If asked to describe campus housing, few students would classify their dorms as spacious, comfortable, or even attractive. A Carnegie Mellon student is typically faced with small, cramped living quarters that become hopelessly cluttered throughout the semester. Matters are not helped by the draconian rules Housing Services imposes on its campus residents: students are not allowed to paint their rooms or put holes on the walls to hang pictures or posters. Despite their limitations, many students personalize their rooms by adding simple accents, or doing lavish top-to-bottom decoration jobs. Room decoration is as much an effort to escape the sterility of the dorm room as it is an expression of the occupant's personality. Some students are not always willing to spend the time or resources to decorate their rooms from floor to ceiling. Instead, many prefer to add small, personalized accents to their rooms. Gerrit Betz, a sophomore in HSS, has collected a hodgepodge of objects to decorate his MorewoodGardens room. The underside of his loft bed seems at first like a tribute to every holiday on the calendar. There are multiple strands of red, blue, and green beaded necklaces from Mardi Gras.
"I'd like to thank the fraternities for giving me lots of beads," said Betz. "I decorated the Morewood lounge with them during my freshman year, but this year I just decided to put them on my bed" Assorted Christmas ornaments also hang from Betz's bed frame, along with several wooden crosses. But the apparent holiday theme is broken by the addition of a Halloween costume and a large flag of East Germany. "The wooden cross was from a Grand Buffet concert and was originally dipped in nacho cheese," said Betz.
"Don't ask" he added sheepishly. On the other side of campus, Jeremy Gordon, HSS freshman and Donner resident, has constructed a mini-altar in honor of a prominent component of campus life: alcohol. On a shelf in his room stands a long row of bottles of vodka, rum, and whisky. "I wanted to add a little spice, and some personality to the room," said Gordon. "We got the bottles from garbage cans in the fraternity houses."
The bottles' elaborate labels add a touch of color to what is an otherwise drab room. Appropriately, they are flanked by two large advertisements for Absolut Vodka. Collages have long been a staple of dorm room décor, due in large part to their ability to do double duty; they serve as mementos of home while adding a shot of color to a room. But few students have embraced the collage with such sheer exuberance as Naina Raychowdury and Allison Lukacsy, the inhabitants of room 312 in Forbes House. Forbes House is a recent addition to the campus housing system. It formerly served as the home of Kappa Sigma, but when this fraternity was evicted, their house was turned into a special housing community for students in leadership groups such as Emerging Leaders. Both Raychowdury and Lukacsy were enthusiastic about their living quarters:
"Everyone knows each other here," said Lukacsy.
"It really is a community in here, doing Emerging Leaders," said Raychowdury. In their quest to personalize their living space, Raychowdury, a freshman in MCS, and Lukacsy, a freshman in CFA, have left no corner of the room bare. "We didn't want to live in a sterile place," said Lukacsy, "so we both did collages on the walls." "We are both very creative and this room reflects that," said Raychowdury. Pictures, posters, and greeting cards litter the walls of their room. Lukacsy's side has a Paris theme, with lots of pinks and purples. She has decorated her walls with vintage French posters and images of the Eiffel tower. From her walls hang long strands of pink necklaces and swaths of pink tulle. Raychowdury's side is decked out in red, black, and grey accents. She has etched her name in large, black letters above her bed, which is lighted by an orange Chinese lantern. Her walls are covered with pictures of her family and friends, and small mementos. Rounding out the décor is Raychowdury's turtle Squirt, named after the character in Finding Nemo. Their room also includes a loft, which they have yet to decorate but plan to turn into an entertainment center. Their room continually attracts attention from other residents of Forbes House, as well as other people on campus. "This is probably the most decorated room on campus. Everyone comes in here just to look at it," said Raychowdury. The basement of Donner House, popularly known as Donner Dungeon, is a place better known for its peculiarly musty smell than for its cool decor. But inside the small, cramped space of Room A11, twin brothers Jordan and Grant Bartlow, both freshmen in SCS, have created a posh entertainment center. "We wanted to create the ultimate guy's room", said Jordan. To create their room, the brothers drew upon their shared interests in art and film. Three colorful Warholesque paintings hang on the walls, depicting Christopher Walken, Michael Madsen from Reservoir Dogs, and Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Film cells from movies cover the lights, causing the room to be in darkness most of the time. Their room was not a spontaneous creation, but a carefully planned endeavor.
"We spent the summer after our junior year of high school in a similar-sized room," said Grant, "so we were already familiar with its size."
Once the Bartlows arrived at Carnegie Mellon, they drew up blueprints for the room, planning where every gadget would go.The heart of the room is the home-theater system, which the brothers have baptized with the name of Marta. Marta extends from the large decoder/receiver on top of a chest drawer, to the projector mounted on a contraption made of PVC pipes screwed together. An80-inch screen completes the setup, along with the Bartlows' extensive DVD collection. They estimate that their room has cost between $5,000 and $6,000. The Bartlows are intensively proud of their room, and are quick to point out the benefits that it has brought to their social life.
"We show movies every night", said Jordan. "The room makes it easier to meet new people and it has positioned us as a party spot for our floor." Decoration need not always be an individual effort. In some exceptional cases, several students pool their resources together to create a single space for everyone in the dorm. On the second floor of Boss House, the residents have converted a lounge into a haven for video game fans. The place seems to be always occupied by a student playing video games. The lounge is equipped with row upon row of TVs, both large and small, that are stacked on top of each other. Just underneath the TV stands what must be the largest concentration of video game consoles on the Carnegie Mellon campus. The collection includes four Playstation 2s, two Game Cubes, two Nintendo Systems, two Super Nintendo Systems, one Xbox, one Sega Genesis, two Nintendo 64s, and one original Playstation. Delen Heisman, a senior in Business Administration, recalls how the lounge was created: "This started two and a half years ago. I was one of the original residents that created this space." "Me and a group of friends wanted an area to ourselves," said Damien Lopez, a junior in MCS. "This was basically an empty spot that we turned into a conglomeration." "Housing objected, for obvious reasons, but they eventually gave up", said Ian Friedman, an SCS senior. Lopez then opened the top drawer of the dresser, revealing a vast collection of video games. After some insistence, Lopez and Friedman estimated the space had anywhere from 300 to 400 games. "We have so many; I don't even know how many we have; the collection changes constantly, depending on who borrows a game or who goes shopping," said Friedman. Though many of the original residents who created the space no longer live in Boss, they still return often to play games. The space has also served as a gathering place for current Boss residents. When asked why he and his friends had decided to create the lounge, Heisman said simply "White is a boring color."
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