Dormify's Karen & Amanda Zuckerman Share Their Secrets For Stylish Dorm Décor - Exclusive Interview

For families of students moving away for college for the first time, early fall is a dizzying whirlwind of activity and change. Parents will not only have to adapt to life in an empty (or at least, emptier) nest, they'll also have to help their grown-up child navigate the unfamiliar terrain ahead — everything from choosing classes to mastering the practical details of laundry and personal finance. And for many students, the idea of going away for college feels a bit surreal and distant until the moment they start shopping for supplies for their future dorm room. And that's when it hits home that their life — and personal space — will be very different from what they're used to.

When Amanda Zuckerman and her mother, Karen Zuckerman, started shopping for dorm room gear before Amanda's first year, they found the experience harder than they expected. Finding stylish linens that fit the extra-long twin beds standard at most colleges was a challenge, and shopping for appropriate storage and decorative items required multiple trips. Realizing there had to be a better way, the mother-daughter duo founded Dormify, a one-stop online shop for dorm room décor and storage solutions. In an exclusive interview, the Zuckermans share their journey and how you can make yours special, even with a limited budget.

Karen and Amanda Zuckerman wanted to make dorm décor easy and affordable

First of all, can you share how you got the inspiration for Dormify? Did either of you have any interior decorating experience before?

Karen Zuckerman: Neither of us had interior decorating experience, which is really funny about this whole thing. We both love design, so that's important. But when we were shopping for Amanda's freshman dorm room, we were looking all over for bedding that was in the twin XL size that was stylish, and kind of, you know, [fit] her personality. It was hard to find. And I was really wanting her to have comfort in her new home away from home.

So, at one point she just turned to me and said, "We should just start our own line." And I said, "Okay, let's start our own line." And there we go. And now Dormify is a one-stop shop for all things dorm décor in college.

That's really interesting. So, Amanda, when you were looking for supplies for your dorm room, what sorts of things did you want that you weren't finding, besides the bedding in the right size?

Amanda Zuckerman: Well, I think one of the hardest things back then was having one place to get everything that you needed. So whether it was style-oriented, bedding, or wall décor, or just the basic dorm essentials that make maximizing space a lot easier, no one was doing it all in one place. There was also no guidance or tips around how to make the most of your space, how to do DIY projects or any dorm hacks that will just make that move-in process easier. So, we wanted to not only create a destination for all of the products that you need, but really all of the advice that you would want to hear from your older sibling.

They like to bring both a parent and student perspective to Dormify

So what is it like for you two to work together as mother and daughter? What kind of working relationship do you have?

Karen: Well, I have to say it's a lot of fun to be able to work with my daughter every day. I don't know if she's going to say something different.

Amanda: Well, from the beginning, it was really important for us to have both the perspective of the student and the parent when we were considering how other parents and students were going about this shopping journey. So, we've sort of maintained that same perspective over time. Sometimes it's really helpful because the student might only care about the style, and then the parent is more realistic about function, about cleaning things.

Like we hear all the time when the student really wants white bedding, and then the parent says, "Are you washing that white bedding? Are you sure about that?" So it's good to balance the needs of both parties.

Here are the Zuckermans' tips and trends for dorm rooms this year

So what are some of the big trends for dorm room décor that you're seeing this year?

Amanda: Lots of trends are inspired by social media. One of the biggest trends that we've been seeing is headboards. Headboards really help to elevate your space at Dormify. We have both charging headboards that have a built-in outlet as well as the ability to attach it to the wall. So anyone can bring a headboard into their space. It doesn't have to connect to the bed, and it operates like an extension cord because when you enter into a dorm room, the outlets will likely be across the entire room from where you need it. So, we try to make that easier by making these things serve more than one purpose.

Another trend that we're seeing is lighting. So, bringing in as much lighting as possible, since what's provided is very dull and not warm and homey. Make sure that you have at least one floor lamp, desk lamps, and then decorative lighting like string lights, or LED strips or even neon signs that really make it more you.

What would be your best advice for decorating small spaces, which is a challenge in dorm rooms?

Karen: Well, one of the things with small spaces is that you really have to maximize all the space that you have. We got a chance to partner with Pearson, and they actually make things much easier for college students by offering a subscription service to digital textbooks. I moved three kids into college, and those heavy textbooks were everywhere, and they took up so much space. But now with Pearson Plus, you're able to [downsize]; I think it's $15 a month, and that's it for all of your textbooks. You have access to everything you need, you no longer need to pile up books. Also, it's great because they don't have to carry them in their backpack. That's one tip from a mom.

Amanda: And the tip for the student occupying the space would be maximizing the under-bed space as much as possible. So, loft up your bed as high as you can, put as many storage pieces under there. Sometimes you can even move the dresser that's in the room underneath the bed. I also recommend moving around the furniture that's provided because they typically don't set it up in the most space-effective way. So, maximize under-bed [space], put as much of your clothing and shoes underneath there. Then cover it all up with a bed skirt so that it's a very clean and polished-looking room. Then of course definitely use the backs of doors. There're tons of different hanging organizers that you can hang on the backs of doors so that you don't need bins that take up valuable counter space.

Students should avoid these mistakes when decorating their dorm rooms

Are there any common mistakes that you see students making that they should avoid when decorating a room?

Amanda: Oh, that's a great question. What I see students doing a lot is not maximizing vertical height. Yes, that starts with lofting your bed up as high as possible and putting as much underneath, but also having things stack up higher. Something that I really loved doing in my own dorm room was re-imagining how to use the furniture. So, instead of having a bookshelf that sits next to your desk, turn it 90 degrees and put it on the back side of the desk so that you can really maximize that vertical height.

Some other mistakes that I see students doing is not bringing enough lighting in, like I mentioned. I would also bring an area rug into the space to make it feel homier so that when you roll out of bed in the morning you have something fuzzy to put your feet down on. Then with all of your accessories, makeup, hair tools, all of those little things, try to put them in a contained space, whether that is an acrylic storage piece that sits on your desk, your vanity area, or an over-the-door hanging vanity organizer — which we happen to have at Dormify — to really just get it out of the way so you don't have little things hanging around.

Karen: And I have one more thing to add, that students often bring way too much clothing. I think you have to remember that you come home a couple times during the year, and you can switch out your clothing. When you bring too much and there's nowhere to put it, you actually really clutter the space with clothing that you don't need. It's hard to get through it all.

Amanda: Yeah. It probably just becomes buried anyway at the bottom of an Ottoman or a storage space.

You can create a high-impact, personal look with a small budget

Well, those are great tips. Can you suggest ways to create an attractive look if you have a really limited budget?

Amanda: Yeah, something that you can do on a budget ... DIY projects are really helpful. Make sure that you're bringing tons of pictures from home and displaying them on your wall in an exciting and interesting way. You could put them all on a frame. You could also mix posters that express your own personal style with photographs. Then decorative lighting really makes a wow statement in your room. So you could use a string light curtain or LED strips to help illuminate the space.

My last question is what materials or features work and don't work for student lifestyles?

Amanda: Well, I would make sure that everything that you bring for your bed is machine washable. It's just going to make your life a lot easier. I personally like a duvet cover rather than a comforter so that it's easier to wash, and you can take it on and off of that duvet insert easily. Then I would also just be careful with textures. You just have to look at the cleaning instructions for some of those decorative pillows. For the wall, something to be aware of is making sure that you're bringing damage-free wall décor into the space. We have peel-and-stick wallpaper that really transforms a wall. Just make sure you're using command strips for everything. You don't want to damage those walls and get a fine at the end of the year.

For more stylish, space-saving tips, visit Dormify and Pearson+.