You won't believe how this woman transforms college dorm rooms into palatial palaces

Yahoo Style

Plastic drawers and beanbag chairs are no longer the norm for dorm room décor. Now it’s all about flufflier-than-clouds beds, custom cabinets, and busts — seriously. The sudden maturity in dorm room décor is in part thanks to a woman named Dawn Thomas.

“I started decorating in 2002 just for friends. My children’s rooms were in the newspaper,” Thomas, owner of After Five Designs Art and Interiors, tells Yahoo Style. “I would do a little bit here and there. It was a hobby.” Today, more than just her kids’ dorm rooms are making news. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, on the Today show, and in Southern Living. And for good reason. We’ve never seen such chic and unique décor in such a tiny space. You don’t even notice those basically Styrofoam tiled ceilings and cinderblock walls.

SMU Dorm #afterfivedesigns #afterfivedesiggnsdorm

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Mar 10, 2017 at 6:20pm PST

College students from all over the country call After Five Designs to do their rooms. And she adds and finds things we thought would be impossible to put in a dorm room — including extra-narrow headboards, chic desk chairs, and even coffee tables. Thomas’s rooms are colorful and full of personality, thanks to monogrammed pillows, velvet desk covers, antique mirrors, and one-of-a-kind art.

This is her second job. “That’s why it’s called After Five Designs,” Thomas explains. She still considers it a hobby. “I take vacation time to do dorm rooms or go to market. It’s truly a hobby.” That said, she’s not going it alone — she’s got a whole team of dorm decorators.

Thomas says she’s contacted by both parents and students, but usually what happens is that girls see her work and show it to their moms, who then call and hire her.

And she does way more than decorate. “We’re installers,” Thomas says. “The students ship me their clothes and everything. We show up with their towels, shower caddies, underwear. They don’t have to move anything in.” Imagine arriving as a freshman to one of these rooms — the anxiety would melt away as you fell onto your very own feathery bed.

“The rooms that turn out the prettiest are the ones who let me do my thing,” she says. “They’ll tell me what their favorite colors are, but they’re not showing me an exact picture of a room I did last year that they want a copy of.”

Dorm Room Time last year we helped with a USC room, Michigan there are no limits. We do the next year condos as well. If we can't be there we will help you every step of the way. But this year #Afterfivedesigns Dorm is offering 2 retail locations 1 at Mustard Seed and 1 in dsquared on the Square, can ship to any location. Everything I use in my rooms will be available for purchase at these locations, you can special order and order online. During orientation I will have a designer intern @janedecleva available for questions you can schedule your appointment by emailing us We also will feature a new line that fits all price ranges email: Afterfivedesigns at email if you would like a consultation and go to Facebook AfterFiveDesigns Dorm for new things that are ready for purchase and updates. #olemissdorms #smudorms #alabamadorm #alabamauniversity #rhodescollegedormlife #georgiauniversity #mississippistate #southernmississippi #dormdecor #dorm

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Feb 5, 2017 at 9:01am PST

We know what you’re thinking. Sure, you can have this … if you or your parents have deep pockets. But Thomas promises that is not how her business works. “I charge a flat fee. Then they pay the price of the product and the fee for storage and getting it moved.” And she’s not shopping at only high-end retailers. She relies on places like Amazon, Overstock, Etsy, Home Goods, Target, and One Kings Lane.

“When people write these mean comments, like ‘You must have all this money’ and all that, they don’t know what they’re talking about!” Thomas insists. “That’s just not true. I’m paying the same thing for the fluffy rug that they’re paying. It’s not cheap, but if they go into any dorm room décor place and order stuff, our dust ruffles cost the same.” She also points out that decorating a dorm room can have a hefty price tag no matter who does it and makes a case for why she might be your best bet.

“I know what I’m doing — I’ve been doing this 11 years,” she says. “I know ways to do it cheap.” One of her tricks is recycling. “A lot of the stuff can be used over again the next year,” she says. She creates rooms for the same girls year after year, using some of the stuff they had the previous year so as not to incur extra costs. “Most of my girls stick with me. I’d better be invited to most of their weddings,” she says. “And even if I don’t do their rooms, or physically walk in their room, they call or text me and want my advice, and I give it to them free because they’ve become like my children.”

Wow! On twice in a week no words but to say Thank you! I started decorating dorm rooms as a hobby,it soon turned into a 2 month business using Paid Time Off from a full time job to go on the installs. It is a subject with many opinions but I think it's all about making a beautiful space to leave your child for their next step in life. Please read article. Thank you so much for the support. #manysleeplessnights @afterfivedesigns @todayshow

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Aug 23, 2016 at 7:26am PDT

Many of the rooms shown on her feed have been reused or sold to other students — yep, the rooms can be bought secondhand. “The room that made it on the Today show twice, I wanted to laugh; it was a hand-me-down!” she reveals. “It’s on its fourth year. There’s one that’s cerulean, and it’s gorgeous — it’s on its third year!”

