The dorm debate: How to successfully decorate

By Elizabeth Fox MCT

PHILADELPHIA – As anyone who has ever possessed a single square foot of space knows, decorating matters. Even those who profess not to care really want their abodes to look attractive, be comfortable and feel like home.

Under the best of circumstances, that can be difficult. So imagine the strain of working to organize and decorate a shoebox of a room with people who live far away – people you may not even know.

Ah, college! Not just the harbinger of academic challenges and new social pressures, it offers the bonus struggle of the dorm room. As someone gearing up for yet another year of the higher-education experience, I’m in a position to understand.

My future residence is a two-room triple, with three desks, three beds and startlingly little closet space. Other than that, I’m fuzzy on the details, as are my two roommates, one from California, one from Texas.

Compounding the problem is the fact that my college is on the West Coast, which makes it virtually impossible for me to toss my belongings into the car and drive them to campus. Plus, my Texas roommate has packed up for the summer, leaving only the brief message: “I’m in Paris. I will buy posters.”

So when my California roomie, Caitlin Crandell, called to say she was taking a break from Santa Barbara’s beaches to visit me in Philadelphia (I know, I was surprised, too), I immediately thought, “Oh, good! Now we have time to plan our room!”

University of Pennsylvania sophomore Lua O’Brien understands wanting to sort out the decor issues in advance.

“My roommates are all coming up early, and we’re going to go shopping together,” she said. She will share an on-campus apartment with three girls. “Posters, furniture, and cooking stuff, like a George Foreman grill, we’ll do together.”

Rachel Frank, 19, who goes to the University of Michigan, said she and her roommate are talking about decorating now.

“We planned a little bit before we left school. She already had a refrigerator and a microwave, so I am doing the TV and DVD player,” Frank said. “We’re discussing how we want to do our beds because it’s building-block furniture, so you can do it lots of different ways.”

I’m concerned about the clash between my brightly colored, Christmas-lighted, more-than-slightly-messy style and Caitlin’s subdued, stunningly neat one. And don’t even get me started on my anxiety over how the Texas roommate will react to all my Eagles paraphernalia.

When tastes collide, “communication is the bottom line,” said Chayse Dacoda, host of HGTV’s decor-compromise show “Get It Together” (Saturdays at 11 p.m.).

As the founder of her own design business, Dacoda Design, the University of Pennsylvania alum fully understands the desire to incorporate personal style into decorating. But, she points out, “Because you are sharing a room, you have to make sure that you are both getting something out of it. Be willing to listen to the other person and know that you’re sharing one space together.”

The key to that kind of communication, Frank said, is alerting future roomies to important new developments. “I would call and say ‘Hey, I’m looking at this’ or even ‘I bought this’ to at least give them a heads-up.”

Lua O’Brien took that tack recently when she found a chair she thought would go well in her apartment’s double bedroom. “I called my roommate to make sure that it was OK that I bought it.” When she told her two other roommates, they were also “really excited about it.”

When possible, Dacoda said, it’s a good thing to discuss decorating finds ahead of time.

“I mean, if you’re talking about a pillow case, I don’t think that’s relevant to the other person,” she said, “but if you’re talking about your 37-inch TV, then, yeah, you should talk about it.”