Three Syracuse University students have been selected as recipients of the Voyager Scholarship: the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service, a new award for juniors committed to public service funded by the Obama Foundation. The recipients are: Ka’ai Imaikalani I ’24…
Space Hacks, Thrifting, Upcycling: Room Décor Inspo From Professional Designers (With Podcast)
Some may look at an empty residence hall room and see a humdrum space in which they will sleep and store their belongings and nothing more.
Others may visualize an empty room as a blank canvas, just waiting for a little bit of work and a whole lot of creativity to make it a cozy area that reflects their identity and provides respite after a long day of classes, work and activities.
As the University prepares for Syracuse Welcome, we tapped two expert designers for insights and inspiration. Zeke Leonard is an associate professor and associate director of the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ (VPA) School of Design, specializing in environmental and interior design. He is passionate about and conducts research on the role of social responsibility and environmental stewardship in contextually relevant design and fabrication practices.
VPA alumna Amie Freling ’89 is an artist, interior designer and owner of Meme Hill Studio in Rochester, New York. She is also a blogger and social media influencer who has long partnered with such companies as Better Homes and Gardens, HGTV Magazine and Home Goods to bring her “traditional, yet whimsical” design style to life and share it with the masses.
Check out episode 110 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Amie Freling ’89. A transcript is also available.
Whether you’re looking for a few simple ideas to add some pizzazz to your room (on or off campus!) or envision an HGTV-worthy space that provides a picture-perfect backdrop for your college experience, our tips have you covered.
Oh, and in case you haven’t gotten the memo: sustainable design and eco-friendly solutions are always on-trend.
1. Follow the rules.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t start with a disclaimer: If you’re heading to one of our on-campus residence halls or apartments, there are some restrictions on how you can decorate your room and certain items that are not permitted. We highly recommend perusing the packing checklist from New Student and Family Programs, as well as the terms and conditions of graduate and undergraduate housing before heading to campus. It’s also helpful to understand the size and layout of your room, as well as the furnishings included, before showing up to campus with a carload of things that you either won’t need or won’t have the space for.
2. Bring some of your favorite items from home.
Before you hit up a big-box store and purchase everything you think you’ll need for your room brand-new, consider what you already have in your room at home. According to Freling, bedding, pillows, bedside lamps and throw rugs from home can all add coziness to your residence hall room with the added benefit of reminding you of home. “You certainly don’t have to go out and buy everything new,” she says.
Leonard says items from home can also constitute what he calls “objects of long-term value,” which you are more likely to keep rather than trash and then replace in the future. “If you bring that pillow that reminds you of your great aunt, or that blanket that you always lie under while you’re watching TV at home, that’s also something that you’re probably not going to then throw away at the end of the year,” he says.
3. Remember that space is at a premium.
When you move into a residence hall room, “you’re basically living in a little tiny house with another person,” says Freling with a laugh. It is key to maximize the space you have by finding multipurpose pieces—for example, an ottoman that doubles as a storage cube, a lamp that is also a charging station, or a narrow rolling cart with drawers that can provide both surface and storage space while taking up a relatively small footprint.
Speaking of storage, putting your bed on risers or even cinderblocks can help create more space for stowing luggage, extra clothes or laundry baskets. When Freling decorated her daughter Chloe’s room at Ithaca College (which you can read all about on the Meme Hill Studio blog), she even used inexpensive window panels to mimic a bedskirt and conceal items stored under the bed.
4. Shop secondhand, preloved and local.
“Back-to-school annually is a $100 billion retail experience,” says Leonard, noting that it is second only to the winter holidays for retailers in terms of sales. All too often, he says, the school year begins with residence halls overflowing with cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam packaging elements from new items purchased, and ends with dumpster after dumpster filled with the items themselves, many of which are plastic and end up in a landfill.
“Here in Syracuse, we’ve got a really big Salvation Army store. We’ve got a bunch of secondhand stores—315 is one of them, right next to campus. There’s a Habitat for Humanity Restore that has all kind of lamps and stuff,” he says. From a sustainability standpoint, you may also consider bringing only what you absolutely need for day one to campus at move-in, and then picking up items gradually over the first few weeks of the semester—preferably secondhand—as you determine what you truly need to live comfortably in your space.
5. Cardboard, spray paint and the internet are your friends.
There is no shortage of inspiration for turning used wares into the picture-perfect item for your space—we’re pretty sure that is why the internet was invented. Freling says, “I am the queen of DIY—and it doesn’t have to be expensive! I tell everyone to head to Pinterest or just Google ‘dorm rooms,’ there are lots of places to go for inspiration.”
A coat of spray paint is perhaps one of the easiest and cheapest ways to bring new life to a preloved object, such as a desk chair, bedside lamp or small table. (Pro tip: do not use spray paint in your residence hall. Do this outside and before you come to campus!) Spray paint, of course, comes in shades of blue and orange, so this can also be an easy way you show your school spirit.
Leonard says he, too, finds inspiration on social media, using hashtags like #upcycle, #upcycledlighting or #upcycledstorage to gain new ideas. “Searching #cardboardfurniture will get you a ton of really interesting hits,” he says, noting that discarded cardboard will be in abundance as people unpack their store-bought things. “With some Elmer’s glue, cardboard and a craft knife, you can build a storage unit. Add some duct tape, and you’re off to the races.”
6. Let your room be an exploration of your identity.
For many students, especially those entering their first year of college life, decorating and furnishing their residence hall room is an opportunity to showcase their identity and, in some cases, begin to forge a new one. Think about what you value and start there.
If you value your friends from home or your family’s dog, work pictures of them into your décor (Freling reminds us that these days, photos can be made into everything from magnets to temporary wall clings to an accent pillow). If you value protecting the planet, think about how to reduce your environmental impact, bringing repurposed, preloved or borrowed items and only investing in those “objects of long-term value” if you truly need to buy new things.
“I totally respect that identity-creating is a big part of the college experience,” says Leonard. “But my question would be: ‘Does identity have to be a retail experience? Or can identity creation be really self-driven and be about ‘who am I?’ and not ‘what is someone trying to sell me?’”
Want more tips? Head over to Syracuse University’s TikTok for your dorm essentials checklist, courtesy of Soley Liboy ’24. Proud of your room’s style? Show off your décor by tagging @SyracuseU on TikTok or Instagram for the chance to be featured.