She remembers one father who was “raising hell” about her bill but then said, “Come year four, I realized we saved money because we’ve used the same stuff; it was all worth it.”

Dorm Rooms can convert and design be used in any room#afterfivedesigns #interiordesign #decor #dorm #decor_for_kids #dormroom

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on May 19, 2016 at 5:41am PDT

She notes that a painting at Mississippi State is on its fifth year of use.

Thomas also tries to use things the students can take with them when they move out of the dorms. “My drapes run a little bit more because [with] their 1.5 width, they’re larger than what’s needed, so they can also be used in an apartment. They can cover an 80-inch window.”

And if there are multiple kids in the family, Thomas advises passing on the room or parts of it to other college students, assuming they have similar tastes.

This popped up on my memories today thought I would share since the Dorm Room Meetings have started, this made me a bit sad how fast time has flown by @sydneyturnage @beattycarpenter @carolinehannon

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Feb 23, 2017 at 5:54am PST

“You don’t have to have a lot of money for these,” she claims. Last year, she had a pop-up shop where she sold her custom furniture and art (she’s also an artist), “so that people who wanted my look but couldn’t afford to hire a designer could get my look.”

Sure, her rooms look “over the top,” but to her, they’re just “different.”

When asked what’s the most expensive piece she’s ever purchased for a dorm room, she is quick to correct that it’s not always the décor that costs the most. “I go to Bed Bath & Beyond and get all the basics I need for the room — extension cords, bedding. That’s what gets pricey! It’s not over the top,” she insists, even though that’s how many observers describe these dorms. “It’s just that everything adds up.”

Of course, it’s college, so there’s some drama. The biggest issues involve the moms. “When the roommate’s mom doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the mom that hired me, that’s the challenge,” Thomas says.

“I don’t have time to deal with drama, so I tell moms, if they want to use me, they’ve got to be responsible for the other mom and they’ve got to work it out. The other mom might have a little bit of an attitude, but when it’s all done, they melt,” Thomas says.

Dorm Room Series: blush, metallic and Bella Notte is simply beautiful. Elements velvet, metallic, sheers lined with Blackout, cowhide stools, art and sconces over bed. Lighting behind futon for lighting. #decor_for_kids #afterfivedesigns #interiordesign #olemiss #dormroom #dorm #crosbydormroom

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Apr 1, 2016 at 6:13am PDT

The problem is that roommates are often random, and if you don’t know your soon-to-be roomie’s budget or taste, you can’t assume that she’ll also want to hire a decorator or want the same style as you. When moms or students butt heads, “one mom ends up paying for it all (besides the bedding). One mother might pick up the chest, drapes, paintings,” Thomas explains. “But sometimes I’ll just do one side.”

Another view #dormroom #mississippistate #artist #artistsoninstagram #

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Aug 27, 2017 at 10:10am PDT

She’s set up rooms with some unusual items — such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton books. “I bought one of those at market, they were so expensive. Some girls want that, so they find them and buy them.” Another time, she used a Trina Turk dress to make pillows that would match a painting. And about the busts: “The girls are more mature now,” Thomas explains. “They want it to look like they’re living in an NYC loft. They follow stars on social media, and that’s what they want.”

Of course, at the end of the day, hiring a company like After Five Designs is not realistic for everyone, which is why we asked for some tips and tricks you can do yourself.

“You can get the most from Amazon now, like the staples — you don’t have to physically go to Bed Bath & Beyond anymore,” she says of her preferred store.

“Everybody wants to know how we make the beds so tall and fluffy — I start with the school’s mattress. Then put Tempur-Pedic memory foam on top, then a 3-inch waffle featherbed, and then a mattress pad. It’s about comfort, but it also makes the bed so poofy and pretty,” she explains.

Dorm Room Booth ready for 2017 season Dust ruffles, quilts I only use queen on dorm beds, ottomans, Euros and foot warmer sets are arriving, we can ship to any location.

A post shared by After Five Designs (@afterfivedesigns) on Mar 4, 2017 at 8:39am PST

“Everyone wonders where everything is — the bed, the chairs, the desk — I don’t move a thing. Students will get fined if they get rid of anything. We cover all furniture in the room. Desk chairs are hidden under the bed, and I put a prettier one in.”

And she doesn’t shun the dorm room staples of yesteryear, like Command strips and plastic bins — she says they are still “necessary” as long as they are hidden. She suggests putting the bins under the bed.

The colleges are not always on board with Thomas’s dorm room redesigns, so she tries to stay “low key.” But her work is the complete opposite.

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