Similar to Dormify, Apartment Therapy helps small space dwellers make their homes more beautiful, organized and healthy by connecting them to a wealth of resources, ideas and community. Apartment Therapy is like the more “grown-up” version of Dormify, catering to adults and young families. Sad but true, one day you will graduate from Dormify, and Apartment Therapy will be your natural next step. 

Also, similar to Dormify, Apartment Therapy has a pretty awesome team behind it! I just had to meet with the creative brain behind this operation, founder, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. 

We bonded over DIY projects, space saving tips, and college dorm memories as I interviewed him for today’s Focus On. I guess you could call us “small spaces soulmates.” 

Stephanie Hayman: You describe yourself as “part interior designer, part life coach.”  Explain!

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan: When I launched Apartment Therapy in 2001, my training was as a teacher. I had been a teacher for 7 years. I saw myself as not just showing people style in the home, but helping people, by teaching them their own sense of style. Life coach came along very naturally because I spent time coaching people on how to make their homes beautiful, more organized, and healthier. And if and when they did that, then the rest of their lives would benefit. It all starts with the home!

Stephanie: We have heard you mention this concept before – that if you make your home beautiful and organized, the rest of your life will benefit. This probably applies to college and dorm-living as well, right?

Maxwell: In a way this is even more important in college, because you do all of your work in your room and it is also your social space.

On one end of the spectrum, the way you design your room will help you with your work if it is a clean, well-lit place where you can think and be a good student. And on the other end of the spectrum, people entertain and host their friends, or even potential new friends, in their room. So remember that your room and its design are an extension of your personality. Your room is really your ID card, it’s who you are. If you want your social life to flourish, your room should be representative of who you are and who you want to be. You don’t want to go to someone’s room before a date and be disappointed. It’s a turnoff.

I remember in college one day I was walking through a room in a dorm, and it was an absolutely beautiful room, and I didn’t know who the person was, and I wanted to meet her. I am friendly with this girl to this day! I was in Chicago and I hadn’t seen her in twenty years and ran into her in a coffee shop, and it was like no time had passed.

Stephanie: What did your college dorm look like at Oberlin?

Maxwell: I always wanted to have my own room in college, but you have to share. My sophomore year, there was an old broom closet on my floor, and because there was an overflow of students, they said they would turn it into a room for anyone who wanted to live there. So I moved into a closet.

Stephanie: Is this where you became an expert in small spaces?

Maxwell: Yes. I had my own private, yet challenging, space. I spent a lot of time figuring it out. I even built the bed into the room. So I guess you can say that early on I became an expert.

“Reprinted from the book Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. Copyright © 2010 by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. Photographs copyright © 2010 by Jim Franco. Published by ClarksonPotter, a division of Random House, Inc.”

Stephanie: Well, that story definitely makes you worthy of answering our next question! What is one useful tip to maximize space in a dorm room?

Maxwell: Dorm rooms are funny because they give you all the furniture, and you can’t change the wall color. So I would say that one thing you can do to a dorm room to maximize space is to change the lighting.  While physically you may not be creating more space, adding more light to your room will make it feel bigger and more expansive. Have at least two, if not three, points of light…not including the ceiling lights that are provided! Don’t use those at all! Don’t even turn them on. It is a very bad light, it is not flattering, and by the time the light reaches you it is very dim. Instead, replace this light source with a desk lamp, a floor lamp, and a reading lamp

Stephanie: What are some common myths about small spaces?

Maxwell: A common myth about small spaces? That you can’t do much with the space…and that it will limit your life in a way. I have found the opposite while living here in New York. Everyone in NY, who goes out to dinner or who likes going out to dinner, finds that small restaurants are their favorite restaurants. They find themselves in their favorite restaurant sitting very closely to their friends, and the restaurant is small in general. The kitchens, in particular, are also tiny! This tells you two things — that a small room is a great place to socialize and entertain, and that it is more cozy and comfortable. People like being close together.  Also, for entertaining purposes, you don’t need a big space to cook amazing food! 

Stephanie: Some rising college freshmen may be coming from large and luxurious bedrooms and moving into tiny, not-so-fancy, dorm rooms. Just because a space is small, does luxury have to go out the window? Any ideas for how to keep the luxurious look in a dorm?

Maxwell: I would focus on three areas. Thinking back to my days in a dorm room, if you want it to be luxurious, spend a lot on your bedding! Comfy, great looking bedding – your sheets and your duvet. Beyond that, artwork is really important. A lot of college students don’t have artwork. Cliché posters don’t count! Anything that you have that is personal, handmade, or real can be considered art work. It will give your dorm room a very unique and luxurious feel. Finally, rugs inject something really high quality to a room. Cheap rugs are awful – they shed pill and get dirty. So spend money on your bed, artwork, and a nice rug.

Stephanie: What are your favorite interior design trends for fall?

Maxwell: I am really liking the zig zag and chevron prints. I especially like the Chevron rugs by Dwell Studio. I am also really liking a lot of raw, natural, organic stuff with a little bit of color. Wool with bright color is really cool and so is the Matteo Washed Linen bedding. We have been seeing a lot of linen around already, but I’m still really liking it — earth tones, natural colors.

I have been working a lot lately with canopy beds…using gauze mosquito as the netting can be very beautiful. That would be great in a dorm room.

Love pillow


Stephanie: Where do you get your inspiration? 

Maxwell: From Apartment Therapy of course! I don’t read magazines, I don’t watch TV anymore. I mainly look at the web. Everything comes from online.

Stephanie: On your site, there is a feature called “Maxwell’s Daily Find.” What is your favorite find on

Maxwell: Hashtag pillows! I remembered seeing them when I walked into your office. Really cute.