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Students Fight Beige in Dorms

August 08, 1992|PATRICK MOTT

People who think they have insoluble interior design problems have never lived on a college campus. Those who whine that their rumpus room configuration or the floor plan of their guest room simply won't do are living in the Sistine Chapel compared with the place I've been holed up in for a few days.

I've been doing my reading and sleeping in Room 6 of Shasta residence hall at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, an arrangement that would make the most calloused interior designer run screaming into the night.

I am, fortunately, here in service of a good cause: the California Scholastic Press Assn.'s yearly two-week workshop for high school kids who plan to major in journalism when they enter college. I teach a handful of classes.

And, like most of the volunteer instructors, I live in the dorms. It is an experience that makes one long for the gaudy, carnival-like gaiety of, say, the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The dorm building itself looks very much like an outbuilding at San Quentin--low-slung roof, perfectly symmetrical, relentlessly beige. All the rooms are identical: long single windows, reinforced concrete walls, spare metal office furniture with chipped paint, bland green indoor-outdoor carpet, beds that are more like cots, indentations in the walls for closets. It's the sort of room that can be cleaned simply by hosing it down.

It's difficult to know whether to feel like a convict or a monk.

But the human craving for diversity, variety and individual expression is strong, and among the young it is unquenchable.

While the adult instructors shrug and suffer, doomed to four bare and, yes, beige walls, a handful of the students have declared open, if limited, rebellion against interiors that have all the cheerful charm of Death Row. Resources, naturally, are limited, but inventiveness persists.

Consider the room of Morgan Howard and Mike Hernandez. Howard, a student at Huntington Beach High School, and Hernandez, who attends Rowland High School in Rowland Heights, brought with them only the essentials of life: books, study materials and clothes. The texts and papers don't do much for the room, but, oh, the clothes.

The pair have taken to using their pants and shirts as interior art. The stuff that doesn't happen to be on their backs at the time is simply hung up around the room, mostly from curtain rods. The placement is so bold that the effect is not one of looking at drying laundry (although sometimes that's exactly what it is), but at a wonderfully rebellious form of drapery and tapestry.

If they did it at home, their parents would sell them for medical experiments. In Shasta Hall, however, it's a stroke of brilliance.

Just upstairs and around the corner, Shara Cohen and Adriann Grieco also have taken up the cudgels, along with all of the furniture.

Not content to submit to the aesthetic assault of institutional living, even for a single day, Cohen, who attends Sunny Hills High School, and Grieco, who goes to Mayfield City High School in Pasadena, decided early on that they would trade a bit of muscle for blessed variety.

Doggedly each day, they systematically rearrange all the furniture in the room: desks, beds, dressers, chairs. No single arrangement is repeated.

And no law of interior design is left unviolated. Because there is only so much that two girls can do with the stuff in their beige cell and still adhere to convention, they have decided to go a bit crazy.

Here, for instance, is the approximate arrangement of things on a recent day: one desk resting on the floor, the other with two of its legs resting atop it, the other two legs resting on the long window sill; one bed with its head shoved into one of the closets (particularly inventive, since the closet curtain made the arrangement look like a canopy bed); dressers sitting not flush with the floor, but tilted back to lean against the walls.

Sure it made you a little dizzy, but so what? The battle had been joined.

Gohen and Grieco also made maximum use of a cork bulletin board that had been, naturally, bolted to the wall: It is constantly covered with brightly inked paper that displays the home-produced witticism of the day.

Is this bad taste? No. It's guerrilla warfare, and the kids are winning. It's bad enough to have to listen to people like me--who have trouble remembering even the color of their old dorm room (beige, wasn't it?)--drone at them about transitional paragraphs all day without having to submit to the indignity of surroundings that make the lunar landscape look madcap.

I may even steal an idea or two. I wonder how my desk at home would look propped up on the bathtub rail?

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