I am about to take up a place at Manchester university but I am worried that my room in halls of residence will be dull. What can I do to make the most of small dimensions and create a welcoming space for my new friends?
I am rather jealous of people who experience life in college halls. When I packed up my small-town teenage existence and fled 60 miles up the road to London at the age of 18, I moved in with a friend who had recently acquired a flat in Bethnal Green — nearly five miles from Central Saint Martins college in the West End. Bobboli table lamp, Pooky On day one in the enormous metropolis, I went to Ikea with my parents (a rite of passage) and bought a glossy red, kidney bean-shaped desk. On day two I painted the walls a grassy green. The lucky fact that my landlord was a friend meant that I had free rein to paint walls and spread my stuff around. It was important to me to build a nest in this intimidating new city, so I surrounded myself with bric-a-brac and memorabilia. (I do the same thing today at home and in my studio. What can I say? I need my trinkets.)
Living with flatmates was calm and comforting. On the other hand, once I made friends and visited their halls of residences I began to wonder about what I was missing. Fridges filled with labelled Tupperware and fire alarms going off at 3am, it seems. These days, when those hazy university years come up in conversation, I imagine what could have been. It feels like a party I chose not to go to, or missed because I had other plans. So enjoy the party.
But what can we do with your room? It is going to be about bringing things in with personality to “zhuzh” up a lacklustre environment. Let us start with the bed. I like Zara Home’s bed linen: it is affordable and comes in a variety of patterns. Add a throw for extra homeliness: Toast — who really knows about English cosiness — is offering snug-looking quilted velvet throws and silky mohair blankets. (I like the look of its sheepskin hot water bottle, too.) Add lots of cushions and you have made yourself a sofa for daytime tea breaks, gossips and naps. Habitat offers bright options: I like Sicilia’s giant black polka dots and Diaz with its multicoloured shapes and symbols (full disclosure: I will be collaborating with Habitat later this year).
A rug will brighten up a dull, institutional floor and make your room feel even more inviting. A riff on the classic Moroccan Beni Ourain, Habitat’s Flokati rug is a smart option, with its bold black zigzags on a cream background. It was important to build a nest in this intimidating new city, so I surrounded myself with memorabilia Lighting is crucial. Take a few table lamps and make sure the shades cast a soft, warm glow. I always go to Pooky for well-priced lighting. I particularly admire its ceramic and resin lamps in brilliant jewel colours. Bobboli in deep-green moulded resin, will brighten up a neutral space sensationally
. Oh, and you will need a touch of green. As we all know, plants soothe stressed minds, which might be useful at exam time. Go for varieties that do not need a lot of water, such as philodendron. Last, and most important, add a layer of you. Take postcards, posters, magazine cut-outs and whatever else you are into. Not only will familiar images feel comforting, they will make a wonderful conversation-starter. I still have clutter from my east London art-cave days that I cannot face getting rid of: a small, beloved statue of a pouncing wolf; weird pieces of clothing I made on my bedroom floor and old copies of The Face magazine. (As I said, I need my trinkets.)
Print photographs to stick on doors, cupboards and so on. Raid charity and junk shops for interesting odds and ends: photo frames, vases, mugs, plates, even extra chairs and bedside tables. You do not need to go full grandmother’s attic, but bits and pieces will help create a sense of home for you and your new friends.