Move over, Hotel Allison. As the dust from Northwestern’s summer construction settles, word is spreading about a freshly remodeled and refurnished dorm that’s fast rising up the residential hall royalty ranks: Chapin Hall.
"What’s that?'" I hear you ask. Chapin has been around since 1901 and has been the Humanities Residential College since 1979. It’s also known for having the biggest rooms on campus, measuring 18.5 feet by 13.2 feet, and the tight-knit community of students that call themselves Chapinos. But because of its location - tucked away in the southwest corner of the school and teetering at the edge of University Place (the appendix of Willard, you might say) – and its size (just 72 residents), it has never gained a reputation on par with bigger residential colleges like Willard or Slivka or big halls like Elder Residential Community or Allison Hall.
“When I was picking out dorms this year, the upperclassmen I talked to didn’t even know what Chapin was,” said Lucinda Allen, a Communication freshman living in Chapin this year.
The antiquity of Chapin’s interiors didn’t help boost its image either. “When I came in last year, the carpet smelled horrible, the furniture was pretty worn and the mirrors were scratched. There was paint peeling and the lounge was dirty - all the usual signs of wear and tear,” said Weinberg sophomore and returning resident Nina Marshall.
But Chapin's low key reputation is fast becoming a thing of the past, as its dramatic facelift - which includes a new entrance and porch, new furniture and lighting throughout the whole building and repainted walls – has surprised many and has become a talking point on campus.
“My friends outside of Chapin have been really surprised by the dorm and all the new stuff we’ve gotten all of a sudden and are wishing they’re living here too. It really is a drastic improvement," said Erik Zorn, president of Chapin’s executive board. "I’m surprised and happy, and the freshmen probably are too. Chapin was in desperate need for renovations.”
The lack of publicity about Chapin’s impending renovations contributed to the surprise factor. “The news that the fraternity houses were moving out of Peanut Row made a bigger splash among the students," said Ian Coley, Residential College Board vice president of public relations. "Mostly only those in RCB and residential colleges knew about the renovations.”
Too tired to hike down Sheridan to check out the dorm's new features? Here's a look at the brand new perks Chapin's 50 freshmen (which includes myself, by the way - drop by and say hi!) and 22 returning upperclassmen are enjoying.
1. First floor kitchen
The facelift added a brand new kitchen on the first floor in what was the computer room, in addition to the existing, smaller one on the second floor - previously the only one in the building. “The new kitchen is great because it’s now much easier for us to fix dinner for some of Chapin’s traditional social events such as our monthly dinner program for fellows and students,” said Professor Garth Fowler, Chapin's faculty master.
The computers still sit in the kitchen, though, which is a little strange.
2. Newly expanded war room
Over the summer, the conference and meeting room, affectionately nicknamed the “war room,” was expanded, allowing space for a long dark wood table and seats – perfect for late night studying or simply for socializing. “It’s a great, professional looking set up for the executive board to hold meetings. It also serves as a huge common space for the residents to hang out,” said Lillian Tung, Chapin’s community assistant.
That being said, the change came at a price. Chapin’s library – which held its books, archives and trophies – once adjacent to the war room, was axed to make space for the expansion.
3. New lounge furniture
Goodbye, dull, dusty green couches and hello, modern looking, sleek armchairs that – wait for it – SPIN! Freshman Alison Abrams praised the lounge as having a sixties mod feel to it. “I feel like someone actually thought about how all the aspects of the room would come together for the design aesthetic, rather than just putting a collection of furniture together.”
“I was thrilled that they kept the beautiful ceilings, which have always been loved by the residents,” said Weinberg senior Laura Shultz, a former Chapin president.
A caveat here: Chapin’s hardware factor isn’t the main draw for the reasons its residents chose it. “The renovations probably helped bring some freshmen in, but the upperclassmen probably returned because of Chapin’s close community," Zorn said. "For me, I returned because I found many of my very close friends in Chapin, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live.”
“I knew about the renovations when I was picking my housing choices over this summer, but it was more of a bonus to everything else I heard about Chapin that made me decide that yes, I was definitely going to live there,” Allen said.
“I loved Chapin even before the renovations, because there was always something going on and people were so sociable and friendly. The renovation was an extra perk, but it wasn’t the main reason why I chose to stay here again,” returning SESP sophomore Marcel Byrd said.
Despite its spanking new look, living in Chapin does still have some drawbacks. “It can be quite a pain to travel to Tech for a class at 8 a.m. since it’s so far from everything else on campus. On the other hand, it is right in downtown Evanston," Zorn said. "I like the size of the dorm because it means everyone knows each other, but it might be a bit limiting for some.”
Those who are already eyeing new housing options may take heart in the fact that Chapin is slated to see yet more transformations next summer, which include a new pantry on the third floor and male and female bathrooms on each floor – meaning that Chapin will have co-ed floors next year. The Chapin of next fall may be a very different one.