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The Real Deal 

by Ann M. Colford

"To me it will always be haunted by my companions who have

been there, by the books that I have read there, by the pleasure

and the pain that I have felt there, and by a laughing group of

bright, fresh faces, that have rendered it sunny in my eyes for ever.

I have learned there what College really is. I have learned

there one part of the great secret of life."

-- from "My Old Room," by Henry Adams, Harvard class of 1858

Back in Henry Adams' day, student rooms at Harvard reflected popular decor, down to the rich textures and over-the-top gewgaws of the Victorian era. The details of dorm living have changed a bit since then, although the strongest memories of college life still revolve around companions rather than decor. Today, dorms -- more correctly termed residence halls -- offer a nearly blank canvas to incoming students, a canvas on which to inscribe a unique statement of identity.

Gonzaga University junior Sly Chatman, Jr., who has lived in residence halls for the last two years, says a person's room tells a lot about who they are. "Absolutely," he says. "It usually doesn't dawn quickly, but you can see if they're dirty or clean, or obnoxious or polite."

If one roommate is messy and the other is a neatnik, peace can still reign as long as everyone knows the rules, Chatman says. While he likes things clean and tidy, his first roommate was, shall we say, a bit more casual about his environment. "I just said make sure you keep your stuff on your side of the room," he explains. "And if it starts to smell, you've got to wash your clothes." The strategy worked, he says; the two remain close friends.

Making efficient use of space is perhaps the biggest challenge faced by students moving into dorm rooms. The most common trick involves raising the bed to open up the space below. Local hardware stores sell bed elevators that will lift the bed a few inches off the floor, but that's often not enough.

"You use bricks or preferably cinder blocks to raise the bed three to four feet off the ground," Chatman says. Students sometimes stack the bed frames to make bunk beds, freeing up more wall space for other uses. Others incorporate the beds into freestanding lofts. This technique has become so popular that GU now has a formal Loft Policy and Agreement that students must sign before building a loft.

Once you've moved in and arranged the furniture, other items rise to the top of the "must-have" list.

"I strongly advise a lamp in your dorm inventory," Chatman says. He hangs a reading lamp over his pillow, while other students hang lights from windows or the ceiling. Remember, however, that halogen lamps are not allowed, due to fire danger. "And you have to have a fan. Dorms don't have air conditioning, so when it's warm you won't be able to sleep without a fan."

Handled baskets for carrying laundry and toiletries will help, along with foldable or stackable storage. Microwave-safe dishes and cooking utensils come in really handy for those nights when you just can't stand another meal in the dining hall.

"Students get tired of cafeteria food pretty quickly," Chatman admits. Microwave ovens and communal kitchenettes in residence halls allow for some variety in the menu. "Make sure you replenish the toiletries and the food you want."

Lamps, fans, baskets and food are necessities, but they don't contribute a lot to the personality of a room. For instant style, nothing beats that old college standby: the poster.

"The poster seems like a college trademark," Chatman laughs. "It colors the room and tells you about the personality of the person in the room. You see posters and pictures of family in most rooms."

For guys these days, the pin-up of choice seems to be Jenny McCarthy, says Chatman. While he doesn't claim to be an authority on the tastes of young women on campus, he has noted a proliferation of Vin Diesel posters. Michael Jordan and other athletes continue to be popular, along with the ageless beer poster.

Overall, Chatman says, the joy of dorm decor is doing it yourself. "Your parents don't design the room," he says. "You discern where all these things can be located, within the limits of space and budget." To make a room truly your own, you need to know yourself, he adds. "Know what you enjoy. A lot of people don't know what they like. You have to know your interests, your passions and your loves."

Sources for dorm supplies: Target, Linens 'n Things, Bed Bath & amp; Beyond, Cost Plus World Market, ShopKo.

Publication date: 08/28/03

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