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For many college kids, the dorms are home for all four years, and they're happy campers. But for many others, the opportunity to move off-campus, into an apartment or house, is a welcome lifestyle change.
Along with more autonomy and privacy, living off-campus means setting up and taking care of a kitchen, bathroom, common space and more. So once the keys are in hand, here are some tips on decorating the off-campus nest.
Typically, kids choose a group of friends to live with to share costs. Once the home's been secured, have a group discussion about what the common spaces will look like, advises Sabrina Soto, Target's home style expert. Come prepared with a list of things that matter to you, but "be willing to compromise," she says.
There are sure to be taste differences among housemates, so it might be best to keep common spaces neutral. Janice Simonson, an IKEA design spokesperson, points out an added bonus to doing so: "A monochromatic or limited color scheme can go a long way towards visually calming a small, crowded space."
Paint is a good way to bring color and life to a room, if the landlord permits. If not, look for wall decals and posters. Instead of tacking up art with pushpins or tape, use inexpensive frames for a more grown-up look.
Double check on existing window treatments before heading for the curtain aisle. If you've got to buy, get twin packaged drapes, interesting fabric shower curtains in pairs, or easy stick up blinds like Redi-Shades.
First, see what you can scrounge from families and friends or get secondhand. Find out if your space's current renters ‚Äî often graduating students ‚Äî are willing to leave large items. Fill in the holes with inexpensive pieces that can take some hard living.
Two students at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Aimee Ciancarelli and Rachel Michaud, got creative when they moved into a Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment together last January.
"At Goodwill, we found a vintage phone, a shelf and some cute bottles. We got a free couch and chair from Craigslist. And we decorated the walls with our own artwork," Ciancarelli says.
Bob Koch, a senior at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., says his R2D2 trashcan gave his place some character, but the best purchase was "this huge beanbag chair ‚Äî it was everyone's favorite thing in the apartment."
Simonson advises "multi-tasking."
"Invest in pieces like a sofa bed with slipcover that can convert to an extra bed and features storage underneath," she says.
Side tables like IKEA's Lack series can be grouped, and also used as seating. Shelving units do double duty as space dividers and clutter busters. Inexpensive mirrors can work as art, space expanders and convenient primping stations in a houseful of kids when everyone's getting ready at the same time.
Some retailers offer a shopping checklist: Target has one you can customize, sharing it on social media sites with roomies, and then printing it out at in-store kiosks or sending it to your smart phone.
If your sleeping space is now larger, consider getting a full-size bed.
"But invest in new bedding," Soto advises. "It's where you can really have fun with color, and define your personality."
A reversible comforter with a solid hue on one side and a pattern on the other gives you style options.
For an all-guy house, consider the Discos bed and bath collection from the online artwear collective Threadless; available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, it features an LP graphic. IKEA's got some bold, patterned bedding like Vannerna and Dvala.
Bath accessories with punch will make 8 a.m. classes easier to face. Kids' departments have whimsical items such as woodland-creature soap dispensers and girly textiles. Urban Outfitters has city map and batik-printed shower curtains that would suit a unisex bath.
Transition spaces like entryways need decor, too; get a console or bench to drop keys and mail, with a small accent lamp for late-night homecomings. Add some art and a washable rug.
"Floating shelves are one of my favorite shared-home solutions," Soto notes. "Without sacrificing floor area, they give you extra space and let you get creative."
Think about what you'll actually use and don't overbuy in the appliance department, or in electronics. And leave any treasures in a box or at home with your parents.
A full-size kitchen will be new for most college renters. It can either be a super-size, cereal-soda-and-ramen depot or a place where fun, healthy meals come from. Buy items that are durable, microwavable and dishwasher-safe.
Walmart offers a good selection of stoneware dinner sets for under $30; Target has inexpensive, practical, white dinnerware and the Room Essentials' colorful utensils collection.
Is someone a budding chef or baker? Off-price stores such as Homegoods have several high quality brands for more serious cooks.