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.


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Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.

The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.

Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.

“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.

With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.

Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.

Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)

The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.

“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”

For some, that means a cheaper hotel. Hotels.com says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.

For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.

Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.

Too much demand

Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.

The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.

“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.

Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.

For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.

To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.

For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.

Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.

Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.

McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.

“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”

Fare first, then destination

Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.

Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.

He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.

He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.

“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.


What goes up, must come down. But not necessarily this fast. Canadian marijuana stocks that posted staggering gains on Wednesday fell just as fast Thursday, while U.S. multistate operators, or MSOs, were dragged down, but fared a bit better. Tilray stock (ticker: TLRY) fell 49.7% Thursday, erasing all its gains from the prior trading day. Aphria stock (APHA) closed down …

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