Welcome to the Era of the $10,000 Designer Dorm Room | Kanebridge News
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Welcome to the Era of the $10,000 Designer Dorm Room

College students hungry for comfort and TikTok acclaim are pouring extra creativity into decorating their living spaces

Thu, Sep 8, 2022 1:35pmGrey Clock 3 min

Dorm rooms are designed to be utilitarian: 12-by-19 feet of standard-issue furniture and cinder-block walls.

Don’t tell that to today’s college freshmen.

At schools across the country, students are locked in unofficial competitions for who can make their dorms the least dorm like. Some wealthier families are spending hundreds of dollars or more on dormitory décor, even hiring designers. Other students are doing time-intensive DIY projects on the cheap. Some of those efforts culminate in dorm-room-transformation videos that rack up millions of views on TikTok.

The over-the-top rooms are often a collaboration between kids and their parents and stand as a contrast to last year, when many students weren’t allowed to have anyone help them move in at all due to Covid-19 concerns.

University of Mississippi freshmen Ansley Spinks and Taylor Robinson live in one of the most viral examples. The barren “before” and tricked-out “after” TikTok video of their violet-accented room has 3.8 million views and thousands of comments to the tune of, “OMG that looks like a room in a normal house.”

The two women and their moms, who didn’t meet until move-in day, had been sending each other messages since late May. They ordered light-up signs spelling out their names off Etsy, picked out matching bedding and built a virtual 3-D model of the room to workshop layouts, landing on one with a dedicated lounge space for watching TV.

Amber Park, Ansley’s mother, says the eight-hour assembly and roughly $2,000 they spent (that the girls largely funded themselves) is nothing compared with what she’s heard some other moms say they pay.

“It’s a crazy thing, especially in the South,” says Ms. Park, a 48-year-old human-resources consultant who lives in Marietta, Ga.

Dozens of families pay Dawn Thomas of After Five Designs as much as $10,000 to give their kids magazine-worthy rooms. Ms. Thomas has been decorating dorms at schools like the University of Alabama, Ole Miss and UCLA for 19 years. She says this year is different in how much pressure students are putting on themselves to have perfectly Instagrammable rooms. The $1,050 cabinet she designed to camouflage a mini-fridge sold out in a matter of weeks.

“Some days I go, ‘Do people do all this for a picture? Are they doing it for Instagram?’” says Ms. Thomas, who is based in Jackson, Miss. She says she gets effusive thank-you texts from moms when they’re back home for giving their kids a cozy place to live.

For Sydney Hargrove, having a swoon-worthy room is a matter of identity. The 18-year-old sophomore at New York City’s Hunter College says she made a lot of her friends during her freshman year by leaving her door open. This year’s room features a wall-to-wall green shag rug and black-and-white polka dotted peel-and-stick wallpaper.

Some of the two million people who viewed the TikTok of her room have criticised her for investing so much time and money in a space she’s spending less than a year in. She says the effort is worth it—and that she spent a lot less than people think. (About $100 this year and $300 last, she says, which she earned at her summer job working at a New Jersey beach.)

“With all the things going on in the world, there’s so much uncertainty, and New York is a tumultuous place to live, so coming back to this dorm is a form of therapy,” she says.

Allyson Schall, a senior at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio, has done up her dorm every year. She believes this year’s edition takes the cake. As a residential adviser, she wanted to create a space where freshmen on her floor would feel comfortable hanging out.

“It looked like a jail cell in the beginning,” Ms. Schall, 21, says.

She leveraged her summer job at Target to snatch up a $300 midcentury-modern-inspired armchair on sale for $80. She rigged an outdoor lantern to the ceiling using zip ties and command strips for mood lighting.

Her parents were supportive of her passion for interior design—until they had to help unload three cars’ worth of belongings, including a headboard her father built.

Bayla Felton-Jones, a freshman at Elizabeth City State University, in Elizabeth City, N.C., spent days this past summer planning every inch of his “light and airy modern” room. That includes the spacing of the honours certificates above his bed and the fluffy grey welcome mat outside his door.

“I want my college experience to be one I can remember, since I got robbed of high school with Covid, and my room is a part of that,” says Mr. Felton-Jones, 18.

His roommate, Quinn Miller, missed the memo.

Unable to find Mr. Miller on Instagram or Facebook before move-in on Aug. 16, Mr. Felton-Jones hoped for the best. He got pure practicality: blank walls, one pillow and a towel thrown over the end of the bed.

Mr. Miller won’t argue that he’s a minimalist. “I just sleep here pretty much,” says Mr. Miller, 20. “I don’t see a point in spending money on things that I don’t need.”

Mr. Felton-Jones’s friends and parents find the contrast between the two halves of the room hilarious. They tell him that when they walk in, “You first look at heaven, and then you look over and you’re like, ‘Oh, well, never mind.’ ”

His saving grace? The unmade bed is at least in his colour scheme.


Interior designer Thomas Hamel on where it goes wrong in so many homes.

Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.

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RMIT expert says a conflation of factors is making the property market hard than ever to predict

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A leading property academic has described navigating the current Australian housing market ‘like steering a ship through a thick fog while trying to avoid obstacles’.

Lecturer in RMIT’s School of Property Construction and Project Management Dr Woon-Weng Wong said the combination of consecutive interest rate rises aimed at combating high inflation, higher property prices during the pandemic and cost of living pressures such as the end of the fuel excise that occurred this week made it increasingly difficult for those looking to enter or upgrade to find the right path.

“Property prices grew by approximately 25 percent over the pandemic so it’s unsurprising that much of that growth ultimately proved unsustainable and the market is now correcting itself,” Dr Wong says. “Despite the recent softening, the market is still significantly above its long-term trend and there are substantial headwinds in the coming months. Headline inflation is still red hot, and the central bank won’t back down until it reins in these spiralling prices.” 

This should be enough to give anyone considering entering the market pause, he says.

“While falling house prices may seem like an ideal situation for those looking to buy, once the high interest rates, taxes and other expenses are considered, the true costs of owning the property are much higher,” Dr Wong says. 

“People also must consider time lags in the rate hikes, which many are yet to feel to brunt of. It can take anywhere from 6 to 24 months before an initial change in interest rates eventually flows on to the rest of the economy, so current mortgage holders and prospective home buyers need to take this into account.” 


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