Coeds and concerned parents are splurging to make cinderblock cubicles cozy.
By TERRI SAPIENZA
WASHINGTON -- Patrick Baglino, a designer here, works with multimillion-dollar budgets. He's decorated mansions in Washington, New York lofts in SoHo and waterfront condos in Florida. He also does dorm rooms.
A recent makeover for two friends at Georgetown University included Ralph Lauren bed linens, window treatments from Anthropologie and a $1,200 Angela Adams carpet. Total price: about $5,000, not including Baglino's fees.
College students who can't quite manage a personal designer can still customize their dorm decor by registering for exactly what they want at Bed, Bath & amp; Beyond, Linens-N-Things or Wal-Mart. College registries, which have evolved from wedding registries, offer convenience for students and parents, especially those traveling long distances. Some retailers will take your wish list and have everything ready at the store nearest your campus. Bed, Bath & amp; Beyond even delivers to college dorms near its stores.
At American and George Washington universities here, students' push to have a best-dressed room prompted student associations to arrange bus rides to and from the Alexandria, Va., Target during the first week of school. Never mind Washington's monuments and museums. "When students get to school, they want to go to two places," says Julie Weber, executive director of housing and dining programs at AU. "Best Buy and Target."
Moving way past carpet remnants, milk crates and hand-me-down refrigerators, style-conscious students these days aspire to Roman shades, featherbeds and micro-fridges (a combination of refrigerator, freezer and microwave) to adorn their cinderblock cubicles.
Danielle Feuerberg of Centerville, Va., 18, is heading to Tulane University in New Orleans next month. She has not yet met her freshman roommate, Ashlee Riden of Kansas City, also 18, but the two already have shopped together, via e-mail. "I think we were a little overzealous about it," said Feuerberg, "because the day after we became roommates, we started talking about our room -- after getting the formalities out of the way, definitely the first thing we talked about was decorating."
The girls have picked a color scheme for their room (pink and orange) and purchased coordinating bedspreads. "We send hyper-links and pictures of things we've found on the Internet, and e-mail every day with messages like, 'Do you like this?' and 'What do you think of this?'" With gift cards and money saved, Feuerberg has spent $200. By the time she's finished, she expects the cost to be about $500.
That's well below the approximately $1,200 the average freshman spends on back-to-school items, according to a 2004 National Retail Federation survey, which estimates that college students and their parents will spend about $25.7 billion. The breakdown: $7.5 billion on electronics, $8.8 billion on textbooks, $3.2 billion on clothing and accessories, $2.6 billion on dorm or apartment furnishings, $2.1 billion on school supplies and $1.5 billion on shoes.
Turning a sterile dorm room into a cozy, comfortable retreat often means as much to parents as to their college-bound kids.
Baglino says the parents of the Georgetown students he helped seemed more distraught than the children who were about to leave. His help in creating a comfy new nest provided the assurances the parents needed. "My impression was they were letting go of their child and it was a difficult process for them."
Designer Dana Tydings of Laytonsville, Md., has been designing dorm rooms for years. She says families certainly can outfit a room without a pro's help but that advice can be a cost-saver in the long run. "Left to their own devices, parents will overbuy," says Tydings. "They're dealing with their own separation anxiety."
Retailers are keenly aware that many students don't want the same look and color scheme as everyone else on campus. In response, large chains give over a big percentage of their stores' floor space -- and high-visibility promotions online -- to dorm gear. Other stores catering to college-age shoppers, such as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, carry a smaller selection, but their items tend to be edgier and more eclectic. Trends so far this summer, according to Linens-N-Things spokeswoman Anne Evans, include anything brightly colored and extra seating: "Kids have laptops. They don't have to sit at their desks anymore."
Stores also are poised to advise first-time dorm shoppers. Bed, Bath & amp; Beyond even has a registry consultant available at every store. From Evans at Linens-N-Things, we gleaned these tips:
* Most resident halls provide a chair for each student, but extra seating is a must. Collapsible styles save space and are easy to transport and put away.
* Find multipurpose items, such as tapestry, which can be used as a wall hanging, bedspread, window treatment or privacy screen.
* Take advantage of vertical space: tall CD holders, behind-the-door towel or shoe racks, extra closet rods and bed risers, which will lift the bed six inches, adding storage space underneath.
Before parents start spending, Tydings suggests getting a copy of the dorm floor plan: "Space limitations will be the best tool against overbuying." Some last-minute items she suggests: electrical power strips and double-sided Velcro tape. And remember that in most college dorms, halogen lamps are not allowed.
Caroline Vandenberg, 17, of Alexandria, Va., is heading off to Columbia University this fall. She says spending an excessive amount of money on dorm stuff is "illogical," but she has definite thoughts about how she wants her room: "Like home. Nothing about the stark, white, cinderblocks you see when you get there remind you of home."
Her mother, Anne Vandenberg, agrees. "My baby is going away. ... You want to believe that a comfortable room will alleviate the homesickness a little. Caroline is going off to New York. We're worried enough already."