Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By KATHLEEN DEELY
The assignment: Make a 12x6 room with cinderblock walls and a cold floor feel like home.
Obstacles: You have to work with furniture devoid of style. Don't even think about touching the walls.
Your budget: Crimped by tuition.
For millions of students starting or returning to college this week, the first assignment isn't in Chemistry or Math, it's home decor. Turning the oft-sterile college dorm room into a welcoming place to live, relax and crash between classes, takes a healthy imagination and vision to see beyond the cinder.
'When I first saw it, I thought how am I going to make this not look boring?' said UMass Lowell sophomore Chelsey Ceaser, standing in her new home on the seventh floor of Fox Hall.
Lucky enough to get her own room, the 19-year-old student from Salem, N.H., has an advantage over her peers. She doesn't have to worry about offending a roommate and has space to work with.
The first thing she did was debunk the bunks.
By disassembling a bunk bed into an L-shape, with one bed elevated and the other tucked underneath, she created an interesting layout and saved space. There's room for a chair and anything else that needs to be stowed under the bed. Ceaser can watch TV from the bottom bed-turned-couch in her room overlooking the Pawtucket Canal.
'I really don't like bunk beds. And I didn't need two beds,' she said.
With twice the furniture, because the room is supposed to be a double, Ceaser had a design challenge. She stacked two bureaus on top of each other and decided to use the bottom for a pantry filled with college classics like Easy Mac, Oreos and Pringles.
Because schools don't allow students to flex their interior design skills too brazenly (painting walls is off limits), dorm dwellers can still add color.
For Kyndra Angell of Tyngsboro that means thinking pink. Moving into a staid room at Stonehill College this week, the freshman unleashed her inner prepster with a pink lamp, pink bedspread, pink pillows and a pink metal crate.
'I love summertime and wearing sandals and everything. That's why I chose pink. And I found things with flip-flips and sunglasses,' she said.
In keeping with a summer theme, Angell spread pictures of high school friends around her room in fun frames.
If you zero in on a theme, you'll be surprised at what pops up. Angell's flip-flop-festooned floor lamp (which has nothing to do with John Kerry) was found at the Christmas Tree Shop.
'I definitely planned this out. I'm an organized person. I need things just right. I had to have everything match,' she said. 'I wanted my room to be as comfy as possible, so I'd be at home.'
Feeling at home away from home is the key to make your dorm feel like yours.
'Just get what you like,' is Ceaser's advice to incoming decorators. It sounds sophomoric, but makes perfect sense.
Of course, on a collegiate budget you can't go Queer Eye for the Straight Guy crazy.
'College is expensive enough,' said Angell's mother, Evie.
They splurged on a Tommy Hilfiger comforter (hot pink) and ending up spending around $600 overall. Angell shopped here and there, but mostly at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Ceaser headed straight to Wal-Mart.
'You can get the same things at all these stores, but Wal-Mart is cheaper,' said the budding bargain hunter, who plucked down a modest sum to outfit her room.
The time she did stray from the mega-store, she fell for a LoveSac. Like a bean bag chair filled with foam instead of beans, the chair is obviously her favorite thing in the room.
Sinking into the oversized cushion, she's all smiles. 'It's from this store called LoveSac at the Salem Mall. You have to check it out.'
There are LoveSac stores in the Rockingham and Pheasant Lane malls that sell modern takes on the 1970s classic.
Refrigerators can be pricey, but necessary. Unless you snag a hand-me-down, you're shelling out around $100. But no matter what style you go for, stainless steel or a standard model, the contents remain the same cold pizza, soda, water and microwave dinners.
For entertainment purposes, DVD players have replaced the stereo and hi-fi sets of college past. Both girls have their own sets complete with video libraries of favorite flicks.
Amid all these new purchases, what's Angell's must-have item?
'A fan. There's no air-conditioning here.'
Kathleen Deely's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .