a hand holding out a tiny vase filled with water and bright weeds. the flowers are arranged neatly and in the style of a florist's bouquet. behind the flowers is a bed in a student room, with a white duvet cover with daisies printed on it. the wall behind is covered in posters, some of which are of flowers. the wall is an ugly green-brown colour and the posters help to brighten it up a little. the posters are also arranged very randomly and are therefore interesting to look at.

September 18, 2023, by Lauren

Decorating your room at university (cheaply!)

Decorating your room is one of the best ways to make student accommodation feel like home. As the nights get darker, it’s important that your room is a warm and comfortable place to return to. But any student room will feel rather empty at first, and needs thoughtful work to transform it.

The first thing I felt about my room was that it was a bit… quiet. I came from a very busy household. So, when my family set off home again and I shut the door of my room, the silence was like a thick soup, and I was a lone crouton. The room wasn’t a home yet.

I learned that my room needed a mix of things from home, new things, and clever decorating choices to make it feel cheerful. This can be done cheaply, especially with a trip to Ikea.

Here are my findings:

Big lamps are good!

My ground floor room immediately needed brightening up, since the second floor jutted out above the window. The room’s main ceiling light (or simply ‘The Big Light,’ as it’s called in the North) didn’t really brighten things up enough and I was not enjoying the mineshaft vibe.

Rutland Hall, a student hall of residence at the University of Nottingham. The picture shows some ground floor rooms from the outside. There is a walkway outside the windows of the rooms, and grass. The upper floors extend above the ground floor, supported by white pillars. This casts a visible shadow over the windows of the ground floor rooms, as the overhanging second floor blocks some of the light.

The lighting situation

That was until I bought this huge, foldable floor lamp from Ikea. Piece by piece, I screwed the black sticks together and perched the light bulb on top. Unfolding the plastic lampshade created that wonderful ‘fwubwubwub,’ noise. Grasping through the darkness of my room/cave, I plugged it in and turned it on.

A rumbling noise came from the floor beneath my feet, growing steadily louder. The power of a thousand light bulbs in one £9 lamp illuminated the room so brightly that the Earth was attempting to orbit the Ikea floor lamp instead of the Sun. Cups rattled on my shelves and the carpet stretched almost to breaking point, somehow containing the enamoured planet, and convincing it to remain orbiting the Sun.

Dazzled, I switched off the lamp. This was a good purchase.

my tall Ikea floor lamp, switched on and giving out a warm yellow glow in front of my bookshelf

Small lamps are nice too

Smaller lamps help to make your room cosier at bedtime, or for late night studying. On-campus rooms provide a basic white lamp, but these belong better on the set of An Inspector Calls. If you’re staging an interrogation after a girl has been taken to the infirmary, these lamps are fine, but I’d recommend bringing your own if you prefer warm yellow light over harsh white.

You could also find a coloured lampshade in your favourite colour, or match it to other colours in the room. These were always cheap in Wilko, but if your local one has gone already, try supermarkets or online. Check which kind of light the bulb gives out, to make sure you don’t end up with only bright white lights.

a small lamp atop a green metal bedside table. the lamp is switched on and casts yellow light onto the table and the wall

Maybe hold back on the houseplants

I know, you’re planning to have ivy trailing down your walls like Rapunzel’s tower. So was I, till my ivy plant immediately died because my room was too dark. Dead plants are not a good decoration.

Before buying any new plants, perhaps wait until you’ve seen your room. If your room doesn’t get much sun, there are plenty of houseplants which like shade. Cacti might suit ensuite owners – these plants seem to like shower steam! The frosted glass also helps plants which don’t like direct sunlight, such as spiderwort.

Plants that fit on a windowsill are probably best. As well as receiving sunshine, the plants will also get fresh air circulated around them. This avoids root rot, where soil never really dries and the room’s air just hangs around the plant like a wayward friend group. Those expelled H2O(g) molecules are a bad influence on you, plant!

cacti on my bathroom windowsill in university halls.

Cacti just about surviving on my bathroom windowsill

Choosing plants that won’t die

Here’s a slightly tedious quiz I found, which suggests a plant for you. For a longer read, this article tells you what sort of lighting you actually have in your room, and more plants that might have a chance.

