On August 8th, 2020, I was assigned to Pembrooke West dorm – a stretch of Gothic architecture connected to Bryn Mawr’s infamous Pem Arch and its four spiraling turrets. Following the COVID-19 guidelines, my roommate Grace and I were assigned a quad, which allowed the two of us to have separate living spaces, while still giving us a common room. 

I moved into a lengthy yet narrow bedroom with one desk (the other desk sits in the common room), two closets (about which I will NEVER complain!), and two beds; one bed was unused (which I did complain about – but no one listened). I spent much time attempting to create a fun, colorful space. I had everything… posters, fairy lights, funky Marimekko bedding, as well as many books and owls to line my shelves. I loved the idea of my room.

My first few weeks were exhilarating. I was excited to truly make my own space for the first time in my life. But as school continued, the work began to pile on, and I really was in my room all day, everyday. I became stressed and had difficulty focusing. I tried everything to calm down, but I was always left buzzing. My room didn’t feel cozy or like home. I felt like I was in a hotel.

When I returned home for Thanksgiving break, I struggled to articulate my feelings to my friends and parents. I loved my classes and my new friends, but that uneasy feeling stayed with me. I kept staring at pictures of my dorm and decided my room was the problem. I needed to redo my design. 

Pembrooke East and West are designed in a Jacobean Gothic style. When I look at pictures of my previous decor, I realize that my style was battling the classic design of the building. This created a chaotic feeling that I mentally could not overcome. I decided to embrace the architecture and colors, instead of fighting it with bright pinks and tiger tapestries. 

I realized the way my beds were set up did not allow for a real living space. I had my one bed but the extra one just sort of sat there against the windows. Instead, I decided to enhance my space with the extra space rather than pushing it aside.  I moved the beds into an ‘L’ shape, transforming the extra bed into a makeshift couch. The bed I use for sleeping, now in a simple white sheet set, faces the amazing span of windows that dominate the space. I also hijacked a set of drawers that was originally shoved into a corner of the common room and turned it into a vanity. My desk is my art and school work station, decorated with lights, books, and greenery. I added a rug and hung posters to cover a section of a large white wall. And of course, I had to add more fairy lights – they are necessary for midnight essay-writing ambience. 

I am aware that space and its design affects how people feel and their ability to focus, but what I did not fully understand, until now, is how a design – no matter how well-intended – can actually be bad for a space. I had to rethink what made me comfortable and blend it with what I was given. Marimekko pink and black flowers do not complement Gothic architecture and dark brown paint; however, neutral posters, beloved objects, and a muted but colorful blanket do. Once I respected Pembrooke as it was, I found a way to make it a true home.

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