Sara and Rogan’s Delightful Dorm Oasis

updated Jul 31, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Sara Jade Pesek and Rogan Kersh
Location: Manhattan, New York
Size: 1,350 sq/ft
Years lived in: 2.5 years

In New York University’s Goddard Hall, on Washington Square Park, most doors open on the chaotic lairs of 200 college freshmen. But door #702, dotted with notes and nametags, reveals an unexpected oasis, the tranquil home of “dorm parents” Sara and Rogan.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The apartment, created from four student dorm rooms, was designed by the university as a model for sustainable campus housing. The historic building, once a 19th- and early 20th-century bachelor’s residence for Edgar Allen Poe, Winslow Homer and Charlie Chaplin, received a 21st century makeover, with cork floors, bamboo cabinets, and recycled glass kitchen counters made from old medical instruments. Little touches – abundant plants, a cheerful lettuce planter, worms munching on leftovers – make the small space feel as lush as the park outside.

Rogan, a professor and associate dean at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy, welcomed the apartment’s greening in part to court Sara, who works at the Syracuse Environmental Finance Center. Whether it was the sustainability or the novelty – Sara never lived in a dorm as an undergrad – the wooing worked. Now happily married, the couple welcomes the floor’s freshmen into their home and encourages their curiosity about green living.

Recently, Rogan and Sara helped lead 40 freshmen on a service-learning spring break trip to New Orleans with Historic Green, a zero carbon rebuilding project in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. The students left so fired up that they decided to write a white paper about the project and its larger policy implications. As they told Sara, “We want to continue to be part of the solution.”

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

AT Survey:

My/Our style: “Comfortable contemporary,” with modular elements throughout. In an inevitably small urban space, pieces that do double duty are essential. So the counter stools transform into dining chairs, and the dining table (which, with leaves, seats 8-10) becomes a floor-hugging coffee table at the touch of a lever.

Inspiration: Central Park in spring was the inspiration for the guest-room walls, painted “Central Park Green.” Only in New York!

Favorite Element: The building has a wonderful history, like so many on Washington Square. In the 19th century it was a bachelor’s residence (back when single men weren’t allowed to live in proximity to young women in Manhattan). Among the residents: Edgar Allan Poe, Charlie Chaplin, and Winslow Homer, who actually painted several of his “seaside” scenes on the building’s roof, hosing down his models to achieve that ocean-spray look. It’s great to inhabit such a well-traveled space – and to renovate it with recycled/eco-friendly materials seems both true to the history and a great leap forward.

Biggest Challenge: The amazing recycled-medical-instrument-glass counters stain, it turns out, at the slightest touch: a drop of coffee or wine, or piece of parsley left out overnight, and the evidence is permanent. We spend more time scrubbing the countertops than Lady Macbeth spent washing her hands…

What Friends Say: We can’t believe you live in a dormitory! (This is a faculty apartment in NYU’s ‘residential college’ for students. There only two buildings on campus with this program.) Once they’re inside: we can’t believe there’s an apartment this nice in a dormitory!

Biggest Embarrassment: Pajama-clad “neighbors,” aka students, wandering our hall at all hours (see above).

Proudest DIY: A trio of BluDot chairs, each of which arrives as a single sheet of pliable metal, with the most spartan set of instructions imaginable (no words, just a few mystifying diagrams). Took a few hours of bending metal into precise shapes, but they’re delightfully comfortable.

Biggest Indulgence: A central pendant-lighting piece from NYC’s legendary “Lighting by Gregory,” on Bowery; it looks like a work of art, but it’s functional.

Best Advice: Buy beds with raised frames, allowing for plenty of storage underneath. And remember that creating an environmentally friendly space has as much to do with your choices in lifestyle as it does of materials. If you have a small budget, make sure to make as big a difference as you can with low-cost items. For example, we have both a worm compost bin, which largely takes care of itself, as well as a kitchen countertop container that we use if we have generated too much for the little worms to handle. We then just walk up to our local greenmarket a couple times a week where there is a compost drop-off site, and then we can get fresh, local produce at the same time.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


Overall: The floors are cork. Cabinets are bamboo. Paint is low-VOC. Recycled medical equipment countertop. When possible, we bought organic rugs, towels and other accoutrements.

Furniture: Dining room chairs from BluDot, dining room table and stools from Ligne Roset. Sofa was from Crate and Barrel’s annual “design your own” promotion where you can pick the design and materials. The wood/leather chair is from Johnny Appleseed Farm, a family-owned furniture store on an apple farm in upstate New York.

Artwork: The dishes on the living room wall are from John Derian’s store in the East Village. We like them since we can move them around to create new mixes, and can always add and subtract from the “artwork” as we see fit. Plus we can take a plate down and use it for parties.

Those above our bed were our own creation. We couldn’t find a large piece of artwork that we liked so we went to an art store, bought supplies and spent an evening being artists. We love it when people ask after the artwork, and we can claim to be the painters.

Accessories: Next to the door on the way into the room, is our framed wedding invitation, which my sister and brother-in-law and parents had framed for our wedding present. The invitation was designed by our friend Tara Hogan, of Ink+Wit Designs.

Rugs: The rug is made out of organic jute from Crate & Barrel, and the carpet in the bedrooms are also jute.

Appliances: Jen Air

Kitchen Cabinets: Plyboo Amber Flat Grain bamboo plywood by Smith & Fong Plyboo

Beds: Room and Board, Charles T. Rogers Beds

Window Treatments: Bed, Bath & Beyond

(Thanks, Sara and Rogan!)
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(Images: By Liz Vidyarthi)