Create a Boho Chic Dorm Room

Create a Boho Chic Dorm Room

In styling a dorm room for my daughter’s freshman year at the University of Alabama, I wanted to design a space that felt like HOME. Although Grace couldn’t wait to go to college, the fears and doubts of moving to another state, in the middle of a pandemic, set in shortly before we left. I knew that creating a room that was both stylish and peaceful would help to ensure a successful transition.

Much like the process I use to style spaces for HGTV, HomeGoods and my own home with seven children, I relied on 5 simple steps to create this small space. If you’re looking for a few tips or suggestions on how to recreate this look or to design something similar, simply follow the steps below.

1. Start with an inspiration piece to guide your color palette. For this room, Grace selected a coastal watercolor print from the Etsy shop HEARTSinCOLORS and we emailed that image to Smallwoods Home to be framed. We identified the three most prominent colors and that is how we styled ivories/neutrals, blushes and hints of aqua for our main color scheme. We then added two additional prints from Forn Studio on Etsy and had those framed as well.

2. Layer, layer, layer. My signature style always involves a mixture of textured whites and neutrals. For the bedding, we used a down insert within a tufted dot duvet from Urban Outfitters and layered that with an oversized, tasseled taupe and white throw blanket from Room 422. We also purchased the oversized pillow and two neutral printed throw pillows, from Room 422, to create a bed that would have enough back support for studying but enough comfort for sleeping. The smaller, tufted throw pillows tied in the colors from the inspiration art and we coordinated that with a 5x7 Bohemian rug from Urban Outfitters.

3. Get the headboard. Whether it’s a wooden headboard that is nailed on or the upholstered, stick on style we ordered from Room 422 shown here, these pieces really give the look and feel of home. Although I have a freshman daughter in college now, in two years I’ll be sending my teenage son off to school. While I may not get as many pillows for him, I will get him a neutral headboard.

4. Utilize storage that stylishly hides things. When creating young adult spaces, I typically do not use open cubby systems or bookcases to display every perfume bottle and picture frame. I feel like showcasing all of the little things makes a small space look cluttered. Instead, we used this IKEA tall dresser for a lot of clothing and supplies. A long, paneled bed skirt from Room 422 hides tubs, suitcases and tools. Canvas bins in the closet contain school supplies, overstock items and gadgets.

5. Add life to a space. Dorms are often small and sterile spaces that often feel very institutionalized. Style a  faux plant, like this fiddle leaf, in a corner or add a real plant by a window for visual appeal and an element of Mother Nature to a dorm room. You can also hang succulents in macramé hangers or grab small pots of greenery from HomeGoods for your desk or dresser.


Because my daughter was so nervous about starting school, I really wanted her to have a statement piece in her room, something that she felt excited about, something that gave the room an entirely new look. I saw a seagrass pendant at World Market and instantly thought of hanging that to the ceiling and i nserting a battery-operated puck light as an alternative to the fluorescent light overhead. Naturally Grace doubted my DIY project idea but was pleasantly surprised at the final result. The addition of the DIY chandelier transformed the space from a basic dorm room to a stylish bedroom.

At the end of the bed, we added a wall mirror/ multi-hook wall shelf for Grace’s jewelry and a mango wood, wall mirror for full-length fashion views. A rolling laundry cart from HomeGoods is a convenient place to store detergent and dirty clothes while this round mirror, once it arrives, will serve as a makeup mirror on her desk.

Our goodbye was a tough one but knowing that my daughter loved her new bedroom and styled common space was a comforting relief as her brother and I watched her walk back into her dorm begin the next chapter of her life. I have given her roots and it is her time to fly…but I left her a little note on her pillowcase as a reminder that I am thinking of her each day.


  • Bring a tool kit and a drill. I ordered a pink and black tool kit for Grace to keep just as my dad had done for me. Every parent in that four-person dorm suite used that kit at some point over the weekend. I also brought double sided rug tape, Velcro strips, command strips/hooks and nails depending on what the rules were and what we needed. We also brought our own folding/ convertible dolly in case rolling carts weren’t available OR she has to move out suddenly for COVID.
  • Bring your décor with you. Alabama is a big school in a college town. Even with an early move in date, Target, Walmart and HomeGoods were low on stock, some cleared out, of college decorating essentials. Things like throw pillows, accents and blankets were in short supply. Clorox wipes and cleaning supplies were also hard to find.
  • Since candles are not permitted, Scentsy or wax warmers can really help with creating a pleasant smelling space.
  • Bring lamps. Those fluorescent lights are not only unflattering for makeup but draining on a student all day long. We picked up a brass, standing lamp for the common area and two small beaded lamps from HomeGoods for the actual room.


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