Funky Dorm Style Decor: Two Hip Decorating Books for Small Budgets

The words Get Funky over a mod living room from the Pad decorating book
One of the funky apartments from Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living

Today I want to talk about two books that I think of as “dorm style” decorating books. These aren’t books marketed specifically towards students, rather they were the two books I found most helpful to decorating when I lived in a dorm. Most importantly, they are great books for people living in a small space, with minimal decorating budget. And I mean minimal—a lot of the “budget” decorating books are still targeted at readers who own their own homes and maybe even hire interior decorators. Likewise, many of the “small spaces” decorating books consider homes that are two or three times the size of a dorm room. So, even though there are tons of books on budget decorating or decorating small spaces, I wanted to share two books that I actually read, bookmarked, and put in to practice when I was in college.

The other thing that makes these two books great for dorm decorating is a bit more subjective. They are both funky in style. Shelter Now is funky in the modern, abstract minimalist style, which seems to be perpetually popular with the youth. The second book, Pad, is funky in a different way: eclectic, shameless and gaudy. The latter I think must remain popular by the simple fact that living in cramped spaces, with all your stuff packed to the ceiling, the only style you can pull off is eclectic.

But maybe I’m wrong—if you know/are a young person who prefers big flower prints and poofy curtains, let me know in the comments! No matter what your style, I think these two funky decorating books are enormously useful. Let’s get to know them individually.

Shelter Now: Creative Ideas for Today’s Home

by Natalia Marshall

Shelter Now decorating book by Natalia Marshall, book coverShelter Now describes itself as the “the ultimate style guide for anyone wanting to create an interior look that is modern, exciting, and truly individual.” This large paperback covers both decorating fundamentals and inexpensive projects. It was through this book that I finally understood the importance of texture in an attractive room, and she has much to teach you about properly combining colors. There are also fun and easy projects, like the fuzzy seat cover (see photo) and I love the section “Decorating When Cash Is Tight.” These projects are easy, but clever and chic.

A funky pink furry bar stool cover from the book Shelter Now
Learn to make this fluffy bar stool in Shelter Now

Great Decorating Tips from Shelter Now

  • If you don’t want to sew your own curtains, you can attach any hemmed fabric with curtain clips. (I’ve even done this with metal clips from the shower curtain section of hardware store.)
  • If you have an odd piece of wood or metal furniture that doesn’t match the rest of your room, paint it a color a couple shades darker than your walls.

    shelter now recommended copy

  • Measure your room before you go shopping, and take a tape measure with you when you hit thrift stores. This way you can avoid costly mistakes when furniture shopping. (I’d also apply this tip to buying paintings and frames.)
  • Hide ugly clutter in pretty boxes (this is like half of my house).


Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living

by Matt Maranian

Yes, the letters on the cover are iridescent, and those rooms pictured are actually seen through cut-outs in the thick cover.

Pad is probably my favorite decorating book, but it’s not for everyone. If you think chapter names like “Living Womb” and “Sanitary Pad” (get it? For the bathroom!) are in poor taste this may not be the book for you. Most of the living spaces here—and their occupants—are over the top, but they also show how much interior design is an opportunity for us to express ourselves through the art of our living spaces. This quote from one of the homeowners featured in the book nicely summarizes how the extraordinary houses in Pad make me feel:

“I had the privilege when I was really young to travel with Salvadore Dali for six years, and the one thing that I learned while doing that, was that the freedom of your individuality, the freedom of your spirit, is the only thing you really have. The ability to express yourself is your uniqueness. That’s the privilege we have as human beings. In this house, you see that.”

Getting pretty deep for a decorating book!

funky dorm decorating books
Whether you think this room is attractive or atrocious is a good measure of whether Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living Is for You

But more to the point, there are so many interesting projects and decorating ideas between these pages. You can learn to make a furry lamp with a lascivious shade or a window curtain out of a grass hula skirt. There are three separate projects for making an office desk when you have no space or money for an office desk. Pad has a whole chapter on the home bar, from building your own bar to funky punches and hangover cures, to making your own coasters out of resin. This is the kind of book that shows you how to build a flaming centerpiece with Sterno.

Great Decorating Tips from Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living

put Christmas lights and fake flowers in an antique bird cage for a fun lamp
I’m not thrilled about fake flowers, but pairing them with Christmas lights in an antique birdcage is brilliant. From Pad: The Guid to Ultra-Living
  • Make anything into a lamp by filling it with Christmas lights. (See photo)
  • Hide an unsightly area behind a beaded curtain.
  • Don’t like the look of today’s cork boards? Buy a window screen, and affix things to it with paper clips stuck through the holes in the screen.
  • A thick knotted rope hung on a nail makes a super cheap, easy towel rack.
  • Best price and condition for Pad the Guide to Ultra-Living decorating bookLighting is the easiest way to improve a room. Adding a dimmer switch is one way to create mood lighting, or add funky lighting focused on seating areas.

While Alibris has (literally) tons of mass market paperbacks you can grab for a buck, these full-color, large trim-size books that are an incredible bargain. It blows my mind that you can buy these books I got for $25 retail at little more than a dollar, but my loss is your gain. Whatever the price, these are two fantastic decorating books for those with funky, eclectic taste and a DIY spirit.

Speaking of DIY, later this week I’m going to share an excerpt and several books that focus entirely on how to make your own home decorating projects. See you then, my crafty bookworms!