When it comes to university real estate, students often find that the list of available properties leaves much to be desired. With their standard issue bunk beds and drab cinder block walls, most dorm rooms look about as inviting as a Sing Sing cell block.
And off-campus apartments are almost always a bit worse for the wear after housing several consecutive college-age tenants, especially if said tenants spent more time "livin’ la vida loca" than hitting the books in the library.
But in an age when home-improvement shows like TLC’s "Trading Spaces" and "While You Were Out" are earning top ratings, ordering a cable connection can be as good as hiring an interior designer.
The shows have built a solid fan base among young hipsters for their thrifty home decorating "how-to" tips that demonstrate easy ways to add bright colors and funky accessories to any space, and all on a shoestring budget.
So there’s no reason why even the barest of dorm rooms or most tattered of apartments can’t be converted into a comfy-cozy, bright and inviting, funky and fabulous living space that would leave even MTV’s "Real World" roommates turning green, preferably lime-green, with envy.
Once armed with the renovating know-how, most students report there are two names in retail guaranteed to offer youthful pieces at bargain prices: Target and IKEA, with Pier 1 and craft stores like Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics also recommended.
Jenny Griffin, a graduate of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., said she and her roommates were avid viewers of TLC’s home-décor shows and did almost all their furniture shopping at the local Target and the Goodwill thrift shop, then pooled their creative talents to add some artsy accents.
"I had one roommate who would buy furniture at the Goodwill then paint it bright colors, and we bought small planters and painted the pots. One year I stenciled the top of my walls by using a rubber stamper and craft paints that I bought somewhere like Michael’s," she said, adding "Things were pretty mismatched, but we didn’t care."
Griffin said they also raided their family attics and garages for furniture hand-me-downs, then bought bright slipcovers to freshen them up and got candles with decorative holders and picture frames to tie the rooms together.
Courtney Hazlett, a Tulane University alum who lived in a dorm her first year, then two different apartments during her time in New Orleans, said she stuck to one fail-safe rule to decorate each residence. "Stick to multi-functional pieces," she said. "That way you’re always getting two for the price of one."
"My theme was to find things that could double as something else," said Hazlett. "The couch was also a futon so if friends decided to stay the night they’d have a bed. My side table converted into a coffee table, so I could push it out of the way when a lot of people came over, or use it as a dining table or study area when I was home alone. And no one keeps groceries in their pantries in college, so the food shelves were my bookshelves."
Hazlett said she did the bulk of her shopping and decorating at the start of the semester. "That’s when Pier 1 is doing its beginning of the year discount. The Pier 1 discount is huge."
Katie Johnston, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, said shopping at the annual school poster sale is a great way to add a touch of high art to walls, while shelling out just a few bucks. She and her roommates got together to sponge paint their living room walls, a simple method that looks great, uses less paint and costs less too.
Johnston said she also put her holiday decorations to good use when she moved into a new apartment last year. "Colored Christmas lights are a great and cheap way to brighten up any room," she said.
So, it goes to show, with just a little television and a bit of imagination, any student can become a home-decorating guru and create great space, most likely for less than the cost of one classes’ worth of school books.
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