HED:Student decorators make the most of their space

By Gary Perilloux

Daily Journal

OXFORD The stately fluted, white columns of Chi Omega's sorority house stand in opposition to twin tower brick dormitories across Rebel Drive at the University of Mississippi.

Inside the Georgian brick home, warm wooden chairs in the large dining room, hardwood floors, Persian rugs, antique furnishings and impressionistic paintings make the sorority headquarters a handsome host to more than 180 college women each fall.

But for the 54 students who'll live on the home's two bedroom floors, their dilemma is much the same as millions of others flocking to college dorms and residence halls this fall: how to make their little piece of campus turf a comfortable oasis watered with a taste of home.

For Elizabeth Gresham, the answer lies in frames on the antique mahogany dresser furnished by Chi Omega in her basement room.

"My pictures," she says. A fourth-generation Chi Omega sister from Indianola, Gresham sits on a colorfully striped, upholstered dresser bench while lacing up her white sneakers for a summer afternoon shopping trip. "I have five picture books and my (framed) pictures are everywhere."

Entering her senior year this fall, Gresham majors more on creating comfort in her room now a white comforter and pillows billow from her bed than in coordinating with her roommate.

"We just do what we want," Gresham says, "At the beginning of your freshman year, you match it up with your roommate."

Coordinating tastes

Roommates often change, however, and the Chi Omega sisters must start off in dorms or apartments before competing for sorority house space through seniority and grades (Chi Omega's combined grade-point average of 3.219 tops Ole Miss Greek organizations).

House Director Sara Duke said redecorating to match each roommate's style could mean prohibitive costs. An interior designer, Duke assists the three dozen members of the sorority's governing board in decorating the home and she helps students settle in for their stay.

"They can bring any accessories they wish - lamps, pictures, bed coverings - and some do window treatments," Duke said. "Any sort of incidental furniture that they want and can get in here, they're allowed to put in here.

"We want this house to be attractive and just as comfortable, warm and inviting as their own residence would be ... because it is their home away from home."

Chi Omega provides twin beds, chests, a dresser and bench. Some rules are firm: no structural changes and no pets are allowed. Neutral walls and carpeting in the rooms complement most students' decor.

"They're very respectful of the structure of the building," Duke said. "I think that's true of girls for the most part because it's in their nature to want to decorate."

Cardinal and straw - the sorority's colors - are popular throughout the home, where Ann-Taylor Smith of Columbus and Hallie Swetland of Tupelo handled rush mail recently in the Chapter Room.

Smith, who's moving into the Chi Omega house this year, said her roommate's accessories will be in green and white while hers are in black and white.

"We've talked and we're just going to keep our same stuff," she said. "The other thing we're talking about is who's bringing the stereo."

"My mother gives us one year of coordinates and then you make do with it after that," said Swetland, who's moving into the house in the fall of 1998.

Both girls recommend communicating with your roommate in advance about appliances - items you don't want to share expenses on because you can't split them up when you leave campus.

"I've got a computer and I don't think I could do without it now," Swetland said of one of her dorm essentials.

And although Chi Omega won't allow pets, Smith will bring the next best thing to her sorority room this fall: her high school senior photo taken with her dog.

"I take it with me everywhere I go," she said. "That's been with me in my dorm, my apartment."

Freshman plans

Tara Moffett and Katie McAllister, who'll continue their Tupelo friendship as freshman roommates at Mississippi State this fall, filled a catalogue order for comforters in early summer. Then they discovered in early August their orders wouldn't be ready until two months into the fall semester.

Plan B took them to Gilliland's Upholstery in Fulton, where they placed a rush order for a reversible duvet cover that will transform their comforters from solid black to claret (a rosy hue), depending on their mood.

For a window swag, bed skirts and sink skirts, they targeted a black-and-tan Noah's Ark upholstery damask material at the Cotton Bolt in Tupelo that features giraffes, elephants and other animals.

A Tupelo classmate who's bound for Union University in Tennessee, Karen Langford, suggested the animal theme. And the girls have gained advice from their mothers, a friend with decorating flair, Jessica Roy, and other friends already in college.

Solid colors on their beds will allow versatile pillow matches, Moffett said, and the claret color will give them an option for brightening the room. Throughout the process, the roommates have tried to be flexible.

"Most people in Tupelo probably have everything together," McAllister said with a grin about their catalogue plans that fell through. "That's why you need to be able to get along with your roommate. So when you have a problem, you can work it out."

Mississippi State supplied the antique white paint they applied on a recent Paint Day at the school. And the school installed tan carpet - at the girls' expense - that will complement their accessories.

They plan to complete their room with matching pillows, throw rugs, color-coordinated picture frames, lamps and soap holders - and some personal touches from home, including a few stuffed animals to join those on their fabric.

A new trend in dorm rooms - extra-long twin beds - dictated that they buy extra long sheets to match. Friends have suggested they take extra shelves and bulletin boards. The school provides a refrigerator, microwave, sink and mirror in their room.

And though most of their decorating centers on designing a room pleasing to the eye and touch, what would dorm life be without a few items to stimulate the sense of hearing?

"We'll definitely have an extra loud alarm clock - three or four alarm clocks," Moffett said.

"We'll wake up the whole dorm," McAllister said with a giggle.

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