Monday, March 22, 2010

Real-Life TAA: Dorm life with Rachel!

Even if you're one of those spoiled bastards who no longer lives in a tiny-ass apartment, I think we can all recall our first and most-tiniest living quarters: the dorm room. Ah, memories: sleeping three feet away from your roommate, waking up because your neighbor is playing Portishead's "Sour Times" loudly on repeat at 3 a.m., having to go out in the cold because of yet another fire drill, getting creeped out by the guy who lives across from the girl's bathroom insisting on leaving his door open at all times. Despite that, I actually really enjoyed dorm life. My roommate Vanessa was (and still is) awesome, and I met many other people who I know will be friends for life.

I lived in the Mary Park Hall at San Francisco State University. We were WAY better than those fools in Mary Ward. Fine, fine... there was actually no difference whatsoever.

My dorm style still makes me smile ruefully. EVERYTHING I had was blue/purple (to match my iMac), and I taped Monet posters to the wall above my bed. Vanessa's things were red, and she had Klimt prints. We were typical college freshmen. (Especially if you've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season four, episode one: "Monet still well in the lead, but look out for team Klimt coming from behind.")

But despite whatever design "mistakes" we may have made, living in a dorm is an important step in one's life. There are the obvious, grand-scale changes: living away from home, starting college, being a kinda-grown up for the first time. On the design level, a dorm is where you first truly get to make your own decisions. You start with a blank, tiny cinderblock room and a few pieces of college-issued furniture, and that's it. The rest is up to you (and your roommate). You also learn valuable lessons when it comes to being broke as hell, not having a lot of room, and getting around Draconian rules about putting nails in the wall. (Some things never change.)

TAA reader Rachel sent in her RLTAD -- "Real-Life Tiny-Ass Dorm." She's a student at Smith college, and has spent the past four years in Chapin House, the last two of them in this particular room. At Smith, student housing is divided amongst 36 different buildings; Chapin House is home to about 70 students in its 36 singles and 17 double-occupancy rooms. Rachel has a single to herself, and as you can see it's tiny and narrow. Still, the building is in the center of campus, and her room overlooks the fields, boathouse, and botanical gardens. (It's also rumored that the house's staircase was the inspiration for the one in Gone With The Wind.) I think the "tiny and narrow" is worth it!

Rachel describes her style as eclectic -- she likes everything from the classic, minimalist, and clean, as well as the bohemian and maximalist. (Hey, college is where you get to experiment, right?) However, she has a lot of obstacles to get around. Smith provides the big pieces (desk, desk chair, bed, drawers, bookshelf, and dresser) which relieves some of the strain on Rachel's small budget, but having those pieces pre-selected can be creatively limiting. The configuration of her furniture is largely determined by access to outlets and phone and cable jacks, plus dorm residents aren't allowed to paint, drill, or nail anything into the walls. The institution-white walls were the worst, so Rachel picked up some blue dollar-a-yard material and tacked it up with a box of thumbtacks.

Rachel's dresser was a Craigslist find for only $15; the Mondrian-esque paint job came from the father/son duo who were selling it. She put her bookshelf on top of her Smith-issued dresser to free up space. It took me a second to even realize it wasn't all one piece! The red ottoman was her mother's from when she was in college herself, and it unfolds into a cot, thereby solving the problem of having to crash on someone's floor after a long night of partying of studying.

The cute desk hutch is an old dresser drawer that Rachel painted and papered, and I love the colorful balloon prints above. The statue and the red flower are both courtesy of Smith tradition. Ms. Venus di Milo was passed on to her by an upperclassman, and soon it'll be time for her to give it to someone else in her house. The flower was given out at the campus center to celebrate International Women's Day.

Smith traditions also account for a few of Rachel's other items. Each house on campus has a "free box" where people can drop off things they don't want so that others can claim and reuse them. Rachel also picked up a storage crate on "Mountain Day" -- one day in the fall the college president rings a bell to declare classes canceled, and everyone goes apple picking in a nearby orchard. I can't get over how idyllic that sounds. If classes were canceled at SFSU, it was because the near-constant protests on campus were getting out of hand, or maybe because people were ditching for the Folsom Street Fair.

With graduation only two months away, Rachel will have to pack up her TAD soon. I'd be pretty bummed to leave such an awesome-sounding school. Still, it'll be fun to see what she does with her future TAA!

Thanks for letting us take a look around, Rachel! Congrats on your impending graduation!


  1. Awesome! I especially like the fabric stretched across the walls. Very cool.

    This makes me miss my incredibly dorm rooms at Bryn Mawr. Every single year, I had a room with a fireplace (not working), windowseat and hardwood floors. My last year, I also had 13 foot ceilings and a wall of windows. It was amazing.

  2. Hey! I'm the upperclassmen who passed on the Venus di Milo!! Yay Rachel! I'm glad to see that she's still sitting there on someone's desk.

  3. Meg: Wow, those dorms sound AMAZING. Mine looked like a jail cell.

    Meleta: That's crazy! And awesome! Small, small world.

  4. I'd have killed for those wood floors in my (concrete walls & floor) dorm! Lovely :)

  5. I'm moving into a dorm room in 40 days, pretty excited.
    I'm in Australia, and most university students live at home or rent an apartment, because of really REALLy limited rooms in the dorms.
    excited to set up my room.


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