Dorm essentials: Curated decor creates a comfortable home away from home

With training camp underway at Saint Vincent College, the Pittsburgh Steelers are reliving that quintessential part of the campus experience: dorm life.

They’ve done what college students have been doing for decades, finding ways to get comfortable in confined spaces.

Or not.

While former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger “brought the comforts of home to Latrobe,” according to coach Mike Tomlin, defensive tackle Cam Heyward “is somewhat of a caveman.”

Shortly after the Steelers vacate the premises — the last practice is Thursday — students will arrive not only at Saint Vincent, but at campuses across the region. And they’ll begin the process of settling into their homes away from home.

“I’ve seen students who don’t put much into it, and I’ve seen some over the years where they’ve gone above and beyond what you would ever expect to see in a dorm room,” said Brian Root, assistant director of housing and residence life at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

Pitt-Greensburg has about 600 beds in five halls, both traditional
dorms and apartment-­style accommodations.

“Every student gets a bed, a desk, a dresser and, if their living space has a common area, they get a couch and a chair. Anything they want to use to supplement, like bedding and decor, they bring on their own,” Root said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to personalize the space.”

It’s a similar situation at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, where there are 950 available spaces, in single and double rooms and suites containing bedrooms for four to six students and a common space.

“All rooms have an adjustable bed frame, twin XL mattress, desk and chair, shelving unit and chest of drawers,” said Cory Campbell, Seton Hill’s director of residence life.

At both schools, students also are supplied with, or have access to, amenities such as mini refrigerators, irons and ironing boards, vacuum cleaners, laundry facilities and cable and internet service.

Beyond that, they have a lot of freedom to make their spaces more comfortable.

“I’ve worked with college students for a number of years, and I know how important it is to them to bring a taste of home with them to their dorm,” Root said. “Especially, students who might be coming far away from home like to keep home close to their heart.”

Curated spaces

In recent years, Campbell has noticed students are putting more time, effort and cash into creating a look or a theme in their dorm rooms.

“Today’s student space is more curated than in the past. The girls and the guys alike have a theme or something they’re going for,” he said. “It seems like they have quite a bit of fun planning that out and decorating their spaces.”

Strings of fairy lights are popular at Pitt-Greensburg and Seton Hill.

“I notice fewer posters than there used to be and a lot more pictures and picture collages, and tapestries are making a big comeback,” Campbell said.

Personal photos are big at Pitt-Greensburg, too.

“They’re putting a lot of photos on the wall in an artistic way, creating murals that mean something to them,” Root said.

Designer Sophia Lee agrees with Campbell and Root that photo walls, tapestries and strings of light are right on trend for the fall 2022 dorm room. Here are a few more campus-living trends she lists at bysophialee.com:

• Neutral backgrounds with pops of color

• Mixing bold colors and prints

• Matching bedding (and even pajamas) with your roommates

• Letter boards

• Neon signs

• Monogrammed items

• Floating shelves

• Metallic accents

Students who will be sharing spaces are encouraged to check with their roommates before heading to school, to coordinate their decor and to avoid duplicating items.

“We always tell people to try to communicate with their roommates ahead of time, so they’re not all bringing the same thing,” Root said. “If three people bring pots and pans for the kitchen, it’s probably not all gonna fit.”

Keep it simple

Part of curating a look is to make sure you’re not overloading the space with stuff, Root said. Move-in day always finds a couple of families arriving with a truckload.

“Our director always jokes about it during the orientation PowerPoint,” he said. “He has a little image of a U-Haul truck that flies in from the side of the screen, and he says, ‘Don’t bring this.’

“The trick is to bring the right things that will help them to not get homesick, or bring some creature comforts but not cause issues,” Root said. “Not every dorm is spacious enough for a U-Haul full of things.”

Paring down your wardrobe helps to save space.

“Maybe bring your fall clothes now and, when you go home for Thanksgiving recess, that’s when you grab your winter clothes,” Root said.

Websites for Seton Hill and Pitt-Greensburg includes lists of items supplied to students, items it is suggested they bring and those that are prohibited, including weapons and anything with an open flame.

Pitt-Greensburg students can even request to have a pet hamster, gerbil, chinchilla or guinea pig on campus, subject to restrictions and approval.

There’s one thing not on Seton Hill’s list that Campbell highly recommends.

“For essentials, this is always my hot tip: Get yourself a small, folding stepstool,” he said. “They take up a small amount of room, they’re fairly cheap to purchase, and it’s way safer than standing on that spinning chair or rocking chair when you’re getting your winter clothes down from the top shelf or hanging those lights or whatever you need to do.

“I always say, unless you’re the student coming in to be the new star of the basketball team, there are lots of things you’ll need to be reaching and this comes in handy.”

Students work hard to succeed at school, Root said, so they need a welcoming, comfortable space in which to relax and recharge.

“We know this is a big thing for students coming to college,” he said. “They’re gonna spend a lot of time in that space, so they want it to feel like home.”

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at smcmarlin@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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