Penning a guide to student flats

Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014
lauren earl
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

Veteran flatter Lauren Earl has seen it all in her five years of flatting.

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Lauren Earl currently shifts, for work, between a flat in Ponsonby and one in Plimmerton. There are five people in the Auckland flat, including her partner, and a modest two, just her and her best girlfriend, when she's back in Wellington.

"One of the guys in the Ponsonby flat is crazy," she says happily. "Maybe don't write that. We'd hoped for someone with culinary skills. The squid curry was disgusting. We all said thank you so much."

Earl, 24, is a veteran flatter, though she's at a point where finding week-old spaghetti bolognese iced with white mold on the bench has become something to sniff at.

When she began flatting, as an 18-year-old student of design at Massey University – where she devised her Flatter's Survival Guide– she had no idea of what she was letting herself in for. "I jumped in at the deep end." And, she realised, there's no real advice anywhere for prospective flatters, so she wrote some.

Her book is as individual for its typography and illustration as it is for its message, and won bronze in the 2013 Designers Institute Best Awards.

Earl has spent five years in flats and some of her experiences have been enough to frighten the landlord as much as the flatmates. At the peak of her flatting, she and six other girls lived in Hanson St, close to Massey: "That was pretty crap. It had pretty much a student vibe."

More dramatically, five of the Hanson St flatmates decided to go to Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup and to celebrate her 21st birthday and ended up flatting together there in a one-bedroom apartment for several months over summer. Obviously, finding a place with five bedrooms close to the action in Melbourne was financially out of the question. "It was a pretty small apartment but it was good because of its location."

Relatives and boyfriends showed up and mattresses got crammed together in the hallway and kitchen.

"I've had many, many different experiences but the craziest one would be Melbourne, five girls in one bedroom over Christmas. Seven guys came and stayed in that place and there was no room to walk around. We ended up getting kicked out of there."

The landlord, she says, paid a visit after the festive season and discovered the wooden floor had been pock-marked by the high-heeled shoes that had served the tenants so well at the race course. Apart from that, there were so many people coming and going that the neighbours were complaining that the place had the appearance of a brothel.

"They were my early days before I got a grasp on things."

The book is filled with her own experiences and others gleaned through social media. "So it wasn't just from me. I got a huge response. The section on choosing a bedroom was pretty much Facebook-driven."

It starts with a quote from a 27-year-old Melburnian bloke: "My flatmate was a mental case. He measured the rooms inch for inch and divided up the rent accordingly."

One piece of advice: "Some rooms are better than others and there is usually one that is smaller/damper/grosser than %the rest. Split the rent accordingly %and you may find the selection process goes quite smoothly."

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Up until she finished her design degree, Earl lived only in Wellington flats, most of them old and cold. Her own experience of flat life included "getting excited about making brekkie on winter mornings just for the chance to warm your hands over the toaster". Other aspects of flat life: Freedom, flea ridden furniture, strangers showing up and cooking in your kitchen, your flatmate's boyfriend eating your cheese, people peeing in the rubbish bin, and cleaning up other people's mess."

Earl is pretty sure she won't be flatting when she's 60. "I can't see that. I'll probably keep flatting for the next year or two, max, and then move in with just my partner and I. For now I love it, coming home to a house full of people.

"I'm not as foolish these days. Back in the day I was more of a free spirit. I didn't care if people didn't wash their dishes, and these days it would annoy me if people used my shampoo or ate my last chocolate bar."

Flatter's Survival Guide, by Lauren Earl, Awa Press, $35

- The Dominion Post

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