While bare walls and confined spaces may make dorm rooms feel more like jail cells than designer suites, a company with local ties is giving students some of the same design tools used by high-end interior designers. Design Your Dorm LLC, an online company founded this year by two 2008 University of Arizona graduates, gives students a chance to see, lay out and accessorize their dorm rooms before they ever set foot in them.
"There are Web sites that are home-planning tools and design tools, and there are also Web sites that are e-commerce sites that sell dorm-related and college-related (products), but there is no Web site that puts the two together," said Taylor Robinson, one of the Los Angeles-based company's managing partners.
When students log on to www. DesignYourDorm.com, they're asked to register and select their university and their individual room, said Bryce Widelitz, the company's other managing partner.
They can then rearrange the furniture in their virtual room and drag such items as posters and small appliances into the 3-D design program to see how things will fit together. Users can then buy the items that they placed in their rooms and have them shipped through Amazon.com, said Widelitz, who graduated from the UA with a degree in finance.
Charles Silverman, a freshman majoring in pre-business at the UA, said he used the Web site last summer to get a better understanding of what his two-person room in Coronado Residence Hall, 822 E. Fifth St., would look like. "I was basically able to see my dorm before I even got here," Silverman said. "It gave me more of an idea how small my room was going to be."
Silverman said he also used the site to buy an Xbox 360 video game console, several posters and an alarm clock, after he placed them in his virtual room to see how they would look.
The company currently has partnerships — which give students access to exact virtual replicas of their future residences — with three universities: Georgia College and State University; California State University-Los Angeles; and the University of Pennsylvania, which is in a trial program and gives students full access to only one residence hall on campus, Widelitz said.
For those planning to attend schools that don't have a partnership, the company's the Web site will let the students view and design common floor plans. The more than 25 universities in this category include the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, he said.
The company working to turn several of these affiliated schools into partner schools, Widelitz said. He recently made a presentation about the company to representatives of the UA Residence Life department. Meanwhile, students soon will be able to manually input the dimensions of their own rooms into the system.
Barbara Lea-Kruger, director of communications for business services at the University of Pennsylvania, said her school plans to expand its one-dormitory pilot program next fall.
"When you look at a flat floor plan, it is kind of like, 'What does this mean?' This gives them a little better sense of what their room will look like," Lea-Kruger said. "(Students) can also connect with roommates, and they can both talk about what they're going to bring."
Between the site's launch in June and the end of September, the company had logged about 50,000 registrations, Widelitz said. About 80 percent of those who registered began to design individual floor plans.
The company does not currently have a way of tracking the percentage of people who bought things in the virtual store, Widelitz said.
Tamara Scott-Anderson, owner of Contents Interiors, 3401 E. Fort Lowell Road, said the key to dorm-room design is to maximize storage, functionality and versatility. "There are some people, those detail kind of people, that want to know ahead of time how things are going to fill up a space," she said, noting that a 3-D design tool gives them that opportunity.
While Design Your Dorm did well between June and September, Widelitz said the company is now focusing on selling ready-made care packages as a way to drum up sales during the slow months, when very few people are moving into residence halls. "We are looking for ways and always exploring ways to make it nonseasonal," he said. "But mostly, a lot of our traffic comes in those summer months when it is kind of crunch time for going to school."