When Natalie Jacewicz ’13 and her blockmates moved into Winthrop House, there were some unexpected challenges — getting a futon for their common room up four flights of stairs was one.
“Aside from the heavy lifting, it required a lot of coordination,” Jacewicz said. “Choosing it, buying it, putting it in storage until we could move it into the suite, … it was quite an adventure.”
Thanks to House renewal, future generations will be spared this trial. As each House is renewed, the College will replace the hundreds of futons and secondhand chairs that undergraduates have been purchasing for generations with new furniture.
“When the Old Quincy test project, the first section of a House to be renewed, reopens next fall, the building will be fully furnished with beds, desks, tables, couches, and other comfortable furniture,” said Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds.
Over the past two weeks, College administrators have been actively gathering student feedback on how the common spaces and student bedrooms will be furnished.
During a recent open house at the Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH), Jacewicz toured furniture displays from four different companies. The candid, in-depth feedback gathered from the students will help administrators both narrow down specifications for ordering furniture for Old Quincy and work toward a standard to draw on for other Houses.
Chris Farley ’16, who also attended the open house, welcomed the University’s effort to reach out to students. “Actively seeking student feedback like this really reflects favorably on Harvard,” Farley said. “Students know what it’s like to live in these spaces day in and day out, so they have insight and feedback that can really help.
“The fact that the University recognizes and values our feedback as the people living in these spaces and using these items, that they acknowledge that perspective as valuable, is extraordinary,” Farley added.
Harvard furnishes 2.5 million square feet throughout its Houses, so part of the challenge is providing furniture that meets unified standards. Merle Bicknell, assistant dean for Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) physical resources, said that empowering the students to make the space their own is a key part of the project’s success.
“One of our goals was to select furniture that was flexible so that students could set their room up the way they wanted to,” Bicknell said. “Some of the displays have two stackable dressers, which can be set up as a stand-alone dresser. Others have beds that can be raised so that stackable dressers, or even a desk, can easily slip underneath. We want to give them the ability to adjust the space as he or she sees fit.”
Each of the four furniture displays features two sections: an average-size single bedroom and a common space suite area. Bedroom designs include a bed, desk, wardrobe, and bookshelves, while the common space designs seat up to 12 people and come in an array of armchairs, loveseats, ottomans, and sofas.
“I was surprised by all the options,” Farley said. “For example, one of the desks had several outlets for all the various gadgets you have in modern life built right into the desk. I saw that and immediately thought about how much easier my life would be if I had that.”
The ability to customize the space is what caught Jacewicz’s attention. “The administrators also encouraged us to say how we would mix and match the different pieces — they were really interested in knowing how to further improve the options on display.”
For Carina Myteveli, administrative operations officer with FAS resources, the open house and student tours of the displays offer a chance to think outside the box. “We’re just asking students to look at the furniture and tell us what they think,” Myteveli said. “Do you like the fabric, the arms of a chair, the table? All these pieces can be customized to students’ overall feedback and specifications. We want to give students the most options we can; they live in these spaces for so many years, and it’s their home away from home. We want to give them the opportunity to make that space their own, as much as we can.”
“I’m a senior, so there’s not a possibility of my enjoying it,” Jacewicz said wistfully. “But it will be cool to come back 10 or 15 years down the line, and know that I had some hand in the decision. It’s nice to be able to leave a mark on Harvard in this way.”