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Taking the bottles of beer off the wall

Over break I visited the apartment of a friend who recently gradu ated from college. She and her roommate had tastefully decorated their home with Ikea furnishings and Pier 1 accessories. The place was immaculate, but more striking than that was the fact that everything on the walls was matted and framed and coasters were present in the living room. I admired the apartment and enjoyed my evening there, but it wasn't until last week when I returned to my apartment in Charlottesville that I really understood the incredible disparity between the homes of college students and those of people in the real world.

Interior design for University students is less about scouting for the perfect piece to complement a room than it is about begging parents for any spare furniture they may have. Everyone I know here at the University, whether they live on Grounds or off, is living with furniture that previously belonged to someone else.

Students employ utilitarianism as their guiding principle when decorating their humble abodes. Only in the living quarters of those whose full time occupation is attending lectures and reading does the milk crate become the aesthetic centerpiece of a room. Not only can this piece be used for packing, but it can also function as a table or a bookshelf. One would be hard pressed to find any other demographic group more inclined to adapt materials obtained from a local grocer to fit a wide array of household needs.

In an attempt to make up for any furniture deficiencies, college students have come up with myriad ways to add a little pizzazz to their rooms. Christmas lights, for example, usually reserved for the exterior of homes during the holiday season, become year-round staples in the windows and along the walls of many students. There's some kind of atmosphere necessary to the well-being of 18 to 22-year-olds that can only be achieved through the twinkling of little bulbs.

Items typically regarded as expendable find new life as home accessories in the pads of students. I am convinced that only undergraduates would think to decorate their shelves with their empty alcohol containers. The number and brand of beer bottles displayed in one's home has become a strange sort of status symbol. Those with a truly impressive collection of empty alcoholic containers proudly and prominently display it in their windowsills so all passersby can take in the beauty of their achievement.

College is the last time in one's life when it is acceptable to cover one's walls with pictures torn from magazines. Absolut ads as wallpaper, however cool they may seem during one's stay at an institution of higher learning, become a bit passe and (dare I say?) tacky after graduation. The poster of the hot star you've proudly placed above your bed since you were 13 necessarily comes down once you've got your diploma in hand.

When I look around my apartment, lovingly decorated with plastic shelves, collages and posters advertising Brat Pack films, an intense pride comes over me. Though my mother cringes every time she visits, I see the place I call home as being filled with personality. The trunk used as a television stand, the oversized plastic cup cum vase and the beds elevated by cinder blocks speak volumes about the attitudes and lifestyle shared by the four of us who live within the apartment's walls.

Perhaps students' relative poverty is what drives them to decorate with a reckless abandon not advocated within the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

Maybe it's an assertion of independence for one to create an aesthetic that one's parents wouldn't dream of even permitting in their own houses. Whatever the reason for the improvisational and lighthearted approach to interior design, such an approach does not last forever. While some of us may always be cursed with woefully bad taste, we will not always refer to a milk crate as "the table." I suppose it might be a good thing to outgrow the fascination with beer bottles.

Still, there's a humor and irreverence and charm to the dwellings of undergraduates absent in homes of those who've already ventured into the real world of nine-to-five jobs and only two weeks vacation each year. I can't help but be a little sad that in the future I won't be able to turn on the string of Christmas lights in my bedroom and read by their glow.

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