I meet Sasha outside on a Saturday afternoon in mid-May - not that you’d know from the cloud collections looming overhead. Weeks of torrential rain, punctuated by odd lightning strikes, have held spring at arm’s length. In a week swelled with the anxieties of room balloting, Sasha’s room provides a welcomed antidote to the uncertainties of the unknown.

“It feels like stepping into a film set, a picture of homeliness”

“It’s not so much an obsession as it is about personality.” Whilst certainly curated, her room rejects any sense of starkness. Instead, it feels like stepping into a film set, a picture of homeliness; the electric teal wall is offset by strings of fairy lights, while the complimentary armchairs are set amidst stacks of books, topped with a pot plant or two.

Casually classy, Sasha's room proves it's worth packing an extra box to make yourself at home in the space you spend your terms.Nathan Westhead with permission for Varsity

Sasha’s passion for decoration is a Covid hangover. Having experienced a fresher’s nightmare - catching Covid in her second week - her lived experience has made her all too aware how “undervalued” our room decor really is. “I think it’s so much better to bring one extra box of stuff with you to define your room, and actually give a sense of identity to it.” While the games of car Tetris and trying to cram possessions into a space laughably too small may be the bane of every Cambridge student’s vacation, it ultimately only costs “one extra schlep up the stairs per moving in trip” to relegate the impermanence of our time here to mere background noise.

“Something of Year Nine Sasha endures”

The centrepiece of Sasha’s design is her pinboard, a beautiful muddle of gallery postcards, film photographs and handwritten prose embellished with pressed flowers; it’s hard to deny her success in the creation of an aesthetic. “I chose the photos that frame that part of me in a certain way”, she laughs, worrying about the superficiality of the action - but there’s something captivating about the effort placed in creating a physical space so emblematic of herself. Tucked in the right-hand corner is a photo of Hallstatt; having had the picture since Year Nine, Sasha’s room is a memorial to all the past stages of herself. “I just feel wherever I’ve gone I’ve carried the same personality with me.” While the postcard may now be surrounded by post-formal photos and Sidney Street selfies, something of Year Nine Sasha endures.

“I chose the photos that frame that part of me in a certain way.”Nathan Westhead with permission for Varsity

Adding René Magritte’s Time Transfixed to the gallery, she describes her fascination with surrealism: “I can literally see the characteristics and traits of a period in a way that is sometimes difficult in less visual forms.” My mind wanders to Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. On those days when time feels like Dali’s melting clocks, spent wishing we could hold off the inevitability of deadlines or hurry the completion of particularly arduous supervision work, our rooms give us the visual spaces to truly cement ourselves in our own period.

“A marker of a moment”

Our chat is underscored by the soundtrack of her room; for every room she lives in, a new playlist is created, “capsules of this space and time” which instil “its meaning and its momentariness.” While days spent in the library may feel infinite and the neatness of the eight-week term serves as a constant reminder of the looming conclusions we face, these playlists track our presence here as something more tangible.

Dried flowers, jewellry and her favourite books ensure a sense of Sasha's self endures in her living space, despite the 8 week turnaround.Nathan Westhead with permission for Varsity

A gloriously eclectic mug collection adorns Sasha’s desk, each a marker of a moment in time: the Alexandra Palace mug from her mum - purchased prior to university so she may “never forget her roots” - the FRIENDS mug - a 20th birthday present from her own friends - and her replica rabbit mug. After buying the first iteration as a celebration of her Cambridge offer, it’s been broken and replaced twice over. “Third time lucky”, Sasha hopes, as the mug, as these things always are, is more than just that - it’s a marker of a moment.

“Decorating our rooms can feel like trying on different versions of ourselves”

An array of unforgettable moments, each one permanently marked in a different mug that sits on her shelf.Nathan Westhead with permission for Varsity


Mountain View

Space invaders: Hannah Gillott’s Room, ‘Dust and Chips’

The longer we chat, the more I am aware of a permeating sense of change - that we are destined to always smash mugs, and that the formation of photos will never be quite the same as it was. The trees her window overlooks, once bare but now lush with leaves, will fade once again. Decorating our rooms can feel like trying on different versions of ourselves - the essential structure persists, but is adorned with this term’s acquisitions: the wine bottles of the last Shirley meeting as president, an ever-growing collection of zines, the impulse purchase of a pottery gemstone. “I feel like our eight-week contract allows our rooms to represent the simultaneous flux and stability of the self... little things might change, but at its core it will appear the same.” We may always keep rabbit mugs, imperfectly pressed flowers and dreams of Hallstatt, but Sasha’s room reminds us that we are in a constant state of flux, that everything can change at a moment’s notice - and that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

The trees her window overlooks, once bare but now lush with leaves, will fade once again. Nathan Westhead with permission for Varsity