Over the past few years, going tiny has become a big trend. However, long before vans were being custom built to accommodate a small family or homes were being put on trailers and hauled across the 50 states, 18-year-olds were doing it.
Every August, college students arrive at dorms, sorority houses and apartment complexes on and around university campuses with their possessions all packed into the back of their parents’ cars. Suburbans, Tahoes and any other make and model imaginable are busting at the seams with plastic bins, pillows and all-important mini fridges. And, not so long ago, Lori DeWitt and Lori Sampey were the proud owners of two of those bursting-at-the-seams SUVs in the parking lots of LSU and Ole Miss.
Sampey, a mom of three girls and the owner of a decorating store Joseph Interiors in Alexandria, and DeWitt, a mom of four and a marketing professional, weren’t content with the offerings from big box stores, though. Each year, they found new ways to improve the drab rooms of places like LSU’s Miller Dorm. And when DeWitt’s daughter’s Ole Miss dorm was featured on a social media page praising the increasingly high-end interiors of the tiny spaces, that’s when inspiration struck.
“Through years of decorating dorms, we really perfected the process,” explains DeWitt. “It’s amazing how far dorms have come, even just during the time that I’ve been moving my own kids in. Dorm design is really a thing, and we saw a need for a resource for parents and students.”
The result is Tiny Abode Interiors, a full-service design business catering to college students and their often smaller-than-average living accommodations.
“We ask ourselves what we can do to the rooms to make them have that wow factor,” DeWitt says. “But really, it’s not just for the beauty. It’s emotional, too.”
For DeWitt, each college drop-off day came with its own amount of emotional baggage, in addition to the physical haul of things that needed to travel up flights of stairs and into the small, shared bedrooms. Leaving her kids to learn and grow in a new chapter of their lives was exciting but scary and also a little sad. DeWitt says making her kids’ spaces both functional and beautiful was a way she was able to cope, while also ensuring success for them long after her departure.
“Parents and children are both nervous for that new phase,” DeWitt notes. “But having those creature comforts—making the rooms look like their bedrooms at home—that eases some of the anxiety. I know that if I’m leaving them in a space that is organized and ready to go, they can be their full, productive selves throughout the school year.”
With strange dimensions and tight spaces, DeWitt says that custom items are key in order to fully utilize every inch of a room. There are the more obvious items like bedskirts, curtains and headboards, of course. But, according to DeWitt, the real magic happens with the custom mini fridge cabinets and over-desk built-ins that transform the study space into a vanity. Not only do these items allow for added functionality, but by making them look like true pieces of furniture, they elevate the dorm or apartment into a space that feels like home.
“We’ve got it down pat so that we’re able to fit everything,” DeWitt explains. “And now, there’s people reselling their custom items after they move out of the dorms. So that’s a resource that we try to tap as well.”
Used items aren’t the only way to get pieces made specially for dorms, though. DeWitt and Sampey have also started to attend events like dorm trunk show events that showcase new innovations in the dorm decorating space.
“I think what’s contributing to this interest in dorm design is that children want to feel like they’re home, even when they’re away at college,” DeWitt says. “And now we’ve opened it up to sorority houses and apartments, so we can help kids and parents throughout an entire college journey.”
DeWitt’s youngest will be a senior at Ole Miss this coming year. Sampey’s oldest will be graduating as well, and her youngest will be starting the following fall. But with Tiny Abode just starting out, the pair’s college experience is just beginning. But unlike that first move-in day with their oldest children, this time, they know exactly what to pack in that SUV, and they’re ready to share that knowledge with parents and students across the country.
“Especially with your first, you have no idea what to do or where to turn,” DeWitt explains. “It’s exciting for us to be able to be that resource and that support for parents. This year, we have clients as far as Virginia. We can’t wait to keep growing and growing.”
College move-in day on the horizon? Check out these go-to tips from DeWitt and Sampey for utilizing—and beautifying—dorm rooms.
Measure. Measure. Measure. Even if you can’t go on an in-person dorm tour, though that is preferable, get the dimensions of anything and everything in the space. That allows for maximum spatial planning.
Keep it cool. Invest in a between-the-bed, custom fridge cabinet. It also acts as a bedside table and helps to pull together the design by giving the feeling of real furniture. A high-quality piece can be resold when it’s no longer needed.
Make it match. Whether it’s matching art for the roommates or coordinating throw pillows on the beds, ensuring that everyone is on the same page is vital to creating a harmonious space.
Just duvet it. While a dorm bed might be a twin, a queen duvet is the way to go. According to DeWitt, it just looks and functions better all around.
Hide the closet. DeWitt and Sampey use custom draperies to cover unsightly closet doors. These help to hammer home a color scheme and soften a space that is often filled with hard surfaces.
Plan space to sit. Adding a couch and coffee table helps to make a dorm room feel like more than just a bedroom. DeWitt’s favorite recent find is remote-controlled sconces for over the couch.