Budget decor spices up college housing


CW / Joe Will Field

Leah Goggins | @leahisonline, Assistant Culture Editor

From thrift shopping to throw pillows, four interior design students have taken their college spaces from dull to distinct.

Junior interior design student Sydney Williams doesn’t have any pets, but a familiar furry friend still resides in her house just off of Bryant Drive.

His name is Foster, and he is a taxidermied squirrel with a fishing pole that Williams found wrapped in bubble wrap under the Christmas tree one year, a present from her mom.

“She thinks Alpha Gam[ma Delta] being squirrels is the funniest thing ever,” Williams said. “So she keeps giving me squirrel things, even though I keep telling her not to.”


This squirrel landed a little closer to heart. When Williams was taking photos to celebrate her senior year of high school, she wandered into the antique store outside of Birmingham where she and Foster first met. 

“He’s right here,” Williams said, pointing at a photo hanging on her wall. “So I guess [my mom] just went back and got it.”

Foster isn’t the only reminder of home that populates Williams’s new home in Tuscaloosa. There’s an oversized gingham armchair from her local thrift store, framed family photos along the walls and a few pieces of art. It’s the color and warmth of the things on the walls and the pillows on her bed that really make her bedroom feel like home, Williams said.

Just a few streets over, Mollie Evans, a senior studying interior design, has warmed up her room in the Chi Omega house with some of the same principles.

“I actually painted a lot,” Evans said. “We have two paintings above our beds that I did, and I made a picture wall of all of my paintings. My roommate also had a painting that she did, so it’s a lot of art, which is fun.”

Evans and her new roommate landed on a warm color palette of pinks, oranges and yellows, which allowed them both to create artwork that could live in harmony in their small space. Because the sorority house comes with built-in, dark wood furniture, Evans said, the margin for customization was narrow. Between a small room and a small budget, Evans and her roommate didn’t have much to work with, but they were unfazed.

“We brought stuff together that we already had because I have thought about design in all of the places I’ve lived, but I’m also thinking about what’s going to be the cheapest and what I already have,” Evans said.

When Evans was living in an off-campus house, she found ways to upscale her bargain buys into custom-looking pieces.

“I bought everything from Ikea,” Evans said. “I painted my desk white and did all of this stuff. I changed all the hardware on it, little things like that. I wasn’t about to spend a ton of money on my college room or house.”

With furniture from Ikea, a little paint and some distinctive knobs and pulls from Home Depot, Evans was able to keep to the metallic aesthetic of her first home without breaking the bank. Another interior design student, senior Sarah Carter, knows first-hand how much a subtle customization can help elevate a room.

Carter was still undecided about her major as a freshman, and she let her then-roommate figure out the details of how their freshman dorm would look. As she moved into her sophomore year and a room at Kappa Kappa Gamma, she finally took control of her room’s look.

“I remember wanting it to look really pretty,” Carter said. “So I went to a fabric store with my mom and twin sister, and she said, ‘Pick out what fabric you want for your pillow.’ I picked out the fabric, had the pillow made and really focused on the bedding, and was really happy with it.”

When it comes to living in a pre-furnished dorm, Carter said, the bedding is crucial. To Megan Morrison, a senior studying interior design, that bedding is all about expressing the college student you want to be.

“Coming to college is a time to discover what your style is,” Morrison said. “I think your dorm room becomes sort of like how you dress. It’s a big reflection of who you are.”