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Multi-tasking products for your small space

Tiny dorm rooms: The first test collegians cram for

Thanks to increasingly small dorm rooms, college-bound shoppers have begun searching for multi-use products that mesh style with function.

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By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010

College dorm rooms, with their notoriously skimpy dimensions, are getting more cramped. With the annual buying frenzy of extra-long twin sheets, bed risers and bean bag chairs in full swing, the search is on for stylish and innovative products that squeeze in multiple functions.

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New dorm furnishings, including mini-fridges with dry-erase boards and step stools that double as seats, reflect student housing's shrinking reality.

Former doubles might now be triples or quads. "As the economy was taking twists and turns, lots of colleges were trying to estimate how many students would return and how many new ones would come," says James A. Baumann, spokesman for the Association of College and University Housing Officers. "When you exceed your occupancy, the first step is to turn a double into a triple or take a study lounge at the end of a hall and put four students in it."

The square footage per student in new residence-hall construction has been declining for a decade, according to American School & University magazine.

Students must adjust to cramped quarters serving as bedroom, study space, living room and place to party. The challenge: Where to fit piles of shoes, layers of bedding and tons of technology?

Victoria Stires, 17, of Great Falls will be sharing a room with two girls at UCLA this fall. "When I heard I had been assigned a triple, I was scared," says Stires. "I had requested a single, but I knew that was next to impossible." She is in the process of seriously editing her clothing.

When she entered the University of Maryland at College Park as a freshman, Lindsey Kopacz, 20, of Frederick was apprehensive about her double-room assignment -- she's an only child -- and misjudged the floor plan. "It was shocking to see how small it was when I actually got there," recalls Kopacz, now a senior. "Eventually you figure we're all going through this together and it's not your fantasy mansion."

Stores such as Ikea, the Container Store and Bed Bath & Beyond have added lots of college offerings: storage ottomans to hold out-of-season clothes and laptop desks with cooling fans. Pottery Barn Dorm launched this spring with a focus on space-saving and multi-tasking products. A favorite: the dorm trunk, with or without peace symbols, which provides storage, can be a coffee table and adds seating.

Even standard-issue dorm furniture is evolving. Laptops eliminate the need for bulky desks. "Lots of students use desks just to store books or for guests to sit on," says Doug Little, director of orientation for George Mason University. Dressers are being dumped to save space and budgets, says Jeff Gawronski, founder of college gear purveyor Dorm Co. He adds, "Your closet now isn't just for hanging but needs sweater shelves and over-the-door shoe holders."

Columbia University senior Adam Sieff, 21, who is working in Washington this summer, spent his junior year at the New York school in an 84-square-foot room he dubbed "the cockpit." He adapted by lining up shoes on top of his dresser and hanging wet towels out the window. Sieff acknowledges that spartan quarters were good for grades. "The perfect thing about the room was that it was very conducive to being a student."

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