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How to ditch your home’s ‘dorm room’ feel, according to an expert

If you bring a date home or cook them dinner, you want to impress

Fluide design + relocation
Stripe Street Studio

Stacey Herman has seen it all over her years working with men as an interior decorator and pro on how to decorate an apartment: The mattresses lying on the floor, the stolen road signs that harbor sentimental value, the collections of liquor bottles atop the kitchen cabinets. But it’s all got to go. “You’re an adult now,” said the founder and chief transition officer of Stripe Street Studio. “You have to live in that adult world to accomplish the goals you’ve set out for yourself.”

With her guy-focused design firm firmly planted in Miami, New York, and Tulsa (and consulting even more widely), it’s obvious that American men are clamoring for advice and guidance when it comes to transitioning from dorm room to board room. But if you’re anything like her myriad hapless clients, breathe easy: With a few pointers, you, too, can make that jump with ease — and even better, without a lot of money.

“We help them create homes, not bachelor pads,” Herman explained, defining the latter as one comprised of mismatched dishes, a mystery-stained sofa or two, and, yes, that ubiquitous frameless bed on the floor like a victim of a crime. It’s details like this that add to or detract from one’s mindset both professionally and personally. And on the latter, should you ever want to bring home a date, he or she will question the character of a man with a floor bed. So it’s time to get your sh** together.

The key, she said, is coordination. Start with the basics, the things you’ll use most, and then expand into tasteful, personal detail that takes into account your interests, hobbies, and family. Another critical factor: What’s the space you’re in or moving into? “It’s really about your lifestyle,” she said. “We work design into that to build better relationships. For us, that’s what’s important.”

Whether you’re just looking for a rug to tie the room together or a complete domicile overhaul, the Stripe Street method takes you point by point, macro to micro, until, at its end, you have a cohesive, comfortable, and collected living space. Sure, you may not yet feel like an adult. But follow this guide, and no one will be able to tell on first glance.

Analyze the space

Fluide design + relocation
Stripe Street Studio

First and foremost, before you start a shopping list or start browsing Wayfair, it’s time to take stock of where you’ll be living for the foreseeable future. Herman recounted one of her clients who moved into an apartment in Chelsea that had an odd, spacious closest completely without shelving. He also needed an office. “So we’re like, why don’t we take the door off and make it your work nook?” she said. Presto, chango, and by tacking up a few shelves and installing a compact desk, the guy had a home office in what had been destined for a junk closest full of stinky sports equipment.

“You’ve got to look at the space and think of creative ways to use it,” she explained. That may mean getting rid of the years of junk you’ve accumulated so that you can examine your space’s bones. Or maybe it means taking an extra day before moving in to a new space to evaluate. Whatever you do, don’t just start adding stuff like a Jackson Pollock painting, hoping that something will emerge. It will not. Take your time and write down a plan before you start spending.

Sit, eat, sleep

Fluide design + relocation
Stripe Street Studio

These are the three things you’ll do most in your place: sit, eat, and sleep. Therefore, these are the cornerstones of the adult living space and should be considered an investment in your own comfort.

Let’s start with the sleep. If you’ve got a hand-me-down mattress or anything older than a few years, it’s time to junk it like an old pair of running shoes. There are a host of options out there that come vacuum-sealed until you haul them up to your fourth-floor walk-up. Then get a frame, a headboard, and matching linens. Regarding the latter, unless you’ve got strong opinions otherwise, stay within the lines of neutral color hues like white, grey, and black. If you’re not picky on furniture brands, Restoration Hardware and Ralph Lauren are great, but even Target offers some modestly priced, good quality options. As for pillows, go minimal: four at most, with maybe a throw pillow if you’re feeling extravagant. It should feel “almost like a hotel room,” Herman said.

Next, buy yourself some matching towels, hand towels, wash clothes, and a bath mat. Stick to the same color palate as your linens, and browse the Hotel Collection at Macy’s. “They are the best,” she explained. “They are well-priced, absorb amazingly, and wash well.”

Finally, to the dining room. While you may want to blow your money on the linens for certain extracurricular activities, save a couple bucks for a good table. You will use this when inviting friends or a date over for takeout or a home-cooked meal. You will play board games at it. And you will apply to grad school or polish your resume for that next job on it. Regardless of its myriad uses, gone are the days of the adapted eating space: “[A table] is what adults do,” she said. “They don’t sit down at the coffee table and eat their dinner any more.”

Personalize

Fluide design + relocation
Stripe Street Studio

Once you’ve built out the bones of your new or refurbished space, it’s time to bring you back into it. This is accomplished through a few tasteful personal items. Herman likes to glean ideas by asking clients what type of hobbies they have, what activities they do on the weekends, the TV shows they like, and other similar questions. From this, she gathers ideas for colors and themes that may manifest themselves in coffee table books or art on the walls.

With color, are you the life of the party, a guy that lives for going out and bumping to EDM? Maybe you’ll skew toward bright, saturated colors. Are you the relaxed type, the kind of guy that’s most comfortable in joggers and running shoes? Maybe a more muted palate. Look for these accent pieces from Target, Minted, or even Etsy (yes, guys totally go on Etsy) for inspiration or selections. This is your chance to bring color back in, avoiding the monochromatic, antiseptic American Psycho look.

Are you a reader? Where do you read? This kind of personalization will also influence a bedside lamp or even a chair in which to turn pages before sleep. Do you like to cook? What do you eat? All these preferences can lead to choices of items brought in to add the finishing touches to the space. “It’s important because it’s you’re life,” she said. When done right, it will feel like home.

Ambiance and comfort

Fluide design + relocation
Stripe Street Studio

Finally, you’re going to add items that add to the space’s ambiance and comfort. Rugs, lighting, throws, and pillows all contribute, as well as their composite materials. Wool, Edison bulbs, quilts; it’s all fair game. But the most important consideration is that it’s what you like.

If you feel like you’re at a comic-con with all the old-timey lamps, it’s not a good fit. If merino makes you sneeze, return the rag to its point of origin. Select things that you like, made from things that are soothing. “It’s bringing in the comforts of home that you used to have before you went to college,” Herman said.

Styles to consider

In addition to the expert tips above, here are some general styles you could consider putting your space together in.

  • Modern minimalist: Clean lines, neutral colors (think grays, blacks, whites), and pops of color with artwork or furniture — functionality is key.
  • Industrial chic: Exposed brick, metal accents, reclaimed wood furniture, and leather seating.
  • Rustic cozy: Natural materials like wood and leather, warm color palette (browns, beiges, and greens), and comfortable furniture with a worn-in feel.
  • Midcentury modern: Think Mad Men – clean lines, tapered legs, pops of color like mustard yellow or teal, and statement lighting.
Jon Gugala
Features Writer
Jon Gugala is a freelance writer and photographer based in Nashville, Tenn. A former gear editor for Outside Magazine, his…
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