How to Decorate A Chic DormInterviews
Some students have deeper pockets — or more generous parents — than others.
Take 33-year-old Negev, who moved from Israel to the city last month with his wife and kids to start a master’s in computer science at Columbia. (He asked to be identified by his first name only for privacy reasons.)
With a budget of about $20,000 per month, they landed a spacious four-bedroom in a prime prewar Upper West Side building. Because his family will only be in town for two years, he hired Sean Juneja of Decor Aid to outfit the 3,200-square-foot home to suit the adults’ bright, modern sensibility as well as 2-year-old twins Adam and Miley’s need for safety, desire for fun and penchant for messes.
The decorating budget? $28,000. Plus, all the furniture will get donated when the family repatriates, so it has to hold up decently.
What Negev & Co. got was a colorful space with no sharp edges. Midcentury modern pieces abound, like an arc floor lamp and Eames-inspired red dining chairs from LexMod, blue butterfly chairs, Moroccan-style poufs and glittery frog prints from AllModern and an abstract rug from CB2. Fun, removable decals from Etsy spiff up the playroom’s white walls.
It wasn’t an average project. “For a lot of students, the designers go to flea markets all the time; they have their favorite thrift shops,” Juneja says. But some deals were scored. “Negev’s dining room chairs are classics,” he notes (given that the original Herman Miller version retails for $419 each), “and we got them at a reasonable price.”
It’s not uncommon for dorm decorating budgets to total in the tens of thousands of dollars. After a Canadian couple’s daughter got admitted to NYU, they bought a one-bedroom apartment near Gramercy Park. Then Taylor Spellman, founder and partner of interior design firm August Black, got a call to make the space suitable for a student — with a $60,000 budget for renovations and the directive that it would eventually double as a pied-à-terre.
“Let’s get her this amazing space, and let her have the ultimate young-girl-in-New-York-City life, and then when she graduates, we’ll take it over,” Spellman recounts. “Typically, when you think of dorm decor, it’s concrete walls. You’re buying a bedside table from Target. Some parents would say, ‘We’re not going to build $10,000 custom floor-to-ceiling bookshelves so you can have a really nice place to organize your notebooks.’ It’s interesting pairing fun, young design with a $1.5 million apartment. We made it girly and a little whimsical.”
Spellman lofted the bed above the kitchen and turned the “bedroom” into a library for schoolwork with a ladder to reach books and supplies stored on high-up shelves and in cabinets. Patterned throw pillows and window shades are from Robert Allen, a brand Spellman likes because it’s not too stuffy.
It’s not the only chic and pricey project Spellman has masterminded for a student. In 2012, Spellman worked with a Hong Kong native who was about to matriculate at Fordham. Her parents shelled out for a $2 million pad near the United Nations (“this apartment was like ‘We have more money than we know what to do with’”), plus an extra $200,000 for Spellman’s makeover.
She toured the NYC newcomer around the Decoration & Design Building, serving as “the mediator between her father, a.k.a. reality, and her dreams and wants and whims” — like a $5,000 headboard.
One major change: Spellman took two closets in the only bedroom, gutted them and combined them to create a “desk command center” with doors that closed for silence and privacy. “With a normal New Yorker, closet space is everything, but we had to prioritize,” Spellman says. “As a student, the most important thing is making sure you have a proper desk. When the parents are checking in, they want to know it’s not going to be a party pad. It translates into, “This is not just where I’m going to get wasted, it’s where I’m going to study, too.’”