Transforming a Room into a Home

How can you turn your hall bedroom or your new house into a home? Lindsay Bribiescas gives us some ideas about creating a good ambience.

Photo: Lindsay Bribiescas

Room decor is more than just pleasing to the eye; it can affect whose place is chosen for the weekly hangout, is a reflection of the people that live there, and everything, from the colour scheme to even the scent of the room, can heavily influence an individual’s mood.

A comfortable room is often the culmination of many different elements – furniture arrangements, textures, scents, lighting – even how much stuff is in a room can affect how cosy it can seem. Speaking with a few students, I identify and suggest potential additions that can help turn your house, flat, or room into your home.

Diffusers (or a bit of air freshener) can go a long way towards helping out a room, as can a couple of plants, or a few fluffy blankets. However, rooms are also meant to be reflections of their residents, which can be tricky to establish, especially when there are many constraints put on students attempting to decorate. As first years or returners, going into halls can mean decorating is heavily directed by the constraints of dorm life: roommates, fire hazard restrictions, or the size and shape of the room.


One of the easiest and fastest ways to cosy up a room is to change up the lighting in the area and have it more evenly distributed. Small lights are particularly popular, and a string of fairy lights or a table lamp are easy to acquire and add to your room. “Fairy lights are amazing,” says Eleanor Duce, a second year languages student. “We don’t really use the main light; we just use the desk lights and the fairy lights to make it feel more cosy than clinical. The main light’s quite bright.”

Indeed, fairy lights are a popular choice here in St Andrews and overseas, having the potential to bring newly acquainted flatmates together. “We all love fairy lights and we can come together around that, really,” Samantha Harper, a second year mathematics student said. “I like minimalist style, but I understand that our place has to be liveable, too. We mainly just try and talk stuff out. I have ideas, but I like seeing what they come up with, too.”

Many students keep their room lighting low and warm with additional lamps or nightlights, as well as fairy or Christmas lights. Lower, deeper lighting is often more flattering, and is more pleasant to have on as opposed to harsh, overhead lighting.

Lights can also be multipurpose decorating tools, serving not only as lighting devices, but also as actual decorations. Many people like the aesthetic and quirkiness of lava lamps, noting the “grooviness” of the ambiance increasing with each lava lamp added.

“I made myself a little canopy with fairy lights above my bed too,” Ms Harper said, noting that it adds warmth to what was initially a very cold room.

Lighting is one of the most important things about a room because it is what really sets the mood. Katy Kibort says, “It sets what you can work with, where you can work, and the whole atmosphere of a space.” Lighting can be the base and starting point of any student’s decorative and design plans.

Decorative Mixed Media

Adding different materials, like fabrics and patterned paper can also significantly boost one’s situation. This can also offer more control for students unable to paint their living spaces, or who are stuck with tacky pinboards or clashing wallpaper.

Hanging flags or a tapestry can add a bit of colour, fill up space, and bring a feeling of airiness to a room. “Flags are always good, both as a blatant sign of whatever nationalism you prescribe to, or as a larger non-poster version of your beliefs,” Kyra Ward, a third year international relations and economics student said. “At home, we have both the LGBT and bi flags hanging in our flat.”

Sometimes students have little control over some of the most significant framings of a room or house, situated with faded wall colours and stained carpet colours. The infamous hall pin board, usually coated in a carpet-like material, often poses a problem for students. An easy and quick solution is to cover it with some decorative material, such as something as simple as wrapping paper, to make it more of a neutral background and set up.

Colour Scheming

Almost hand in hand with decorative materials are colour schemes, and how they can alter the entire layout and ambience of the room.

Third year Sophie McMurray says of her room, “The colour scheme was blue and white, which I always found kind of calming, and I had a ton of candles and fairy lights, which made it kind of cosy and warm.” She continued, “But because of the colouring, it always felt really peaceful and relaxing to be in my room.”

Ms Harper, however, took the approach of a more neutral, minimalist colour palette, which offers the opportunity to overhaul the mood of the room, with a simple change of the pops of colour in the scheme. Fresh flowers are an easy, clean, and changeable way to do this regularly, but more prominent elements of the room allow for a more obvious change in the atmosphere.

Many people change their rooms with the seasons as well, coordinating the colours in their room with the current season. Student Zere Excel said, “As far as the approach, colour scheme was the first thing I thought about when I got my accommodation offer.” Ms Excel noted the research she did before moving into McIntosh hall, doing her best to pick colours for the duvet, pillows and bedding that could match the rest of the room. She admitted, “Ultimately, I ended up getting marble wallpaper and fixing it over the board, which worked out.”

Moving from dorm to flat living usually means fewer restrictions, but simultaneously can also present more space to arrange and decorate.

