March 10, 2010

Dorm sweet dorm


— By

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer; Tuesday., August 11, 2009. Empty dorm rooms at Bowdoin College.

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Staff Writer

BRUNSWICK — As a dorm proctor, one of Shalmai Rivera's tasks is helping freshmen get acclimated to their new life at Bowdoin College.

And one of the first big changes freshmen face is moving from their childhood homes into austere, often cramped, dorm rooms with two or three roommates and clunky furniture designed for function, not coziness.

Even before they enter the dorm, students are wondering what to bring, what to buy and what to do to make their first home away from home feel at least somewhat like -- well, home.

''We always tell students and their parents to wait until they get here, see the room, and then we can give you directions to the Bed Bath & Beyond just up the road,'' said Rivera, a Bowdoin senior from Lowell, Mass., as she stood in an empty room in Appleton Hall earlier this month. ''It just makes sense.''

Dorm decor is big business nowadays, so it's easier than ever for students to find a myriad of dorm-specific products all in one place. Stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart and Target all have complete lines of dorm furnishings, both in the stores and on the Web.

Bed Bath & Beyond even has a 100-plus-item dorm-furnishing checklist available at stores and online. College students can use it to get everything they need (and probably a lot they don't need), from bag clips and a travel mug to under-bed boxes and a drying rack for clothes.

The word ''dorm'' is not just a shortening of a dormitory, it is also the label for a specific style of furnishings developed over the last 25 years or so. They are not apartment furnishings or home furnishings; they are a hybrid of both with a heavy emphasis on maximizing space and looking as modern and fun as possible.

And even if you're not buying everything brand new, you can design a dorm room with an eye on maximizing space and fun, local designers say.

''Usually the walls are a pretty bland color, and you can't change that, so I'd say bring in lots of color with the bedding, the pillows, and the bright colors help distract you from the smallness of the room,'' said Kat Powers, an interior designer based in Scarborough. ''And don't cover up the windows. If you want a window treatment, maybe take one panel and wrap it around the rod like a swag.''

And here's a window treatment trick for your dorm room: Get a curtain rod that's much wider than your window -- maybe a 56-inch rod for a 36-inch wide window -- and hang two drape panels on either end. That way the drapes are covering part of the wall, not the window, and they make the window, and therefore the room, look bigger.

At the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, many students add color to walls by buying tapestries at Mexicali Blues, an eclectic Maine chain of shops that shares its name with a Grateful Dead song.

''They're also good on the walls because they absorb the sound,'' said Nickolas Bull, a college junior and resident assistant at Dickey Wood Hall at USM-Gorham.

Obviously, storage is a big deal in outfitting a dorm room, because the rooms are traditionally small and most colleges give you only a bureau and a desk. Powers thinks storage is important not only for organizing the room, but for making it feel more like home.

''Kids like their stuff. The more of their things they surround themselves with, the more comfortable they'll feel,'' Powers said. ''So I'd say when planning what to put in a dorm room, think about the (student's) likes and activities, and then build around the storage.''

Even though most dorm rooms haven't gotten much bigger, kids don't have to bring as much stuff as they used to. Stereo systems with 4-foot-high speakers have been replaced by pocket-sized iPods. In fact, a charging station where you can charge iPods, phones and other stuff, is a very popular dorm room item now.

Some colleges, including the University of Southern Maine, provide one-piece refrigerator/microwave combos, so students don't have to bring either of those.

Dorm-room storage is one of the main categories of furnishings available at stores. There are plastic risers ($9.99 for four at Target) that will raise your bed about a foot more off the ground so you can easily store any one of the dozens of under-the-bed storage boxes sold.

''We've got cap racks, shoe racks, purse racks, all for over the door,'' said Catherine Gentile, a spokeswoman for Bed Bath & Beyond. ''We even have a dorm storage tower with a tension pole, so you can create shelves and space were there was none in the room.''

Most of the hanging or under-bed storage items sell for $10 to $25.

Folding chairs found in the ''dorm'' section of stores are also popular. There are folding ''plush saucer'' chairs that look like big pillows on a metal stand. There are folding club chairs, sort of like the saucers but with more definition. And there are folding butterfly chairs, metal frames with colorful fabric seats shaped like, you guessed it, butterflies.

Most of these sell for about $20 to $40.

''The butterfly chairs are nice because you can have a couple, fold them away, and take them out when people come over,'' Bull said.

Powers says that while pre-made storage units are great, you can often fashion your own for less money. She recommends Christmas Tree Shops to find storage boxes, hat boxes (for decorative storage) and fabrics at lower prices.

For people handy with a needle, Powers recommends taking a bed skirt or sheet larger than your box spring and sewing pockets into it. When you place the skirt or sheet between the mattress and box spring, you'll have pockets hanging alongside the bed that can be used for magazines, books, whatever.

''There are a lot of things you can do without spending a lot of money,'' she said.

But if you want to spend money on your dorm room, there are plenty of opportunities to do that too.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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