Tess Bowler ’25 visits — and photographs — some of campus’s quirkiest dorm rooms.
Scrolling through an “Architectural Digest” article on the most beautiful college dorms in America, I’m not even a little surprised that Dartmouth didn’t make the cut. Although my family and friends from home have often called our campus idyllic, that’s probably because they’ve never had to use the gender-neutral bathroom in the Masses or decide whether or not to turn on the sterile overhead lights in the Choates while they’re hooking up with someone. Despite the challenges presented to students by our shabby dorms, some have managed to make it work.
“The Cabin,” Allie Roehm ’25 — Butterfield Hall
“We call my room ‘The Cabin,’ because that’s what it feels like — an old log cabin,” Roehm commented. “It’s very much a meeting place for my friends.”
I interviewed Roehm while sitting on her couch, comfortable and plaid — something akin to furniture I could only find at my aunt’s bed and breakfast in Northern Wisconsin. Her overhead lights were off, but the room was still perfectly lit by lamps and candles scattered across the room.
Roehm thinks these two attributes — the seating and the lighting — bring her room together. “And definitely the wood paneling,” she added, which adds a home-like atmosphere to her dorm — at least more so than the typical white plaster walls.
“I lean into [the cabin style], too.” Roehm has this design down to a T. Not a single item in the room feels out of place — from the paddle hanging from her ceiling to the Ledyard jacket above her couch and the vintage National Geographic magazine covers on her wall. It feels like you just walked into someone’s home, not somebody’s dorm in Butterfield Hall.
For Roehm, her goal was to find the balance between too much decoration and not enough. “My room back home is so minimalist, so I went too maximalist in my freshman year dorm. I wanted to dial it back this year.”
Needless to say, she has done more than meet that target — she has created her own quaint cabin out of her little slice of Dartmouth.
“The Museum,” McKenna Kellner ’23 — West Wheelock Street (off-campus)
Kellner lives in an off-campus apartment just down West Wheelock Street. I could see her room from the street before I even entered the house — a brightly-lit space covered in trinkets and assorted posters.
“I like colorful things and I like weird stuff,” Kellner said, introducing me to her wild cocoon of a bedroom. “I like collections of objects.”
That statement rings true: She has more posters and magazine clippings than I can count, pieces of yarn strung across her walls and vintage baby dolls pinned up next to her window. “I just happen about [my decorations],” she said. “I accumulate a lot and I move stuff around.”
On the origins of her style, Kellner remarked that she only began decorating in such an eclectic way when she moved into her current home, where she was able to settle down after bouncing around during the COVID years of college.
“I started decorating things like this when I lived in my friend Ryan’s house because of COVID. We had the whole space and we decorated it with a lot of found objects — ‘Playboy’ cutouts especially. But I was really able to accumulate stuff when I moved into this room about a year ago,” she said.
Kellner, who majors in studio art, treats her bedroom as a living space as well as a creative one. “I like to think of [my room] as a studio space, or also just curated objects,” she said. “I like to make a little museum out of it.” Every inch of Kellner’s room offers something new; a few treasures amongst her collection are a large knitted spider web, her own paintings, poems written on diner tickets and a small shrine to Shane from “The L Word.” “Playboy” cutouts still adorn her walls, and their gaze followed me across the room like tiny naked Mona Lisas.
During her freshman year of college, the only decoration Kellner had was a lone Fleetwood Mac poster that she had to toss during move-out, a sparse comparison to the decorations she has amassed today. “I’m in my room much more now than I ever was before I decorated it like this,” she commented.
Like just about everyone, Kellner hates the thought of moving. “I’m really anxious about taking things out of this room,” she said. “I’m between wanting to prevent stress and waiting til the last second and enjoying it while I have it.”
“The Penthouse,” Chelsea Kuys ’25 — McLane
Kuys’ dorm feels like you’re in a bedroom that belongs to the resident “cool girl” of a teenage sitcom. Everything is a fantastic pop of color — from the tiny blue butterflies pinned on the wall to the neon “BAR” sign over her 1960s-esque fridge and her pink carpet. When I was interviewing for this article, two of Kuys’ friends reached out to me and said I just had to talk to her — and I can see why. Her dorm is every girl’s dream — fitted out with cool lights, mini disco balls and a velvet couch: perfect for getting ready for a night out or just spending time with friends.
“I would describe my aesthetic as fun, even funky,” Kuys commented. “I really like the look of cool New York loft apartments with a ‘pop art’ design, so that’s where I got my inspiration.”
Posters depicting everything from the shores of Nice, France, to vintage advertisements for Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival line her walls from top to bottom. Despite the variety and number of her decorations, the room remains coherent; everything just works.
Whilst decorating her freshman and sophomore year dorms, Kuys took advantage of the jump from high school to Hanover to reinvent her style. “I feel like in high school my room was just a collection of stuff from growing up, but college was nice because it was like a complete redo. I could try out new ways of designing.”
Right now, most of us are far away from the place we’ve called ‘home’ our whole life. It can be hard to find a way to replicate that comfort in a new place, but Kuys feels she’s done just that.
“In college it’s hard to really feel at home, everything is so different. But I feel like since I’ve covered every wall and surface, it feels more like my own space, like my own home.”