10 Ways to Make Student Accommodation Feel Cosy

Even luxury student accommodation can feel cold and soulless when you first move in.

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The identical bedroom layouts with their beech effect laminate desks, white or magnolia walls and stain-disguising carpets aren’t designed with the aim of being cosy or beautiful; just with the aim of giving students somewhere reasonable to live that won’t get too messed up by graduation parties or all-night essay binges. Even in universities like Oxford and Cambridge, where some of the student accommodation dates back hundreds of years, the same principles will probably have been applied in the updating of carpets and the purchasing of furniture.
It can be hard to see what you can do to make your room feel distinctive from all the other identical rooms on your floor, let alone how you can make it feel cosy and homely – especially on a student budget. But it’s worth putting in the effort to feel at home in your student accommodation, since you’ll be spending a lot of time there. Here’s how you can make your student bedroom or flat feel warm and inviting, even on a shoestring.

1. Sort out better lighting

Some student accommodation (especially if it’s provided by your university) will include bedside lights, but most won’t. And no room looks cosy under the glare of a 40-watt overhead bulb, which might have a plastic lampshade if you’re lucky, or might just be bare. If you invest in nothing else, buy yourself some better lighting for your student room.
What form that takes is up to you. For a bit of whimsy, you might like to buy fairy lights (make sure to get ones that plug into the mains, or you’ll be spending a fortune on batteries). Or you might want a standing lamp to light the room when the main light is too much, such as for parties. A reading light for your desk or bedside table is also a good bet, to keep you from straining your eyes. Fairy lights you would probably have to buy new, but the others can easily be bought second-hand from charity shops or car-boot sales, and you might be able to find something that has a bit more distinctiveness and charm as a result,

2. Get a plant

Refreshing, and not overly demanding.

Plants are known to be one of the most effective ways to make a room feel more homely, and they’ll refresh the oxygen supply as well. It can also be quite soothing to have a living thing in your room that you’re working to keep alive, without going so far as buying a fish (which might require a bit too much commitment).
The problem is that student accommodation is not usually a great environment for plants to thrive: it’s frequently overheated, the air is too dry, you might not have a window where it can reach sunlight and you should probably work on the assumption that your plant won’t get watered all that regularly. Look into houseplants that are very hard to kill: cacti, spider plants, jade plants (and many other succulents) and pothos are all hardy plants that don’t mind neglect or overwatering. Or if you’re up for more of a challenge, you could get something quirky like a Venus fly trap (which need lots of water, but are otherwise easy to care for) or try something that produces fruit, like a fig tree or tomato plant.
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3. Rearrange the furniture

Dividing your room into separate areas can help you function better.

One of the things that makes student accommodation feel characterless and samey is that all the rooms are typically laid out in the same way. In some cases there’s nothing you can do about it, either because the bed or desk is nailed to the wall, or because the room is too small to arrange the furniture any other way. But if you can rearrange your furniture, it’s an instant way to make your room feel that little bit different to everyone else’s.
For instance, you might want to think about where your desk is in relation to your bed. In some rooms, it can be possible to arrange these so that the bed and the desk area are separated from each other (such as by putting your wardrobe between them), so it feels like you have a separate bedroom and office space. As well as feeling like you’re using the space better, this can also create a positive separation between your sleeping space and your working space, which can help with stress and insomnia.

4. Improve the smell

If candles aren’t allowed, get creative.

Student accommodation doesn’t always smell that nice, whether that’s because your flatmates keep setting the toaster on fire or because you live down the hall from someone who has never been known to clean their room. But even if your accommodation is relatively fragrant, there’s something about making somewhere smell nice that makes it feel more like home.
There are lots of ways to achieve that – candles and incense are both good options if they’re allowed in your student accommodation. If not, you could get a diffuser instead, or make your own using a old jar, dowel rods and your own choice of essential oils. You could also use herbs, whether that’s buying a lavender pillow or, if you’re feeling really green-fingered, growing some on your windowsill. Or for a really quick fix, find a room spray that you love the smell of.

5. Invest in nice bedding and towels

Attractive soft furnishings can make all the difference.

Buying bedding and towels is something that most people do in a hurry shortly before leaving for university, and often on the cheap under the assumption that anything nice will get ruined before the end of the first term. Alternatively, you might find yourself bringing old bedding from home and sleeping under something that you picked out in primary school from the Argos catalogue, or making do with whatever didn’t match from your parents’ airing cupboard.
But it is worth paying a little more for nice bedding and fluffy towels, either when you first go to university or further down the line. If your room is chilly or you’re trying to avoid having the heating on too much, you’ll want a thicker duvet to see you through the winter. Good towels can make a small student room feel like a fancy hotel. Given it’s normal in student accommodation for most of your room to be taken up by your bed, then cheerful and attractive duvet covers that don’t clash with your curtains can make a big difference to how cosy and pleasant your room feels overall.