Rugs hide the floor.

University halls choose their carpet colours based on how willing they feel to spend hours shampooing away mysterious stains. For most universities, the answer is: not very. The bigger your room is, the more carpet you will have to look at. My room felt a lot more personalised when I chucked a big rug on the floor.

a bed in a student bedroom, with a pretty blue duvet cover with white daisies on. a fluffy black and white rug with a criss-cross pattern (white background, black criss-crosses) is on the floor below the bed, and it is nearly as long as the bed

Aren’t rugs expensive though?

Rugs from most high street shops can be expensive, yes. B&M and other discount stores have rugs for slightly more reasonable prices. However, I found a fun little dinosaur rug for a cheap price on Vinted! It was in great condition, and I was fine with it being second-hand – I wasn’t wearing it, it was going on my floor. Plus, I usually kept my shoes on in my room, so an expensive rug would just get stood on.

Alternatively, Ikea sells flatweave rugs (here, I already put the sort setting on ‘price: low to high’ for you). Since they’re thin instead of fluffy, the large ones aren’t too expensive. The smaller £5 one is my favourite though, as it’s multicoloured and very cheerful. It also makes a nice gift to post to friends at other universities.

A photo taken from waist-height of a person's legs and feet as they stand on a flatweave rug with their shoes on

Standing on my big rug with my shoes on again

Decorating with Scandi trinkets from Søstrene Grene

This mysterious store is in the Victoria Centre, Nottingham’s main shopping hub. It’s easy to get there by tram. Søstrene Grene is like Etsy without the postage cost. Innocuous looking from the outside and seeming to only sell little trinkets, this place will surprise you.

Following the twists and turns of the store layout takes you on an trip not unlike Ikea, as each section focuses on different categories. Many good quality room decorations can be found here, but also stationery and useful household stuff. I’ve never seen a high street shop do pricing like Søstrene Grene – rather than round numbers or .99 price tags, the prices are numbers like £7.34. Very fun.

Decorating with posters

Decorating the walls with your interests is a quick way to feel at home. For a few days at the start of term, a poster sale is held at the roofed outdoor space behind the Portland Building (here’s the Google Streetview). Last year, I think every poster was £5. There are plenty of different pop culture things represented, so you have a good chance of finding posters you’ll love.

Søstrene Grene sells posters on lovely matte paper, as well as cute framed art prints. You can also buy amusing and strange postcards in Blackwell’s, in the Portland Building. Finding posters for free is equally fun. I picked up a lot of interesting posters during my first year, such as this advert for UoN’s Swing Dance society. Don’t be afraid to be a bit of a magpie and build a collection.

a flyer advertising the University of Nottingham's swing dance society. the poster is eye-catching. it has a crimson background. it lists a few upcoming meeting times. there is a large graphic of two black figures with no facial features, a man and a woman. the man has a white shirt and the woman has a white dress. the man and the woman are slightly far apart, but they are connected as they are holding hands, just with outstretched arms because they are dancing.

Buy a bedside table, or don’t.

Some students are lucky enough to have their desk next to their bed. For the rest of us, though, cups of tea must go on the floor next to the bed, or be balanced on your knee and inevitably spilled all over the covers. The word ‘night-table,’ was first used in 1772, so people solved this problem a while ago.This photo was taken in Ikea, and it is of a green metal bedside table. The price tag is just visible, and it reads £12

But bringing a heavy wooden bedside table is a hassle. Ikea has £12 metal ones that only need an Allan key to put together. Mine is green! When you’re moving back home, you just unscrew it all and the separate bits fit into a carrier bag.


If you don’t want to spend money on furniture, you could always repurpose the fridge. All on-campus rooms include a mini-fridge, which can be shunted next to your bed if you have an extension lead. I decorated my fridge with magnets I grabbed during Welcome Week.

a black mini-fridge in a student room. the black fridge has two fridge magnets on it, and two pictures of the person's friends. the black fridge is being used as a bedside table. there is a bright red teapot on top of it, a pile of books, and a small basket containing a box of pens and a can of deodorant

Whatever table you find, a long extension lead will let you put a lamp and a phone charger on it. Nice.

Happy decorating!

Posted in Lauren