- A Deloitte survey estimated consumers would spend $3 billion in 2021 on dorm furniture and supplies.
- Three businesses that cater to students looking to deck out their rooms said they were booked up.
- Some packages cost $1,000 or more and offer personal installation and design services.
After more than a year of missed homecomings, proms, and graduations, parents are digging deeper into their wallets to ensure their children are well prepared for their return to in-person school. And it’s resulting in college dorm rooms resembling a hybrid of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “The Home Edit.”
Deloitte’s 2021 back-to-college survey estimated consumer spending would total $26.7 billion this year, a 5% year-over-year increase. Of that, $3 billion accounts for dorm furniture and supplies — and entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the moment.
Three players in the dorm-makeover industry said business was busier than ever — here’s a look inside their success.
The one-stop shop for dorm decor
In 2009, Amanda Zuckerman and her mom, Karen, trekked to five different stores to get essentials for her freshman dorm room.
“There was definitely some anxiety during that time,” Amanda Zuckerman told Insider. “I was the oldest child in the family going off for the first time, and I didn’t know what to expect or what to bring to college. And we couldn’t even find the required twin XL bedding.”
Eventually, the mother-daughter duo pulled off the job, but as they were standing in the aisles of Bed Bath & Beyond, they said they realized what students really needed was a one-stop shop for stylish, fun, and practical dorm decor.
In 2013, the two launched the online store Dormify, which is now a multimillion-dollar company employing a full-time team of 25. Dormify offers everything a college student could need, from upholstered headboards with built-in charging stations to three-drawer wheeled carts built at the ideal height to align with lofted beds to wall-print exclusives designed by high-school and college students.
The company also offers complimentary services like virtual bed and wall visualizers and in-person guidance from peer-age staffers at seasonal pop-up shops. Prices for its products range from $10 to $850.
Recently, Dormify has hitched its social-media wagon to college influencers like Emmy Hartman and Katie Feeney by featuring their “dormified” rooms and allowing shoppers to purchase the same items for their own spaces. Similarly, the company has latched on to popular hashtags like #transformurdorm and #dormdecor. According to Zuckerman, revenue grew 40% year over year as a result of digital inspiration, online influencers, and purchasing decisions based on social media.
The personal installation service
Long before Dormify put universal dorm design on the map, the Jackson, Mississippi, interior designer Dawn Thomas was already hard at work designing sophisticated dorm interiors for college-bound women at After Five Designs.
“It all started when I first designed my eldest daughter’s dorm room in 2003, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Thomas, who initially began working with local girls but now has clients flying her and her team all over the map, told Insider. “The biggest difference between what we do and what other people do is we don’t just design — we install everything, too.”
Like the hosts of
‘s popular series “The Home Edit,” Thomas prefers sending clients out to lunch during the installation process, which typically takes a three-person team three hours and pales in comparison to the all-day do-it-yourself affairs that some parents and students resort to, she said.
While Thomas sells custom blackout pleated drapery, velvet foot warmers, and her most popular item, a $1,050 refrigerator cabinet, à la carte on her website, she declined to share the cost of her full design and installation packages with Insider.
Because of COVID-19, this was the first year her crew was unable to do installations, but business was still busier than ever, she said.
“It’s all word of mouth, and every season, more and more girls reach out to have their dorm rooms done,” Thomas said. “They know what they want, and together we make it happen.
“Oftentimes, I have the opportunity to work with them throughout their life cycles beginning with their dorm room, then their first apartment, then their married home, and finally, a baby’s nursery. I’m in it with them for the long haul.”
The dorm-room design firm
Similar to both Zuckerman’s and Thomas’ stories, the New Jersey interior designer Jen Abrams witnessed her daughter Sammy grow frustrated with dorm-decor options while she was preparing to head off to Indiana University in 2019 and decided to take matters into her own hands.
As a cofounder of a residential- and commercial-design firm, Abrams created a curated look that incorporated her daughter’s aesthetic into the design.
“When we posted the finished look on social media, our phones immediately started ringing,” Abrams said. In addition to her design firm, Abrams launched Resident Style, a more seasonal business offering dorm-design services, in 2020. Resident Style offers options like cheetah and gator wallpaper and brightly colored neon signs that can be personalized in a variety of fonts.
At $2,200 for a full-design package, Abrams’ custom-designed dorm rooms this season include Big Ten schools and the Ivy League, as well as small private colleges. Last year, she did 15 rooms — this year, she did 42.
She’s the first to admit it’s a certain type of person who wants this kind of bespoke service, and she’s OK with that.
“Look, this type of thing isn’t for everyone; however, those who do choose to take this route are never disappointed,” she said.
She begins every job with a
call to create a virtual mood board with her clients based on their personal style and interests.
Between Abrams’ design background and her network of vendors, she’s able to offer clients custom-designed removable wallpaper (she’s been known to call the engineering department at schools to find out which type of paint is used on the walls to ensure the wallpaper will stick), a selection of over 500 pieces of exclusive artwork for gallery walls, and even a signature smell for a dorm room, similar to those in hotels, by using diffusers.
Once everything is designed and made to order, Abrams arranges it to be shipped to the clients, along with instructions on how to set it all up, including a wallpaper kit with a precision knife.
“I’ll even FaceTime with them every step of the way to ensure it’s just the way they want it to look. I take the guesswork out of everything,” Abrams said.
She added that she was exploring the possibility of partnering with a national handyperson service to provide installation services like Thomas does.
“At the end of the day, these aren’t just four walls,” Abrams said. “This is your new home, and every day when you open your eyes, you should be surrounded with the things that represent who you are and make you feel your best — and in my opinion, you can’t put a price on that.”