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Crash course

The test: Decorate 2 dorm rooms. The teacher: a top stylist. The rules: No nails and a budget your old man would love.

August 28, 2003|David A. Keeps | Special to The Times

They've been prepping for this since primary school. And now, at long last, here they are. College! Freedom! The launchpad into adulthood! But hold on. This is where they'll be living? In these cinderblock nightmares? These dreary concrete bunkers with their institutional furniture and their industrial colors? Good grief, this must be prison.

No, it's just the dormitory. Where a hapless 2 million a year are consigned to live across the country.

We wondered if it was possible to transform a dreary dorm room into a place with the kind of pizazz befitting this episode of life. Under the creative direction of Home stylist Adamo DiGregorio, and with a budget of $800 per room, we remodeled two 125-square-foot cookie-cutter spaces -- one occupied by a male, the other by a female -- at USC's Fluor Tower.

With the rooms' battleship-blue carpeting, white cinderblock walls and fluorescent overheads in drop ceilings, it wasn't exactly a snap, especially when you throw into the mix the university housing regulations: no removal of the mismatched mass-produced furniture, no paint, no nails, no screws and no halogen bulbs. It took six days to accomplish.

In the end, it was a lesson in not just humanizing but glamorizing two drab little cells and making them expressions of two distinct personalities.

*

DAY 1: The subjects

Last fall, Rob Robol was an 18-year-old freshman leaving Columbus, Ohio, for his first year at what he quickly learned to call the "University for Spoiled Children." That's because after procrastinating on his housing application, Rob wound up sharing a room on one of several floors at the Radisson that USC commandeered to alleviate its housing crunch.

"It was pretty sweet," he recalls. "There was a pool, a health club, and we could order room service, but we had to pay for that."

There was also once-a-week maid service, something Rob already needs in his new space on the third floor of Fluor Tower, even though he has just moved in.

Though he says his middle name is "Danger," he is instantly dubbed "Rob the Slob," a nickname the wisecracking sophomore takes in stride. "I have no organizational skills," the undeclared major admits with a grin.

But, oh, does he have fantasies.

"I'd like a flat-screen TV," says the film fan, whose prize possession is a poster from "Jackass: The Movie" autographed by its stars Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O.

"And an aquarium. A disco ball would be cool to vaporize any vampires that get into the room, an in-room incinerator for my garbage and a putting green. I need a chin-up bar and punching bag too, because one day I'd like to fight crime."

It's clear, however, that the battle against grime and disarray is going to be more pressing. Along with studying and sleeping, Rob will be using his quarters for counseling, in his role as resident advisor to the 24 freshmen on his floor. Because his resident advisors' dining plan covers only 10 meals a week, he'll also be eating a fair bit in his room, which is equipped with a microwave and fridge. Rob also plans on doing some entertaining.

By contrast, Angelica Ramos, a junior majoring in religion and sociology and a first-time resident advisor, is a study in efficiency. She has repositioned all the furniture in the room so that it takes up the least amount of floor space and creates an open central area.

Her bed is made, as it is every morning, and framed photographs and a large drawing of Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira are positioned on her desk and side-by-side dressers.

There's a place for everything, and everything is already in its place, including a rather large collection of stuffed animals with an emphasis on giraffe accessories, from pillows to picture frames, photographs to a hand-painted giraffe stool. "We short people daydream of being tall," the 19-year-old L.A. native explains.

Only one problem: "It's a little boring," says Angelica, who is shy about using her favorite colors, green and red. "The only time they go together," she says, "is at Christmas."

*

DAY 2: The prognosis

Angelica has an innate sense of proportion and scale. If anything, she is too logical and symmetrical. Having placed all the furniture around the perimeter of the room, she has created a spatial doughnut. It's an easy problem to solve; sliding the dressers under her bed (a twin with adjustable height) will free up wall and floor space for a much-needed seating area.

Her giraffe collection provides the key to adding excitement to the room. Surrounded by her favorite objects, she has already made herself at home.

Creating a habitat for her menagerie by covering the walls in easy-to-cut reed fencing will pull everything together, providing drama and a neutral ground that can accommodate a more adventurous color palette.

Rob needs everything.

Aside from his movie poster and a collection of photographs he has taped to the walls, the only way to describe his design sensibility is Collegiate Eclectic.

With the same floor plan as Angelica's, his room is an obstacle course.

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