Along the long and narrow Bay State Road of Boston’s Back Bay, lies an antique abode I had the pleasure of calling home my senior year. It was a whimsical apartment, converted from the old servant’s quarters into Boston University student lodgings. It had one rectangular bedroom, one recently furbished bathroom, and one one-counter kitchen. The space from the kitchen poured into the brick-lined living room, where the day’s glow soaked through the oak-paneled windows. We called it the Nest.
It had howling windows and hissing radiators that broiled the place during the frigid New England winter. The walls crumbled brick dust at the jolt of a breeze. Yet, with all of its idiosyncrasies making it seem like it lived with me more than I lived with it, the Nest was the first place I ever made a home.
Anyone that has ever climbed the windy flight up to the fourth floor will tell you how cozy the thick blue carpet felt underneath your feet. Anyone that has ever followed me out onto the roof will know the serendipity of the frozen Charles River.
Student dormitories rarely create spaces of actual sanctuary. All too often, they drown the air with flat fluorescents and cinderblock trappings. After spending my very first winter (yes, I’m one of those Southern Californians) snowed inside the claustrophobia of my square foot dorm room in Warren Towers, I spent the next two years at college adapting my on-campus student housing into my off-campus oasis.
When it came to decorating the Nest, lighting was the most important aspect of generating warm vibrations. My roommate, Tamara, and I hung strings of white Christmas lights around the top of the square living room, and let them droop in the windowpanes. We used the leftover Christmas lights to pin an outlined “T” against the brick, a symbol of our shared initials. The theme fit well into the Nest even after Tamara went abroad, and my dear friend Tori moved in. The lighting scheme completed itself when Tamara discovered a grandma lamp on Craigslist for $10, and it emitted this touching light:
The golden lamp
Tamara Boyle & I’s craftwork
The most obvious aspect of me effectively personalizing my on-campus apartment, was hanging personal mementos. I taped flowers to the walls with angsty Brandy Melville stickers and they decomposed with their petals intact. On the two opposing wooden pillars that introduced the living room, the nest of the Nest, I pasted postcards I’ve collected over the years. I placed seashells on loose nails poking out of the brick. Paying close attention to the details on the walls—instead of slapping a tapestry over it—gave the Nest the breath of life. And that’s what made it feel like home.
Brick Interior (detail)
Outside of the Nest, the large roof deck faced north. The calm river flowed by and the street changed along with the seasons, as if she kept changing her hair. We recognized that going on the roof was against BU policy—but the door from our room never made a sound. (This came to bite me in the ass at the end of the semester, when residence life fixed the alarm.) When the weather was fair and there lacked a 10-foot pile of snow on the deck, friends frequented the roof for fresh air, convivial conversations and the last ripples of sunset. It was a magical setting.
The Nest roused with animation every night after 2am, just as I’d be staring at my screen and tapping away at a column. The pipes underneath the radiators clinked ferociously, almost jumping from their valves. A crop of critters crept from the brick dust with 10 legs and purple ooze (when squashed). The fabric Doors poster wafted in a still breeze and after a chorus of ghastly sighs, the Nest would take a deep breath, and lull me right to sleep.
On the Roof Portrait