Most people in Durfee Hall, entryway E, just have two people in their suite — a double and a common room. Given that entryway E is in fact squished in on the very end of Durfee Hall, it’s surprising that the double is spacious enough to work out well for two people.
However, my suite wasn’t as lucky as most people in Durfee Hall. Four of us were crammed into a suite meant for two, and this also meant we had no common room.
Here’s how we made the most of it, and how a small, back closet in our suite became a fond memory of our first year at Yale.
In the hallway of the suite, there were two standing closets with about a foot and a half between them. This was essentially an opening into a small backroom that was big enough for one very tall person to comfortably lie down in. Less than 9 feet long and 3 feet wide, it seemed like the only feasible option was to use this space to store the miscellaneous items we’d inevitably collect over the year. There was a recycling bin and a large roll of garbage bags collecting dust in the corner of the room from the previous tenants, and we had no grand plans to change that.
And that was fine. But it was a little depressing, over the next few weeks, to have to walk past an empty, dreary-looking room. I remember during early mornings, sunlight would filter through the window of this back closet room, and it seemed as if flecks of dust were frozen in midair from how barren the room was. Compared to the common room that we started to share with the suite across the bathroom — we love you, entryway D friends! — it was glum.
The novelty of being at Yale wore off after a month or so, and my roommate, Pilar Bylinsky, and I were looking for a change of scenery. The obvious and only option we had was to spruce up the back closet.
Pilar had a vision in mind. “We could get a carpet or two,” she said, “and maybe two small chairs and a table?”
And so, to Ikea we went. But instead of coming back with what we planned to get, we came back with one carpet, a fake plant, a real bamboo plant, and some Ikea food. The chairs were too expensive, and there wasn’t a table small enough to fit into the room, not to mention the prices. As far as broke college students were concerned, a carpet was good enough. It didn’t really change the room by much, per se, but it was a start.
The true change happened just after October break when Pilar brought in some blankets and a small cluster of throw pillows from home. Suddenly, the room went from a bleak to a vibrant space. The floor was covered with the carpet and blankets, and the pillows were perfect to lean against and unwind.
We brought back anything that could decorate the wall. Wrappers from wooden chopsticks, paper doilies from Maison Mathis, chocolate wrappers, sticky notes with random doodles. Anything that could go on the wall, Pilar would arrange them with an expert eye.
But there was one more thing missing. The lighting in the room was almost ethereal during the morning, but a little unappealing during the evening, when the standing lamp would flood the space with a flat yellow tinge.
And so, the one thing that tied it all together: the sunset lamp.
Truly the holy grail of the room. After the sunset and when it was dark outside, Pilar and I would turn off the lights in the suite and turn on the sunset lamp. The orange glow of the lamp was soothing to the point where we started to study there instead of in the library.
The name “sunset room” caught on, and soon enough, it became something akin to our pride and joy. It was the first room to be shown on room tours to friends and family, and I think I started to spend more time there than outside of the dorm.
But all good things come to an end. The second semester wasn’t as kind to us, nor was it kind to the sunset room. During the spring, it became a little neglected with some of the decorations starting to droop, wilt, and fall off the wall. The library won over the sunset room more days than not, and the sunset lamp met its demise one fateful night after midterms.
Move out was bittersweet. There seemed to be a thin layer of dust covering the sunset room, and disturbing it resulted in a severely runny nose and watery eyes.
Sitting on the floor of the now-empty sunset room with a tissue in each nostril, I sighed as I looked around. Over the past year, the sunset room was able to act as a room to host overnight visitors, a quarantine room when contact tracing was at its peak (this happened twice), a party space (a single occurrence), a private date space (for one pseudo-date) and a study room where Pilar and I both passed our fall finals with flying colors. Not bad for a small back closet that started as our recycling storage.
It’s true, the sunset room seemed to only serve a purpose during our first semester at Yale. But it was an important one, one that helped ward off homesickness and softened the adjustment period by creating a haven for us to recollect ourselves.
Moral of the story: Yale’s Old Campus dormitories aren’t exactly spectacular, but if you find yourself with a small, unused nook or cranny, take advantage of it. Make it fun, make it yours. It’ll make your dorm start to feel like your home.