Sprucing up your space

Postscript explores the overwhelming task of transforming a small room into a unique, spacious sanctuary

Although figuring out how to make a small space interesting can be confusing, there have never been more options to get creative.
Although figuring out how to make a small space interesting can be confusing, there have never been more options to get creative.
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I still remember moving into my dorm room as a frosh two years ago as though it were yesterday.

After hauling all of my stuff up four flights of stairs, I spent the day setting up my new room. After I finished, I admired my organizational skills.

Tragically, these skills lasted approximately halfway through Frosh Week.

My funky green “reading” chair became a clothes rack, my desk a sanctuary for useless papers and my floor a danger zone due to my ever-expanding shoe collection. I also realized I didn’t even have anything to spruce up my white walls.

After moving into a small bedroom in a house last summer, I was determined to change my ways. I once again had an organized space; I even had a Twilight poster up on my wall (which, after I realized I was no longer thirteen, was promptly removed).

This organization was once again short-lived, with my desk unusable, my closet crammed, and my floor—oh, just so many shoes! I was annoyed at my lack of ability to make my room a fun hangout spot, a workspace or liveable in general.

I wondered—did I really lack the knack for design, or was I simply lazy? Whatever my problem, I decided it was time to consult the experts.

Creating space

Janise Saikaley is the lead designer and owner of Uproar Design in Ottawa.

“If someone spends a lot of time in their room, organization is key,” she said.

One aspect of creating more space in a room is determining how much space to allow for different activities. Saikaley said students should think realistically about how much space you need to work in, and to design your bed according to the size of your room.

“You don’t necessarily need a queen size bed in a room that carries only a double,” she said, adding that many places also sell extra-long single bed mattresses.

It’s also important to keep your bed area free of clutter, she said. “You want to keep that space uncluttered so your head will be uncluttered,” she said. “Make sure your bed is your serenity.”

Another way to create more space is to create lots of storage areas.

One idea is to invest in storage boxes that can easily fit under your bed, Saikaley said. “Any storage under the bed is valuable.”

Many pieces in your room can also have multiple functions, which is another space-saver. For instance, if you have a minifridge you can use its surface, Saikaley said.

A small filing cabinet is also multifunctional as it creates storage and can act as furniture, she said. “Get a cover for it and it can act as a side table.”

Accenting your space

An important way to tie your room together is the wall colour (if you can paint it), Saikaley said.

“To me the colour is principle. Put a colour in your room that you like, that you feel comfortable in.” If you use your room to do lots of work, green is an excellent choice as it stimulates concentration, she said, and try to steer away from lots of red as it arouses anxiety.

In terms of bedding, she said, messy people should get some in a darker colour so stains and marks won’t show up as easily.

Another important accent to a room is lighting, especially task lights, she said.

“Have a really nice light in there, something that will be at your work space so your eyes don’t get tired.” In terms of posters and wall hangings, “get one or two,” she said, so that your walls are not over cluttered.

Know your rules

If you’re moving into off-campus housing for the first time, it can be tricky to know what your limitations are when decorating your space.

Joan Jones, coordinator of Queen’s Town Gown Relations, said landlords often have different rules for painting a room.

Many landlords have strict no-paint policies, others allow painting with their permission and some insist the walls be painted back to their original colour when the students move out, she said, adding that students should be careful to communicate with their landlords before painting.

Another popular issue is the wall and what students can do with it.

“Under Ontario law you’re not allowed to affix anything to the landlord’s property without their permission,” Jones said, adding that this includes wall anchors, closet organizers and anything that will peel off paint, damage the surface or change the structure of the walls.

Although students should be informed about what they can and can’t do, Jones said students today are lucky.

“There are so many more options available than somebody 30 years ago. People can get creative,” she said, adding that many stores now sell adhesives for posters, wall decals and peel on/peel off graphics.

“They cause no damage whatsoever.” Another simple, worry-free way to decorate is fabric choice. “If you get really cool curtains or bed linens that really makes a difference,” Jones said.

Preventing problems

While students tend to prioritize the aesthetic of a room, Jones said it’s important for them to also think about safety.

“Placement of things is really important,” she said. “Jamming too much stuff is an invitation to a fire hazard.” Jones said students also need to be aware of any appliances in their room that produce heat. “A few years ago we had a couple of fires in student housing ... somebody had a humidifier in their room; the humidifier overheated and set fire,” she said. “[Another student] had a high heat halogen light bulb that fell onto a bed.”

Mould is another common problem for students, Jones said.

“Because these houses are so old and because they’re not so insulated ... If you push your bed up against an exterior wall, sometimes the air doesn’t circulate and condensation forms,” she said, adding that the moisture will then get trapped inside and mould will begin to breed.

An easy way to prevent this is to pay attention to furniture placement, Jones said.

“Don’t jam everything against the wall, especially when it’s an exterior wall ... you will trap all the moisture inside, even if your house is brand new.” Students should also always check that air is circulating properly in closets and behind beds, she said. “You need to be really conscious.”

Functional finds

According to Saikaley, these pieces are very useful for living in a dorm or small space.

  • Full length mirror: Useful to hang on the back of a door.
  • Dry erase/bulletin boards: Often sold as two-in-one.
  • Essential oils: Great alternative to candles. A few drops are put into light bulb ring diffusers that fit onto a light bulb. The heat from the bulb transfers to the ring, which then diffuses the scent.
  • Roller blinds: Great for light sleepers as they easily block out the sun.
  • Rugs: Cheap ways to spruce up a room. Sheepskin rugs are also warm on feet.
  • Large pillows: Useful to lean against for reading in bed.
  • Air mattress: Useful when you have guests over, and can be easily stored when not in use.
  • Laptop supports: Good for people who use their laptops in bed. They also prevent overheating and increase air flow underneath.

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