Home Improvements: The New Room

Whether you’re a fresher starting University for the first time or a postgrad settling into your PhD, nothing is quite as depressing as coming to your student room in September to find it full of IKEA furniture and dreary magnolia walls. Whilst each room in the victorian house might vary in size, they miraculously still tend to resemble a carbon-copy of each other. However, making your home-from-home more personal and homely doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, so we’ve collated some ideas to inspire you.


Being away from home can be an emotional and mental strain, especially if it’s your first time away. Perhaps the easiest way to lessen the strain is to bring photos of your family and friends from home with you; use them to decorate your room. Whether it’s a couple of photos in pride of place or polaroids covering every inch of available wall space, having photos and memories all around can really help make a room feel more like home.
Wall Decoration:

The bare expanse of magnolia is perhaps one of the most depressing sights a Uni student can be confronted with (besides the mountain of work you’ve avoided all term). The obvious solution: plaster the walls in decoration! Whether you choose to stock up at the freshers poster sale or prefer a wall hanging discovered on your gap year, the options are almost endless. There are plenty of sources for cheap wall decoration available at the start of term including the freshers poster sale and other stalls at freshers fairs (look out for bars handing out posters detailing every possible cocktail). In the city high street shops like Primark and H&M provide plenty of options along with quirkier little stores and if you’ve still not found the perfect item it’ll almost certainly be online at shops like or It’s worth considering how other items could be used for wall decoration as well; a large scarf or shawl could become a wall hanging and some string from Wilko can be easily made into a macramé wall hanging.


Lighting is integral to the mood and feel of a room, making it a very important part of a room’s personality. Personally I try to avoid using the overhead light as much as possible, using lamps and other smaller sources of light instead. Lamps can be great to put on a desk — my daylight lamp is particularly useful in all-nighters and only cost me £9.99 from Amazon. Smaller, more decorative lights like fairy lights can be great to create an almost magical mood: there’s little better for me than curling up in bed with the fairy lights on, a cuppa and a good book (or maybe some course reading if needed). Candles are another great alternative, though remember to use them carefully – house fires aren’t a desired choice of lighting.

“I’m pushing 30 plants by this point”


It’s where you spend a third of your life. It’s probably your favourite hello and your hardest goodbye. Our beds are our sanctuaries – we deserve to make them as comfortable and enticing as we can! Most important is the duvet. There’s no point going for the cheapest duvet you can find, because it will only last a year and will be a pain in the backside the entire time. During first year I got a cheap and cheerful duvet, but the stuffing moved around constantly and somehow ended up bunched at the bottom every morning. A better quality duvet will see you straight and your nights will be much more comfortable. You should also invest in a good quality pillow to avoid neck strain.

Decoration-wise, you can NEVER have enough soft furnishings! Pick a fun duvet cover that you actually like, rather than one you simply tolerate. Primark has a huge selection of lovely duvets and in my experience they’re sturdier than you might expect. Cushions and blankets are additional options (either pinched from home or bought new) that can turn your bed into a comfy haven. Blankets can also move to your desk to warm you through the long nights of studying.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing stuffed toys to University with you. If you’ve had Mr. Snuffles since you were 5 but he still makes you happy and can comfort you when you’re feeling down then he absolutely deserves a space in your suitcase. Most people have a childhood stuffed toy that they hold in their hearts; it makes perfect sense to bring them along to University for the ride.


I am a huge advocate of filling your room with plants. As many as you can possibly cram in. Seriously, I’m pushing 30 plants by this point. They freshen up a room like nothing else and are relatively inexpensive if you know where to look. Supermarkets sell the staple orchids and cut flowers, but shops like the city centre market and florists on Lenton Boulevard and Derby Road shouldn’t be disregarded. True, they take some looking after but the average houseplant only needs watering once or twice a week and repotting maybe once a year. If you feel especially unable to care for a plant though, cacti and succulents are another on-trend option.

University can be a stressful time, and there’s nothing worse than coming back from University to a cold, bare and downright unpleasant room. Decorating it will turn it into more of a home and you won’t be quite so miserable waking up for those dreaded 9am lectures. It does go without saying, though, to be careful of what you do to your room if it’s rented; most tenancy agreements will explicitly say that you cannot put anything up on the walls or burn candles. Obviously it’s up to you if you want to go against your tenancy agreements, at your aesthetic peril!

Ellen Smithies, with contributions from Emily Vittersø, Philippa Stasicker, Izi Morgan-Powell and Bryony Goble.

Images by Ellen Smithies

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