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Room for Change

The Contest

ONU First Lady Mrs. Toby Baker, BFA '06, understands how to transform a room from boring to stylish - and she does it all on a budget.

"Space is so important," explains Baker. "A room that's warm and inviting is lifting to the spirit and conducive as a work environment."

Before the Updates Living Room 

But warmth and style can be hard to come by in a dormitory or apartment.

"You may know you need a different look but not know how to get there, or not have the time or the money to achieve the look," comments Baker.

When Melody Hartzler, head resident for Stadium View Apartments, needed a fun programming idea, she suggested a cheap redecoration contest for one deserving apartment.

As for the decorator, Hartzler knew just the person. "I saw Mrs. Baker adding her flair to the student affairs offices and knew she would be perfect."

The Entries

The office of residence life set a $150 budget for the contest, inviting students to display their drab apartments for a chance at capturing Baker's attention. While creativity was encouraged, the judges never anticipated just how creative the entries would be.

"We were absolutely floored by the entries," recalls Baker.

Roommates Harry Walker and Justin Yarnell wowed the judges with their entry, "It Came from Northern Commons," a mock horror movie that cleverly displayed how horrifically bland their apartment was.

Although Walker and Yarnell took first place, their video was not the only comedic entry. Fourth-year pharmacy major Lindsey Smith had issues of her own in her Stadium View West bedroom. She pleaded for Mrs. Baker to rid her room of all the pink.

Alice-Kay Hilderbrand, vice president for student affairs, was so impressed with the entries that she decided student affairs would donate $100 to fund a second-place makeover.

The Challenge

Armed with lots of enthusiasm, and the able hands of her assistant, Tammy Vieira, Mrs. Baker did not waste any time attacking the rooms.

"I see the room as a blank canvas, and one of the first things I like to do is get a feel for how the clients utilize their space," says Baker, explaining her design procedure.

The Northern Commons redecoration was especially challenged by the roommates' diverse interests. Walker, a senior biology major from Painesville, Ohio, enjoys green, lively décor, while Yarnell, a native of Powell, Ohio, prefers structured pieces that appeal to his civil engineering mindset. Because they could not reconcile their interests aesthetically, their apartment felt empty, prompting Baker to nickname them "The Boys Who Have Nothing."

The nickname came as no surprise to Yarnell, who said, "We've been accused of having the most boring apartment on campus."

Smith's bedroom presented the opposite challenge - too much stuff.

"I love to make things," says Smith, a native of Weston, Ohio, "But my homemade curtains and multi-colored bedspread made my room feel chaotic."

Baker aptly dubbed Smith "Pink!" and decided on a chic black and white theme with pink accents.

The Décor

With her design challenges in mind, Baker hit the stores for "two intense days of shopping."

"I'm a firm believer in buying too much and taking back what I don't need," she says. "But I didn't have that luxury in this case, so I had to be really savvy about what I purchased."

Unexpected bargains and unique pieces had Baker dancing in the aisles. By the end of her shopping trips, even the store clerks knew the rooms by name and were making suggestions.

"I had multiple carts, and the employees would see me pick out something and ask, ‘Is this for the Boys Who Have Nothing?' ‘For Pink!?' It was great fun."

The Results

At just $3 over budget, Baker managed to bridge biology and engineering, using a combination of warm, living pieces like a bamboo cutting board, and a print of Gustav Klimt's "The Tree of Life." She incorporated structural prints for Yarnell, signing the back "to The Boys Who Have Nothing."

"I don't think anyone can accuse us of having a boring apartment now," the roommates say, pleased with their cozy new kitchen and living room.

Smith's room also finished nicely, conveying a smart, sophisticated look for just 51 cents over budget.

"It feels like a new room,'' says Smith, excited to translate her new pieces into future spaces.

As for Baker, she's satisfied with a job well done.

"What a winning idea this program was. It shows that it doesn't take a lot of money to make great changes. All it takes is a little creativity."


Written by Autumn Steiner
Junior, professional writing
Bluffton, Ohio