“Obviously there was a lot more responsibility having my own flat, and it felt kind of more adult,” Ms McMurray said. “I think the way it was decorated reflected that, too. My room in my flat felt a lot more adult than my dorm room, for sure.”

To get that grown-up feeling from a well put-together room, collaboration between roommates can be incredibly helpful when creating a cosy sitting room, or living room. While having an entirely cohesive house might be out of the question given the different people living under one roof, shared spaces can still be comfortable for residents and guests with open and honest communication about what decorations each person likes and where items are put. Simply drawing attention towards or away from certain aspects in a home can transform it for the better.

Callie Walter, a fourth year psychology student, says that she often tries to draw the eye away from parts of the room that she does not like but cannot change. She said, “With ugly carpet, I can put a rug on top, while a tapestry can draw attention away from the offending element.”

Of course, the most important element of room-decorating is making it comfortable and reflective of the person living there, while including the essentials and any necessary appliances or tools.

“It definitely makes me feel content and focused being surrounded by things that make me feel like me, you know?” Excel said. “Having a place I feel comfortable being in is really nice, and from experience, often shows the best results.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to create a unique atmosphere in a room, which Ms Kibort believes is normal.

“Even if it’s cliche, if it’s something that you enjoy and it shows your personality, go for it,” Ms Kibort said. “And people you’re going to have in your room should probably know your personality by then.”

Ms Kibort also warns against a common mistake: buying a surplus of decorative elements. Clutter is rarely helpful for peace of mind, although the lived in appearance can go a long ways towards cosying up a place. Although having personal effects might detract from the minimalist appearance of the room, it can add to the personality of it and make the space more comfortable to relax in.

In such an international and ever-changing town, it is no surprise that students change rooms all the time in St Andrews – many people never live in the same place twice, and even if they are in the same hall, they might change rooms. Each move means starting over with arranging and decorating the room, while still making it a comfortable place to live. Moving into a new place allows for a clean slate, which means that there can be a total overhaul of decorations and the subsequent atmosphere.

“It’s just quite fun, starting fresh every time you get a new room,” Ms Duce said.

Memorabilia and Photos

Photos are an easy way to carry memories in a suitcase and avoid bulky clutter in a room. Individual photos can also be swapped out easily for a change in decoration. Black and white photos can lend a sense of drama to a room, while colourful posters or photos can add a bit more playfulness.

“I love all of the colour in my room,” Ms Duce said. “I fill it with things that make me happy, like I did my pin board yesterday. It’s a work in progress, as I add memories as the year goes on.”

Even the amount of photos and artwork used can help set a tone for a room – using images to wallpaper an area of a wall is a very different mood than using a few pieces to set off the white space of the wall.

Having photos to remind yourself of happy times can instantly improve the feel of a room. For students such as Ms Walter, objects with sentimental value such as photos are very important. She says, “It’s most important to me to have things that mean something to me in my space, so that when people see it and ask about it, you can tell them this story,” she said. “I think it’s much more interesting if you have an attachment to the object. It makes it a much more shareable space with other people.”

Memorable Furnishings

Some people prefer to approach furnishings and décor as a way to make memories. While it can be comforting to have items in a space that are familiar and have stories behind them, it can also be hard living with reminders of home, especially for first years. Ms Excel said, “Throughout the years, whenever I saw something in a store that truly stuck me as something I would have in a future dorm room, I ended up getting it and placing it in a backpack to take with me in the future,” WIth a collection of such items, she is not only reminded of home, but also new, exciting, places, “I have all these items that remind me of a place I’m growing to love more and more each day!”

And Empty Space

As already mentioned, arranging furniture in a flat or room can be heavily dependent on the dimensions of the room, and the furniture provided or how high the furnishing budget is for flatmates. But cosy does not necessarily mean stuffed with couches and armchairs – it can mean that there is room to breathe, and for people to sprawl out and settle in. “People seem to have a fear of empty space, why exactly, I’ll never know,” Ms Kibort said. “Empty space leaves room for thought.”

Furniture could be arranged in a way that reflects what the room is about. Some people might set up a recreational room and focus furniture on a television, while others might want to have the room more geared towards studying and opt instead for gracious table space. For others such as Ms Walter, simply focusing on the potential to connect and socialise in a room is key, prompting them to leave ample amounts of empty space.

To further emphasise that focus, Ms Walter creates spaces that are more about people facing each other and being comfortable without being crowded. For someone else, that same goal might be about having floor pillows, or perhaps a blanket fort.

Each person’s room is different because each person themselves is different. The key to a comfortable room is figuring out what makes you happiest, and then playing with the different elements of the room to maximise your own comfort.



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