Dorm decor for less: Back-to-school privacy that isn't pricey

Dorm decor for less: Back-to-school privacy that isn't priceyDorm living can prove challenging, especially the living-with-strangers part. But take it from those who have gone before: There are stylish ways to divide the space without being divisive. And it doesn't have to cost a lot.

When Monja Caughron's daughter Rachel Doyle moved into a dorm at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Tex. (pictured), she wanted to strike a balance between sacrificing privacy and being social. So mom and dad drew up plans and created a bed that resembles a train berth compartment.

The project involved building a full height headboard and foot board that fit around the provided dorm furniture, adding a curtain rod and finally, storage underneath. They even installed a flat panel TV into the new footboard. As her daughter is moving into an apartment this year, the Caughrons have passed this treasured dorm room bed set to another student. To recreate the design, Caughron advises that "getting exact measurements from existing dorm beds is a must!"

Costs: $175 for lumber, paint, cork board, padded headboard and drapes.

This is an excellent way to privatize a dorm room, but college students whose parents aren't as talented or handy can still create personal space. For example, the loft bed hack on the Lovely Undergrad Blog has the look and feel of a curtained-bed project. It was done using the loft bed kit provided by many colleges. (You can rent them for less than $200.)

You can also create private space in a dorm room without using a curtain (probably good news for guys). Portable partitions can serve as a wall and cost as little as $139. Standing floor or shoji screens may not be as sturdy, but start at $43. You can also use existing dorm room furniture to create smaller rooms within the dorm room. Here are some examples, based on an average dorm room layout.

Plan #1: Foot to foot beds
For rooms that are long and narrow, beds can be placed foot to foot and divided by a tall bookshelf or dividing screen. You can also screen in the front of the bed using the loft bed hack curtain idea. Place the fridge where the beds meet, and add chairs in front of the beds for lounging and spending time together. Desks can go next to the head of each bed for optimum separation when studying, and dressers and closets can be placed next to each other.

Cost: $100-$200 for chairs and dividers.

Plan#2: Desks in the center
Create an arrangement that allows you to study together, but sleep as far apart as possible. Place one bed near the door perpendicular to the window wall, and the other horizontally against the window wall. Place the desks in the center of the room, back to back, dividing the space, and arrange dressers and nightstands at the head of the beds. Stack them carefully on top of the dresser if necessary. Place armoires and the fridge on the wall opposite the beds. Use a standing floor screen for added privacy.

Cost $40-$100 for floor screen.

Plan #3 Furniture as dividers

Divide the room completely in half by placing armoires and desks back to back. For more privacy when studying, place a screen between the two desks or put back to back hutches on top of the desks. Arrange the beds and each side of the room as you like.

Cost: Nothing!

Plan #4 Bunk Beds as divider
You can have privacy with bunk beds. In this case, place them in the center of the room, perpendicular to the wall and divide the space in half. Turn the bottom bunk into a fort using Velcro dots and flat sheets, though guys risk ridicule putting a curtain around the bottom. Or: Place furniture against one side of the bed for maximum privacy, creating a space for the person on the top bunk to place their night table items. Add some cozy chairs for when the roommates want to hang out together.

Cost: Nothing-$30 for fort curtain and $50-$100 for chairs.

Plan #5 Divided room with social area
If you want your own space some of the time but also like being social, place bunk beds against the wall in the center of the room. Put lounge chairs in front of the bunk beds, partially blocking access to the bottom bunk for maximum privacy. In a long room, this will create space at both the head and foot of the bed for dressing and study areas. This also works well in a room when armoires are already built in.

Cost $50-$100 for chairs.

Room floor plan image created by Andrea Hermitt using Google Sketchup, a royalty-free design program.
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