Perfect strangers 

Coordinating style and personality in a dorm room Style Sheet

Going "pot luck" in college doesn't mean you should show up to Anthro 101 with a covered dish. It refers to the dorm administration's haphazard mixing and matching of roommates. Horror stories abound of clashing interests and roommates gone crazy. While pot luckers may not always see eye to eye on lifestyle choices, it is possible to compromise on design choices.

In close proximity, two people learn a lot about one another's eating and sleeping habits (and about each other's unmentionable quirks best done in private). But the idea of privacy doesn't always fit nicely into dorm life. One of the simplest ways to combat a loss of privacy is to come into the new situation ready to communicate. But creating something that makes everyone happy, especially in a small space like a dorm, can be difficult. There are two main solutions to this problem: Create one large neutral space or divide the room equally and let personal tastes dictate designated areas.

• To bunk or not to bunk?

That is the first question to ask. Bunking conserves space and leaves more room for decorating and socializing. "Bunked beds give a larger, more neutral living space with more options," says Erin Mendel, an Atlanta native and recent Georgia Southern University interior design graduate.

With the beds on top of each other, rooms are less segregated. "This promotes a degree of comfort for both roommates as well as potential guests," Mendel says. Use the extra space for a couch or futon; it will create an inviting area for reading, working and hanging out. Another advantage of bunk beds is their shape. "The natural confinement can be used for extra privacy," Mendel says. She suggests using curtains or tapestries to enclose the bottom bunk. Textured fabrics in rich jewel tones and decorative lanterns can transform a drab bottom bunk into a Moroccan palace.

• Separate beds, separate lives

If sleeping above your roommate isn't appealing, separating the beds is the best option. That way, there's no fighting for the bottom bunk, and it's a shorter fall to the ground for sleepwalkers and anyone climbing into bed tipsy. Unfortunately, separate beds take up more space and eliminate the possibility of couches or entertainment centers. On the flip side, each roommate has a larger personal area at his or her disposal.

• Space maximization is key

"Places like the Container Store, Wal-Mart and Target are chock-full of storage bins and crates that can be neatly hidden under a bed," Mendel says. Lots of students choose to turn their beds into lofts and move study and lounge space underneath. Utilizing other creative alternatives such as hanging shoe racks in closets also frees up living space.

• Decorating dilemmas

Many cringe at the thought of hanging a high school homecoming sash next to a tattered black-light poster of a psychedelic mushroom. Styles can clash drastically, but Mendel suggests embracing the differences with an unbiased backdrop. "Use neutral or similar colors that work together for the bigger items like carpets, couches, window treatments and covers," she says. Doing so will bring a degree of harmony to the room, making the smaller quirks – like a collection of Lord of the Rings action figures – less noticeable.

"If all else fails, shop together," Mendel says. "Most colleges give the names and addresses of future roommates long before school even begins, so figure it out before you get there." That way, the pea-green shag carpet can be vetoed long before it's ever purchased, rolled out and laid to rest on the floor.

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