection of products at studentmarket.com, another one-stop collegiate shop founded by Oren Milgram in 1995 when he was a student at San Jose State University. The most popular futon at studentmarket.com easily transforms from a couch to a lounger to a bed. “It’s like a transformer,” says Milgram about the Mali. The $249.99 futon set is made up of a sleek gray metal frame, a reversible black mattress and two black cushions. Gone are the days when the white mattress on a wooden frame was the only option!

Footlockers sold at studentmarket.com also serve several functions. “They can be used to store belongings but also to eat pizza and play cards,” says Milgram. And then there are compact refrigerators — the ultimate multi-purpose machine. The 3-in-1 refrigerator, freezer and microwave costs a hefty $449.99 — but, heh, you also can play cards or eat pizza on the top of the unit.

Diversity is another theme at the studentmarket.com. “We have bean bag chairs to fit every personality,” says Milgram. Sports fans can choose from NBA, NFL or MLB logo bean bag chairs. There’s also bean bag chairs covered with animal prints, smiley faces, an American flag, tie dye prints and more.

Transform your dorm

Other cyber shops that cater to the collegiate crowd are pbteen.com, target.com and bedbathandbeyond.com. All these sites offer students flexibility to navigate the sites in several ways. Pbteen.com, a division of William Sonoma launched in April 2003, lets consumers “transform their dorm” using a checklist, styling a “makeover” or shopping within a budget, from $350 to $1000. Just be leery of retailers’ checklists — mini-fridge and retro rockers are not essentials. Hmm, but the super shaggy retro fluff ball at for $149 may just be an essential.

Target draws the style conscious these days with its high-end designer labels at moderate prices. A toaster by architect Michael Graves toaster carries more cache than one made by Hamilton Beach or Oster. Target shoppers can even shop by designers or collection. Well-known designers wares, such as Issac Mizrahi, Liz Lange, Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig, are conveniently stashed in separate sections for the fashionatos.

Bedbathandbeyond.com

On the other hand, bedbathandbeyond.com still offers the best when it comes to the basics and beyond. The lamp collection is always worth a look. This year, exclusive lighting products include a desk-and-floor lamp set for $14.99, desk lamps in translucent red, blue, pink and clear for $9.99 and a brushed steel finish dome desk lamp for $49.99.

The college shop at bedbathandbeyond.com is organized into five "neat" categories — sleep, eat, wash, study and organize. The house ware superstores even offers special features for its cyber shoppers. A "pack and hold" feature lets cyber customers delay shipment of merchandise purchased to college mailroom at a later date when they begin to accept packages. This year, students also can set up a registry online.

Students may want to make a statement but they also need to fit in. Some trends this year are bright colors, monograms and “mix and match,” says a spokesperson at pbteen.com.

“No more pastel floral prints for girls and drab plaid for guys. This year it's all about bright colors such as orange, pink and red,” says the pbteen.com company rep. “Anything that can be personalized with a monogram or name is (also) HOT” she adds.

Bed-in-the-bag kits where everything matches are passé. “Students want their rooms too look one-of-a-kind so they’re mixing stripes with floral prints and patterns to create their own look.”