Welcome to the Era of the $10,000 Designer Dorm Room
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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.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Car Dealers on Why Some Customers Hesitate With EVs

Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

Mon, Dec 11, 2023 4 min

Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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