It’s a shift retailers have seized on as an opportunity to launch a relationship that could well track over years and decades — from throw pillows to an apartment-size sofa to a full sectional for the den.
It’s also a design challenge: how to make creative and economical use of a 12-by-12 space that will be used for studying, eating, spacing out and sleeping.
For Zuckerman and her mother, it had to be showstopper. They decided on a neutral palette of gray, tan and black with pops of lime green and headed to New York to shop. They were quickly frustrated that they could not find everything they needed in one spot.
“We went from store to store, taking a pillow from Urban Outfitters and another from Bed, Bath and Beyond” and hoping they would look stylish on the same bed, Zuckerman said. “There was nothing in one place.”
They searched all summer and staged their purchases on the dining room table. Then they saw their ideas come together in Zuckerman’s room at Washington University in St. Louis.
“They called it ‘the hotel,’ and people from other buildings were coming over and saying, ‘I heard about this dorm room. I wanted to see it,’ ” said her mother, Karen Zuckerman, who runs a design and advertising agency based in Rockville. “That’s what we wanted.”
The experience inspired Zuckerman to launch an online boutique this summer called Dormify.
The site carries bedding in regular and extra-long twin sizes, posters and wall decals, all designed by the mother-daughter duo, plus accessories like throw pillows and frames from designers like Blissliving Home and Jonathan Adler.
Their target audience: College women (and their hovering parents) who have a sense of style and a larger-than-average decorating budget. This is the crowd that shops for jeans at Abercrombie & Fitch, asks for designer sunglasses for birthdays, reads Vogue and watches interior-design shows on cable.
“I am the target audience,” said Amanda Zuckerman, now 20 and entering her junior year. “I want my dorm room to look like an apartment. I don’t want to feel like I’m in a gross dorm room.”
The Zuckermans aren’t the only ones eyeing these college consumers. This year, Crate and Barrel opened its first Washington CB2 store, which sells affordable furniture aimed at apartment and loft dwellers. Last year, Pottery Barn pulled together pieces from its main line and a line of teen furnishings into an online PB Dorm site that features $35 bath caddies and $189 monogrammed beanbag chairs.
Going off to college has always been a major consumer event, and this year students are expected to spend $33.8 billion during the back-to-school season on electronics, clothing and supplies, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s an expected average of $96.94 on dorm furnishings, a significant increase from last year’s average of $80.06.