Monday, September 20, 2010

Campus Style on a Budget

By Jim Weiker


Video – HGTV’s Libby Langdon helps her stepdaughter decorate her off-campus apartment near OSU.

Meghan O’Hea, like thousands of other Ohio State University students, moved into a campus apartment recently to prepare for the start of school Wednesday.

Unlike the others, O’Hea and her four roommates got some decorating help from a New York pro.

While many students hauled in ratty furniture from their parents’ basements, taped up a few posters and tacked some sheets over the windows, Meghan and her roommates made picture frames, hung mesh fabric from the ceiling and turned ordinary branches into art pieces.

Leading the way was Meghan’s stepmother, Libby Langdon, a designer on the former HGTV show Small Space, Big Style who also dispenses decorating advice on Rachael Ray.

Langdon applied her expertise to the five-bedroom apartment two blocks off High Street that Meghan shares with her roommates, all OSU sophomores.

“There are so many things you can easily do to spruce up the look of an apartment or dorm room,” said Langdon, who decorated Meghan’s OSU dorm room last year for a Rachael Ray segment.

Langdon may be a pro, but she faced the same challenges with Meghan’s apartment that students throughout the country face: transform, in a day or two, a small white box into something stylish, and do it without spending much money and without leaving any permanent marks.

“Some might say, ‘Oh, they’ll only be here a year, so why bother?’ But I believe, if you like your space and enjoy coming back to it at the end of the day, it improves your whole perspective,” Langdon said while directing her five helpers in the apartment.

Langdon arrived at the apartment about 2:30 Sunday afternoon and returned to New York 24 hours later. She came with a firm plan, mapped out on a four-page to-do list and on a hand-drawn floor plan of the apartment.

She had also done some prep work. A few weeks earlier, Langdon flew to Ohio to work with Meghan and her roommates. After inventorying the group’s “potluck” furniture, Langdon settled on color schemes: black, yellow and white for Meghan’s room and silver, aqua and chocolate brown for the living room. (“Designers can never just say brown,” she joked.)

They attacked the furnishings with one of Langdon’s favorite tools: Krylon Fusion spray paint.

The students sprayed a few coats of silver onto two old end tables that had belonged to one roommate’s grandmother. They also applied the silver inside a jar to make a vase.

They used black spray paint on four barstools, the seats of which they covered with a white “crocodile” vinyl print. With some white spray paint, they transformed branches and twigs into three-dimensional art.

As off-campus housing goes, the roommates’ apartment is well above the norm. It is clean and well-kept, with a fireplace, a small open kitchen, a ceiling fan, five bedrooms and two baths.

Getting rid of the white is one of the two great challenges to such characterless spaces, Langdon said.

“You’ve got to get color on the walls,” she said. “Bland white walls make the space feel cold.”

Because paint is usually forbidden in a rental, Langdon came up with another solution: Hang sheets of cloth – brown crocodile print and aqua-colored suede – for texture and color.

“The next thing is lighting,” she said. “Every place seems to have a bulb hanging out of the ceiling or fluorescent bulbs. You feel like you’re in an interrogation room. It’s very important to bring in lighting from outside.”

Her solution: a $20 paper-shade Ikea floor lamp and some spray-painted table lights.

For the main wall art, Langdon relied on the roommates.

The living room is dotted with black-and-white photos of the women, most of them printed from a computer and framed in cardboard covered in wrapping paper.

“That’s what makes a place feel like home,” she said, “when you have pictures, things that make it feel personal.”

In addition to those photos, Langdon printed 18-by-24-inch high-contrast photos of the five students to make Andy Warhol-esque images on the cheap: $2.75 each at Kinko’s.

The photos were typical of the expenses. With a few exceptions, the makeover costs were minimal: spray paint, gift wrap, photo paper, computer ink, DormTape, Command hooks, a $5 mirror from Target and some sheets of fabric.

The big-ticket items: two $100 slipcovers used on the apartment’s old sofas and a $138 bedding set for Meghan’s room.

“I encourage people to spend the money on bedding,” Langdon said. “You can build the entire room around it.”

On Sunday night, after much of the work was done, the roommates celebrated with a movie night ( Superbad and The House Bunny).

“They were all sitting here, enjoying the space and watching the movie,” Langdon said. “I said, ‘Yeah, this is what it is all about.’”

As Langdon wrapped things up Monday morning before boarding a plane for New York, the roommates admired their new digs.

“We helped, but she had everything planned out,” said Kelly Madigan, from Amelia, Ohio. “Without her, it would never have looked this good. It would have been like ‘Well, let’s hang a picture.’”

Langdon and the roommates say they are confident the apartment will remain stylish, despite the ravages that a year at college can inflict on a place.

“I think they’re so excited, they’ll keep it looking good,” said Langdon, acknowledging that the experience might have been different with males.

“With guys, we would have brought in a few posters and a sofa, and left.”

Designer Libby Langdon had 24 hours to transform this OSU off-campus apartment.
Fred Squillante | Dispatch

This was the finished result.

Langdon tacked yellow fabric to the blank wall, left, of stepdaughter Meghan O’Hea’s bedroom to anchor the yellow, black and white color scheme.