my room and me
Step into my Keohane room, and you’ll be greeted by busy walls and colorful lights. Cutouts from magazines, record covers, posters, and notes from friends adorn my walls. Each and every surface in my room has been touched by my desire to bring life to the spaces I occupy.
As silly as it may sound, I have always thought of room decoration as a major form of self expression. The things I display on my walls, the way I organize my furniture, whether my room is messy or neat on any given day - these are all insights into who I am and how I’m feeling.
Growing up, my bedroom was the one space in my home - and frankly, in my entire kid-sized world - that was truly mine. I was lucky enough to have the same room to myself for almost all 17 years of my life before college, and my parents rarely interfered with the way I treated it. The four walls and two windows watched me transition from child to adult. They grew with me: my bedroom reflected my changing interests, styles, and friends.
The first independent decision I remember making about my room was when I painted my walls lavender in 3rd grade. My dad and I pushed my furniture into the middle of the room and slowly turned the space purple. I was mesmerized by the way the new color on my walls reflected light from the windows differently. My room felt warmer; more me. I was ready for a change in middle school, and painted over the purple with a teal that popped off the walls. It seemed like a phenomenal decision to 12-year-old me, validated in the pages of my monthly subscriptions to PBTeen and TeenVogue.
By the beginning of high school the blue paint felt almost as embarrassing as the braces that I still had on. Although the braces were long gone at 15, I yearned to feel older than I was - maybe a new coat of paint would help. I covered the blue in a mature shade of white my junior year, and felt as though I was shedding my old skin. From purple to blue to white, each change felt like a reflection of a new, older, better version of me.
Soon after my walls turned white, my parents moved out of their shared apartment and into separate ones, giving me the opportunity to curate entirely new spaces for myself. It was refreshing to call somewhere new “home” after occupying the same room for 17 years.
Beyond my bedroom doors, I watched my parents decorate their newly divorced spaces. I observed my dad as he hung art made by himself, his friends, and me. My mom displayed family photos and mementos.
It struck me then that the things we put on our walls must say something about our values. To decorate the space you live in is to choose what you want to surround yourself with daily. My dad - the most creative person I know - draws inspiration from the art he hung throughout his apartment. My mom, on the other hand, looks at the photos that adorn her walls to remind herself of her family, who lives halfway across the country.
I brought my love for room decoration with me to college, but didn’t put it to use until this year. On East Campus my randomly assigned roommate and I bisected our room, giving each other the freedom to decorate our halves as we wished. Our relationship was amicable, but we were by no means collaborators in the creation of our shared home. Until this year, I viewed the curation of my spaces as a solitary activity of self-expression. Creating comfortable spaces for myself felt like an individual endeavor, because the spaces were always mine to decorate as I wished.
That all changed this year, when I got the chance to be roommates with my best friend Sofie.
The bare bones of our room are by no means beautiful. The walls are beige, the ceilings are brown, and the floors are (unfortunately) carpeted. Our two windows let in less light than they should. Our furniture is identical to that of every Duke dorm room. Despite the room’s inherent drabness, Sofie and I walked in on move-in day and saw a blank canvas. Each wall was an opportunity to express ourselves, together. We dedicated endless conversations to potential decoration ideas, some crazier than others. Wondering what to do about the dark ceilings, Sofie suggested covering the entire surface in mirrors.
We haven’t gotten around to the mirroring project yet, but our room is unique nonetheless. Slowly but surely, our decorations have extended to reach all corners of the room; even our closet doors and dresser drawers are covered. Each picture, poster, and magazine cutout on our walls has a story. Some are reminders of home, like the paintings by Sofie’s sibling Ellis, or prints made by my friends from high school. Others represent our shared interests, like the wall of records above Sofie’s bed. Others, still, are things we have come across together. Sofie and I have spent hours sitting side by side on our floor, flipping through the pages of books and magazines and ripping out pictures that might find a home on our walls.
Before this year, I never expected to feel so comfortable sharing a space with someone else, let alone decorating it. Sofie and I find similar meaning in the exercise of decorating our room. It’s a way to push ourselves creatively; it’s a way to express our friendship. Most importantly, it’s a way to create a space where we feel entirely at home with ourselves and each other.