I’m not sure what your college experience was like, but my dorm room consisted of four cinder block walls painted the color of day-old oatmeal. On top of this, each person got an aged wood bed, dresser, and desk that were clearly built in another decade — perhaps even century.
On top of being obviously lackluster, the room’s design always contributed toward a feeling of foreignness. It felt like a borrowed space instead of my home for the year, and no amount of Polaroid photos on string lights across the wall seemed to fix that.
So, hoping to keep the same destitution from cropping up during her younger sister’s first dorm experience, 29-year-old interior designer Alethea Johnson set out to revamp the basic space that the US’s 19.4 million yearly college students endure year after year. And WHEW, she did not disappoint.
In a now-viral video seen by over 7.3 million stunned viewers, Alethea shared what her sister Athena’s dorm room looked like before:
It had the same prison-like walls and bare bones essentials like a twin XL bed and gloomy, barely matching furniture.
And after? Well, the words luxurious, comfy, and built-for-a-queen come to mind. The bed is wonderfully plush and, with the help of some peel-and-stick wallpaper, Athena’s room was instantly updated.
Accents like these DIY jeweled frames fit perfectly around images of Athena, and the spotlights add a much-needed touch of ambiance.
Alethea even included a cute little bed tray with perfume by Rihanna…
…and a bedside lamp that surely put my Room Essentials bulb to shame.
Everything follows a cool theme, including the crystal detailing, and according to Alethea, she executed the entire design while remaining under $300 — proving that you can truly be bougie on a budget.
To learn more about her process, BuzzFeed reached out to Alethea, who shared, “I’ve always had the craving to design any room I walked in.”
Despite dual-majoring in political science and English, Alethea felt drawn toward interior design and, after spending a few years in her own home, she gave in to temptation and redesigned her bedroom from top to bottom. Then, having gained momentum, she redid her sister’s room in their parents’ house and, after sharing both makeovers on Instagram, Alethea gained her first client.
“When I think about someone’s space, a ton of images flutter through my mind,” Alethea said. “I spend a lot of time researching, aspiring, creating, and taking notes on different designs I would like to attempt, make different, put a spin on, or bring to life. When I get an empty space, I start to self-edit which ideas I can use, and which one of them apply to the personality, spirit, and energy of my particular client. I combine all to come up with [the] finished aesthetic, and it’s always a piece of myself and a piece of my client.”
When designing for her sister, “She told me I could do whatever I wanted. I only asked her if she wanted a colorful room like in TV shows — she did not want that,” Alethea shared while laughing at the memory.
“She had her photos from her birthday and once I decided I was using those photos, I let them be the inspiration for everything that followed,” she continued.
The room was not only a labor of love born out of her connection to Athena, but it also created a safe space for the 18-year-old to experience an important, transitional period in her life. “College [days] are formative years, and sometimes hard ones,” Alethea said. “Having a room you love changes your life: it sets your tone for the day, it gets you through a hard day, [and] it helps you define yourself.”
“College is amazing and weathering all at the same time,” she said. “It is important for her room to feel however she needs it to feel to have the best day she can, every day.
“I teach [my sister] how to go for her dreams and she teaches me how to be confident. So this room is a combination of both our strengths. [And] I will always do anything I can to help her.”