6. Look at rugs and cushions

Cover up the “blah” and add some style.

If you’ve got a bit more money to spend, take a look at your soft furnishings as a way of making your student accommodation feel more like home. You don’t have to cover everything in scatter cushions like you’re waiting for a magazine photo-shoot, but a cushion or two could make your chair comfier and your room look more like home.
If an ugly carpet is part of what’s making your room less nice to be in, then consider buying a rug to cover it up. Rugs can be very expensive, but again they’re something that you might be able to find for sale second-hand in charity shops or car-boot sales. And if the problem is that the interior decoration of your room is bland and on a theme by magnolia, rugs and cushions let you add some of your own personality to the space. If you’re feeling really determined, you could even look into replacing the curtains to match your own taste; investing in thicker curtains than the ones provided can even pay for itself over time by insulating your room and reducing your heating bills.

7. Have your own kettle

Not a whole kitchen, but it feels like one.

On the one hand, keeping most of your kitchen things in the kitchen is usually a good idea at university – it forces you to leave your room when you’re stressed out with essays, and it’s an opportunity to interact with your flatmates in a neutral space. Having a mini-fridge in your room so that no one else can borrow your milk is typically not a good sign. But there is an exception to this rule, which is having your own kettle.
Having a kettle in your room means being able to have tea and coffee whenever you fancy it – which is likely to be a godsend when you have a deadline and don’t have time to go more than a metre away from your laptop – plus you’ll be able to invite friends over for a brew without everyone having to sit awkwardly around the kitchen table. And if things get really cold and you need a hot water bottle in the middle of the night, having your own kettle means not having to go to the kitchen to fill it up.

8. Put up photos and postcards

Those cinder-block walls have never looked so good…

Having things around you to remind you of the people you love is one of the best ways to make a room feel like home. It’s worth ordering proper prints of your favourite photos of friends and family so that you aren’t surrounded by low-quality inkjet printouts. Even if your accommodation doesn’t let you use blutack or less damaging blutack alternatives, most of them will at least supply you with a noticeboard where you can put up photos (as well as your timetable, if you must).
If you and your closest school friends are going to different universities, why not send them each a postcard from your university and ask for one in return? That way, you’ll have something lovely to put up on your walls, and you’ll get lots of post at a time when you might otherwise be feeling lonely. A handful of postcards and a book of stamps are both reasonably cheap, and your friends will undoubtedly appreciate it.  

9. Frame things if you can

Frames make pictures look so much more polished.

Student accommodation is usually known for being covered in scruffy band posters or flyers from events with the edges curling. But there’s no need for your room to look like you decided to start a scrapbook all over the walls. You can get a cheap set of basic frames from a discount stationery shop and frame whatever you’d like to hang up instead. Your room will look a lot more sophisticated and cared-for as a result.
It’s sometimes the case that landlords and letting agencies are much happier for you to hang up framed photos or artwork than they are for you to stick up posters with blutack. That’s because blutack often leaves greasy marks on the walls (especially if they’re painted white or magnolia, as student accommodation so often is) while hanging up a painting using a picture hook and panel pin leaves only a small hole in the wall, which can be covered over easily when the room or flat is repainted for the next tenant. So if you’d like to decorate your room in this way, it can be worth sending your landlord a quick email to ask, as they may well give you permission.

10. Buy more furniture

The idea of buying your own furniture seems ridiculous to a lot of students, especially if your accommodation comes furnished with everything that you think you might need. Why spend money on something so unnecessary? But as we’ve discussed above, there’s a remarkable amount that you can get second-hand, and one or two items of furniture of your own can help give your room a bit of character as well as giving you something that you can modify, upcycle, scratch or damage to your heart’s content without fearing for your deposit.
For instance, if your room has enough space, how about a rocking-chair? Or a squishy armchair (assuming you can get it up the stairs)? Or for something that takes up a bit less room, a coffee-table for you to put your books on so that you don’t always have to sit at your desk? It can feel lovely to have furniture in your room that isn’t identical to the things all of your flatmates have, so take the time to have a look on Gumtree or in the local charity shops to see what you might find.
Images:  succulent plant; student bedroom; oil burner; end of bed; cushion and blanket on sofa; kettle next to laptop; guy puts up photos; colourful photo frames; basic student bedroom; woman sits on bed with tea