How Lighting Makes a Student Dorm into a Home from Home

It’s something you have to go through when at University – the often cramped, slightly smelly and somewhat dank living accommodation that you call home during your first twelve months at one of the grand higher educational establishments far from your real home.

Just because you don’t plan on making this crumbling pile of rubble into your permanent address, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to add your own touch to it, or at least make it feel like you gained some form of ownership through adding a bit of personality (note: the second year house you’ll share with your new university buddies will be far more fun – except when it comes to paying the gas bill and the rubbish bag that nobody wants to take out until it walks out of the front door of its own volition).

That’s where lighting can help (except with the rubbish – you’ll have to solve that on your own). Whether at home or at university accomodation, lighting plays a crucial part in both your mood and in the way in which you approach your work. Light has the ability to control the way in which your body times itself throughout the day, and even the way in which your body’s own natural rhythm, known as the circadian rhythm, behaves.

“It’s not that designers don’t try and introduce new and innovative lighting into design – it’s a balancing act between designing for the project and designing for living. “

Why, then, is it that we all assume that ‘one lamp does it all’ when it comes to artificial light? Typically, each dorm room within student accomodation will have only one luminaire installed. From a designers perspective, it’s the easiest, cheapest and most efficient way to design living accomodation, where the war of cost vs need wages on. It’s not that designers don’t try and introduce new and innovative lighting into design – it’s a balancing act between designing for the project and designing for living.

There’s a few things which are really important to note when thinking about how to make this new space you’ve just inherited into your own private Taj Mahal. Let’s start with the most important first…


When you’re at university you’re on your own. You’re away from home, you don’t really know anybody (yet) and you’re uncertain in your surroundings. You’re also no doubt carrying a laptop, a mobile phone, a camera, a TV, a stereo and countless other things wrestled out of the family home. This makes you a massive target for prospective thieves, who are going to relish the opportunity to depart some of these possessions from you. That’s why working late with the curtains open is never a good idea. That bright desk lamp which illuminates the page so well is like a moth to a flame for the no-gooders knocking about outside; and you’ve provided them with the perfect backlight to have a look at the goodies inside without looking too conspicuous.

office block and workers

That low lamp which makes all the pages seem clearer is like a moth to a flame for to no-gooders knocking about outside..

If you’re going to work late, shut the curtains and pull down the blinds. 

Make Lighting Work for You

Bright doesn’t always mean better. Don’t forget that this little room is going to be your study, dining room, bedroom and lounge for foreseeable future. Now think about the way light is often used in each of these different rooms – task lighting for the  study, soft lighting for the bedroom, indirect lighting for a lounge? Catch my drift?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying ‘go out and buy six different lamps’, I’m saying consider the options – make sure you’re choosing lighting which is flexible. Many popular lighting manufacturers now offer dimmable desk lamps: this works great for a student dorm, as it provides the typical work light required for assignments as well as being able to dim the lights as required for a much softer tone in evenings, or even tilt towards to ceiling for an indirect, airy feel.

Maybe consider the use of LED cord lighting around your room to allow a secondary lighting feature – this is brilliant if you’re watching TV. Please note, make sure the lighting you choose is fit for purpose and safe for the task – don’t just pinch the old Christmas tree lights! Most lighting suppliers can advise you on the typical applications for the lights – don’t be afraid to ask.

Colour Temperature and Wattage

Have you ever gone out to replace a lamp and found that it just doesn’t seem to be the same ‘kind’ of colour? This is more than likely to do with the colour temperature of lamp itself. Most people don’t realise the significant differences lighting colour temperature can make to an environment.

Often designers are tasked with finding colour temperatures which suit the application – so, for a domestic property, a ‘warmer’ glow, which gives out more light from the red and yellow areas  of the colour spectrum, will be used. However for a more clinical feel a ‘cooler’ glow, which gives out light from the blue and purple areas of the colour spectrum, will be suitable. This colour temperature is rated in Kelvin; typically 2700K is standard in domestic properties. The higher the rating in Kelvin, the cooler the light will feel; 4000K will make your room look far more unappealing than a lamp at 2700K-3000K, regardless of wattage.

Remember that most light fittings manufactured these days have definitive wattage allowances. Nipping to the shops and picking up any old lamp that fits the light just won’t do; for a start it could cause the lamp to burn out or could damage your new light fitting. Look for a small sticker around the lamp holder, which should state both the kind of lamp and the wattage, eg; ‘E40 28W’.

It can be difficult to really enjoy the quality time you’ll spend inside a dorm room, however try and remember that the first year of university is the first of many learning curves – make the most of what you’ve got, learn to add character to your surroundings and don’t be afraid to be individual.

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