09/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

6 Tips for Dorm Room Decorating 101

My twenty-one year old son (don't expect a photo, he's a very private person, and prefers to stay behind the camera) is heading back to college soon for his final year.

He's living in a small apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with two college friends. It's their first real digs, and it's a mess. Not wanting to be a heinous helicopter parent, but always willing to clean/fix/decorate a space, the designer-nurturer in me has to step in, and I know I will not be alone in doing so this month. In the coming weeks, many parents will land on college campuses or at the apartment buildings of their sons and daughters. They will open the apartment/dorm door and say, "Good lord, this place needs help."

So, how do you find inexpensive, durable, and small space-worthy pieces that look good and make your kids' life a little better? I'm not one for buying trendy, poorly made stuff, and then leaving it at the side of the curb -- that's wasteful. When shopping for key pieces, keep in mind that young people today are surprisingly fixated on comfort and style in their homes/rooms. They too have a sharp eye for the right stuff. Here are a few simple suggestions to help you guide your young adult towards a functional, budget-friendly, and cool space.

1. Go to Ikea. They really get how to create stylish furniture pieces inexpensively. We're big fans of their Jules desk chair, for $39.99. There's just one caveat, though. Before you and your student load up one of their enormous carts, remember that most of the items need to be assembled. We all know what that entails.

2. Find a local unfinished furniture store and check out their bookcases (you can go online and achieve the same goal). The point is that the bookcase is a pivotal piece in a student's room. They've got books and other stuff that needs to be tucked into or on top of something. My son and I bought a tall, unfinished bookcase together yesterday for about $150. It's good quality and plain (which is what he wanted). I was calculating in my head how I would eventually paint it if it moved to another apartment later on. It's a keeper.

3. Buy a garment rack. It will provide instant storage for clothes and coats that would otherwise end up on the floor (or smooched into a dollhouse-sized closet). You can find these at places like Target for under thirty bucks. Yes, even boys use these, especially when they don't have closets in their rooms (which is not uncommon in first urban apartments).

4. Don't forget a small, inexpensive rug for beside the bed. I still remember watching with wonder as the woman in the dorm room next to mine unrolled a faded, old rug onto the floors of Reid Hall in Morningside Heights. I had been focused on hanging my Marimekko print on the wall, and she, with one gesture, had made hers an instantly comfortable room. I wouldn't suggest a large rug, as there will be limited to zero vacuuming happening here.

5. Provide two lamps. One for the desk and one for beside the bed (which is where most of the reading occurs). Clip-ons are okay!

6. Finally, let there be one piece that comes from home. I know this isn't camp anymore, but presumably that item will always conjure up warm sentiments for your son or daughter. Even if it's just their high school alarm clock, or your old 80's club chair, it will remind them they have a family that's always behind them -- regardless of the piles of dirty laundry they bring home. Happy hunting and good luck to all! - Suzanne