When most students think about decorating dorm rooms, they think about putting up posters, lofting beds, adding a fridge and hanging Christmas lights (although don't tell your RA). Not many would go so far as to build a ball pit in their room. And even fewer would go so far as to keep that ball pit through all four years of college.
Two Communication seniors, Casey Kendall and Jonathan Bauerfeld, strayed from the norm when they made a ball pit in 2012 in their 1835 Hinman freshman dorm room.
Hoping to make their room cool, Kendall and Bauerfeld purchased 2,500 balls using an online ball pit calculator, which generates the number of balls required for a pit of known dimensions (curious readers can calculate their own ball pits here). Their endeavor began after several efforts to make fun structures for their dorm room, such as an elaborate coin track, which Kendall built, for coins to travel through before reaching a coin jar.
The pit soon attracted lots of attention, and students came to see it from across campus, many of whom didn't even know the pit owners. Word of the ball pit soon spread beyond Northwestern.
An NU alumna and owner of a reality Chicago production studio asked them to host a small-budget reality show, Pimp My Dorm. The two would visit universities during the summer and “pimp out” other students’ dorms.
The alumna talked about this idea with them for months, and the show was almost a reality until the show failed to get any corporate sponsors, according to Kendall and Bauerfeld.
“Looking back, we are really happy that we didn’t do that,” Kendall said. “We would probably film four episodes at most and [get] cancelled.”
“With a failed YouTube channel,” Bauerfeld added.
When Bauerfeld and Kendall moved off campus their sophomore year, the ball pit followed them. They put the balls in garbage bags and hauled them across Evanston to their new home. It remains intact in their current apartment at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Lake Street. To Kendall and Bauerfeld, the ball pit isn’t “weird, new, strange and exciting” anymore.
“It’s just a piece of furniture we now own for four years,” Kendall said.
However, Bauerfeld said they will still easily spend a couple of hours in the ball pit playing "Rocket League," a soccer video game, and watching movies. For Bauerfeld, the ball pit is a therapeutic space.
It’s also great for parties.
Some guests leave their signatures on the balls, and around five percent of all the balls have been signed. But most ink marks have faded over the years, Kendall said.
They emailed President Schapiro asking for his signature, but received a rejection.
“He said, ‘Yes I’ve heard that. It seems neat. But I think I’ll leave the fun to the undergrads,’” Bauerfeld said.
Both seniors are graduating after Spring Quarter this year. Though some of their friends have offered to take over the ball pit after they graduate, Bauerfeld and Kendall have already planned to reinstall the ball pit in their shared future apartment in New York. They’ll load all 2,500 balls in trash bags once again and drive them cross-country.
If the two ever come to a point when they have to dispose of the ball pit, they will probably give away all the balls, according to Kendall.
“Or we can be the ‘ball pit bandits’ and rob banks,” Kendall said, “leaving one ball when we strike a place.”