- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Advice to college students on decorating dorm rooms comes from many sources in many forms, but invariably, the most authoritative word comes from siblings or upperclassmen who have learned from experience the triumphs and pitfalls of accommodating to tight spaces on a small budget.

The basic challenge is how to make a comfortable, functional and attractive environment in an area no larger on average than 10 feet by 15 feet.

Marymount University junior Emily Neifeld, an interior design major from Baltimore, put the legs of her bed on risers so she would have more storage room underneath it. She covered the brown linoleum floor with an off-white carpet piece, hung a small decorative cafe curtain above the window and bought three lamps to disguise the harsh overhead fluorescent light. A round lounge chair in one corner softens the square shape of a room no more than 11-by-13.

As a residence hall assistant, she is entitled to her own room, but she admits it also helps that her father is a kitchen designer.

“We’re creative. We didn’t get into college by being stupid,” American University freshman Adi Vecchio said with a laugh, rising to the challenge on that campus’s move-in day recently. She was pondering how three roommates could fit three wardrobes into two built-in closets: Should each woman get two-thirds of a closet, or do two roommates have to share one?

She was lucky to have an older sister who is a senior at a college in New Jersey and a mother who had overseen many such moves.

“If your colors don’t match, it isn’t the end of the world,” Miss Vecchio volunteered when told that most professional decorators advise roommates to coordinate bedspread colors ahead of time.

As it happens, the three women had brought bedspreads in different shades of red that went well together, and, like most students, they planned on using posters to brighten any wall space not covered by furniture.

“You’re not in Kansas anymore,” was the timely reminder above the welcome/reception desk in AU’s Hughes Hall — a lighthearted warning to new recruits not to expect all the comforts, and protections, of home.

Indeed, signs elsewhere pointed up some of the negatives of residence hall living. “No pets. No drugs. No smoking. No candles. No alcohol. No visitors for longer than 3 days,” read one such notice. Microwaves, electric coffee makers and other heating devices also are not allowed, except those supplied in the central common lounge.

Like most other area universities, AU supplies only the basics — bed, desk, chair, closet, mirror and window blinds.

Decor wasn’t uppermost in the mind of freshman Hilary Mock, either. She arrived at AU’s Anderson Hall from Cincinnati, Ohio, with parents Barbara and Larry Mock and a U-Haul van bringing, among many other things, a small fridge and two fans.

The most important essentials, says AU sophomore Dave Schneider, another Cincinnati native, are a sleeping bag and a comfortable cushioned chair. The sleeping bag is used as a pad under his bedsheets until it’s brought out to accommodate overnight guests. The chair came from a Staples store. The only decorative element in the room was an outsized statue of the Virgin Mary that he explained was a joke present for his Jewish roommate.

AU junior Mark Seaman from Williamsport, Pa., was more ambitious, as befitting a residence hall assistant who ranks a single room.

To brighten plain white cinder-block walls, he chose a red, white and blue theme that includes an American flag “to add color — and go along with AU’s red and blue colors,” plus a sofa covered in material with a red stripe pattern. A striped sheet covers the ceiling to dim the overhead fluorescent light — “the light is harsh and not good for reading.” Throw pillows also help soften the scene.

Removable plastic hooks on the walls are useful for bath towels and for drying wet clothes, he says. He also added a vanity light, a desk light and a standing floor lamp. A plastic container under the bed stores clothes and other items.

“You can bring curtains to AU, but they have to be flame-retardant and conform with university policies,” Mr. Seaman says. Rules are spelled out in detail in the AU Student Handbook & Planner published by the Office of Campus Life. Fire codes also restrict the use of halogen lamps.

“Take your time with it and make sure it is really you and what you like without trying to impress anybody,” he advises about deciding on the decor, “because it is the one space on campus where you can be yourself.”

Timothy Mister, a University of Maryland sophomore from Towson, Md., learned from an older brother who went to Swarthmore College. Mr. Mister also gives priority to owning a comfortable chair. A close second is finding room for compact discs, books and videos or CDs. He shares a room in a suite of six rooms in a residence that has a central common area.

Hannah Stern, a sophomore from Baltimore, calls the blue-patterned rug from the Ikea store nearby in College Park one of her best purchases because it covers up brown linoleum floors. Rubbermaid containers under the bed hold bed-and-bath linens.

Finding a place for shoes in her closet was a problem until she found a wire shoe rack that hangs over the closet bar. Better than a bedspread, she says, is a down comforter with a cover that can be washed, “because it is a lot easier to clean than a heavy bedspread or blanket when you spill something on it.”

Katie Lyon, a junior from Ellicott City, Md., advises students to bring a drying rack on which to hang small items after a washing. Food storage can be a problem, and most portable refrigerators are too small to hold Brita filter pitchers, she warns.

She likes collapsible bucket chairs, which she says are handy for entertaining guests, and an egg-crate foam layer for making beds more comfortable.

Recognizing a burgeoning captive market in the number of new and returning students each year, both Ikea and the Container Store have donated time and services to helping students at area campuses develop solutions to the problem.

AU this year even sponsored vans to take students to the nearest Target store for last-minute purchases.

A model room illustrating what can be done to make a typical two-person space livable and attractive was designed and installed in the University of Maryland’s Dorchester Hall by the Container Store to give prospective students a sense of what is possible.

Nearly everything on display is held up by special clips, tape or Velcro, including a vertically shaped hatrack and clock — all available at the store, of course. Ikea dubbed a fall press packet “The Freshman Fifteen” — the average weight gain in the first semester. It included a short-legged ironing board selling for $3.99 among other portable low-cost accessories.

“One of the things we tell students is put on the bed everything you want to bring with you and then put two-thirds of it back,” says Jan Davidson, associate director of the university’s resident life office.

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