Justin Woo trekked through mountains of pizza boxes to find ways to make your suite sweet. It’s time to impress your friends with nuanced lighting, coffee-table conversation pieces and creative uses of garbage. Danika Fears translates from Swedish and everyone goes home happy.
The typical college dorm room has generic furniture, bad lighting and a few pizza boxes flung across the floor. It’s no wonder a trip home comes as a relief to many.
Not all Yale students, however, are satisfied with lackluster common rooms where the word “design” is irrelevant. Although a dorm room or off-campus apartment may never look like it sprung from the pages of “Martha Stewart Living,” there are several easy ways to make a suite look a little less like a hospital ward.
First, that ominous overhead light has to go. Spot lights help define architectural features of a room and highlight favorite pieces of furniture. Lamps of different heights are aesthetically pleasing and open up dark corners. Banishing that sickening green glow is the easiest way to transform the character of, and add substance to, a space, regardless of how sparsely furnished it may be. This is the primary concern of Samantha Gale ’10, who wanted to find a way to make up for the lack of light in Morse College. She uses a combination of torchiers and desk lamps in an attempt to bring out the warmth of the slate floors and dark wood of her common room.
But stay away from those colorful Target spider lamps, they just look scatterbrained. More colors do not equal more fun.
Now to fill that well-lit space, the art of “Hobo shopping” comes into play. Sara Mich ’10 and her suitemates use leftover furniture from graduating seniors and tables found at the Salvation Army. A couple of coats of paint later, a grungy lamp-stand will look as good as an overpriced one from Target — and it won’t be the product of child labor.
Still, a trip to IKEA is sometimes unavoidable. Bookshelves, which come relatively cheap, add verticality to a room and provide shelf space that can be used for decorative or practical purposes. In guest-designer and co-author Justin’s suite, inexpensive vases, wine bottles and a “Pirates of the Caribbean” chest fill the spaces on the three bookshelves set up side by side. College might be the one period in your life where you can make kitsch work: By consistently filling your room with products of the same price range (for some of us this means lots of IKEA, for others the Eames goodies that didn’t fit in the Hamptons house), you avoid any jarring juxtapositions.
If you’re not afraid of a few quizzical looks from strangers, even a pastiche object in a room can look good and serve as a conversation piece. Pebbles in a vase might be more fitting for your grandmother’s house, but the arrangement looks better than a stark coffee table and could garner a few laughs.
Justin’s common room last year was virtually bare, with the exception of a Pepe’s pizza box that never made its way to the trash. In his current common room, however, he plays on this idea by sticking a used Corona box to fill the void underneath a short bookshelf. The important thing is to fill the space of the common room from the ground up, even if it’s with items usually found in the garbage.
Covering the walls is another technique that can dramatically change the aura of a room. Mich and her suitemates attached fabric to picture frames and hung them on the wall. Though the design could appear too crafty, the decoration lends a relaxed vibe and cohesive color scheme to the rest of the room. Vintage records that cover the walls add personality, and are aligned in such a way that they don’t suffocate the rest of the space.
Posters — though they are sometimes revealing about one’s personality — can stifle a room when there are too many. Instead of splattering them on top of each other, spacing posters out by using individual frames and matte borders is a fresher-looking, weightier alternative to the poster collage look.
As for individual bedrooms, the key is to find a balance between creating a greater sense of space and maintaining a sense of individuality that isn’t always present in the common room. Gale emphasized how important it is to maintain a unique style. Each of her suitemates’ rooms has a different color pallete and attitude that reflect their owners’ personalities.
One suitemate leans towards bright colors and accessorized her room with a Picasso poster, a bright bedspread and tastefully colorful picture frames. Gale’s room, however, is much more visually overloaded; it seems as if an art history book has exploded on the walls.
Different students have different goals, but decorating your room should be all about creating an aesthetically pleasing and comfortable place in which to socialize and work. The one thing missing from Justin’s common room is a television. It would deteriorate from the sense of intimacy that he is trying to create, he said.
Although many students’ rooms remain sparsely decorated, this intimacy is ultimately what can be gained by a well-thought-out common room, regardless of the budget.
Designing a room isn’t exactly a science, but here are a few ways to get started:
Zone: A bookcase can be laid on its side to divide the room, to simulate a common area and a hallway. Zoning helps break the otherwise featureless room into different sections to make it more navigable.
Accessorize: but be tasteful with it. Any found object can be a focal piece on top of a coffee table, mantle, bookshelf or end table.
Lighting: the easiest way to change the mood of a room. Thank God Yale has wainscotting because good (oftentimes incandescent) light can bring out the warmth of this material. Make sure to pay attention to task, accent and general lighting.
Substantiation: Limited budgets mean cheaper furniture. And commonly, cheap furniture means furniture that looks flimsy and frivolous. Baskets of pillows and blankets can fill a bare bookshelf and the spaces below built-in window seats. A bolt of fabric can be used as a skirt to cover the open space below an otherwise utilitarian futon. And if the budget allows, splurge on more expensive “core” items, like coffee tables and seating that doesn’t unfold into a spare bed. These, as well as a carpet (this is important), will help ground the room and give a clear sense of weight to the objects within it; otherwise, the furniture just floats.
Unity: Along the same lines as (4), maintain verticality; mixing short and tall items is a must. Often, people have very short pieces of furniture: a squat futon, a low coffee table, and a television on the floor. Buy a tall plant, and if it’s not tall enough, prop it on a box and obscure the box behind an end table. This will help the objects within the room actually fill the room. Otherwise, they merely sit in the room. Similarly, artistically arranging framed pictures on walls helps draw the eye upward.