A coconut pirate head hangs from a chandelier, matching the homemade pirate flag that decorates the refrigerator. A small tent stands in the backyard, where senior Maina Handmaker often sleeps; in the past it was accompanied by a teepee and the 120-square-foot tent where Willy Oppenheim '09 lived for much of his time at Bowdoin. Another bed is tucked into a closet like Harry Potter's cupboard under the stairs, only friendlier.
At about a thousand feet from the Polar Bear statue—comparable to the distance from the statue to Osher Hall—11 Potter Street is physically only just removed from the Bowdoin campus. As a place to call home, though, it's worlds apart.
According to Associate Director of Housing Operations Lisa Rendall, roughly 6 percent of students live off campus. While many stick close to the campus frontier, others live as far as five miles down Mere Point Road. All represent conduits piercing the membrane of the "Bowdoin Bubble."
The independence of off-campus housing forces students to think differently about food, utilities and—having entered the domain of Brunswick Police Department—security. Along the way, it enables unique decades-long legacies to take root amid the continual college churn.
Facing a stressful forced-triple junior-year housing experience and dissatisfied with the lottery, senior Mason Smith moved fast last year to secure off-campus housing. Friends of his brother were living on Union Street and Smith got in touch with the landlord midway through last year.
"It's been perfect," said Smith. "If you want a single, if you want a kitchen, it's the way to go—you just need to get on it early."
Despite living off-campus, Smith, a mathematics major, remains as conveniently located as any on-campus student; Searles Science Building, where he has most of his classes, is a two-and-a-half-minute walk away.
"Bowdoin is so small that we're used to rolling out of our bed five minutes before class and getting there," said Smith.
Inheriting the house from graduating students made furnishing it easy.
"We bought all of their furniture, ridiculously cheap, so I was put in an ideal situation," said Smith. All told, including subscribing to cable and Internet service, his living situation is "not that much more expensive than Bowdoin."
However, the house also comes with greater risks.
"You're a lot more liable for everything you do," said Smith. "If something happens to the house, it's not just like, 'Oh, let's call Facilities.'"
Still, said Smith, "I think the house we ended up with is about as perfect as it gets."
Living off campus, on Pleasant Street, "gives me a physical separation of my academic and personal life," said senior Gracie Lazarus.
But it was too much of a good thing for senior Sarah Crowley, who lived on Pleasant Street last year and chose not to do so again.
"It's kind of too much of a hassle, especially senior year," said Crowley. The house is about a 15-minute walk from campus.
"Someone attempted to mug our friend the other day," said Lazarus. "You're definitely out of the Bowdoin safety bubble."
Pleasant St. has its perks, too, of course.
"We get the Disney Channel," said Lazarus; "the campus doesn't." The house also features a washer and dryer, and ends up being significantly less expensive than on-campus housing.
"It's a great old house with a lot of character," and has been rented by Bowdoin students for 30 years, said Lazarus.
"Especially when we're about to make this transition," said Lazarus, "it definitely gives you the sense that you're a little more independent and grown-up."
Nathan Merritt '11 who lives at Red Brick described it as, "the type of place where when I was a freshman we'd routinely get calls and a couple seniors would demand we come over."
"It's always been a very welcoming place—it's like a home off campus." he said. "Moving to Red Brick was like, 'Oh, duh.' It's that way for most of us,"
Merritt described the location as remote but not unpleasant—yet.
Said Merritt, "It's sort of all out there by itself. You have to walk through town to get to campus. I kind of like it. I say that now, before it starts snowing."
"No one else is going to be making noise but us," said Merritt. "We have to tell people to be quiet when they're coming to and from the house."
As is a recurring theme among students living off campus, Merritt said the house planned to meet with Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols in the near future to discuss the issue of security in off-campus housing.
Merritt said the house had been in Bowdoin student hands at least as far back as 1993.
"A lot of organizations on campus don't have that same level of alumni involvement, and that's a huge loss for the campus," said Merritt. "The campus turns them over too quickly."
"I felt comfortable going there as a freshman, and I'm living there now," said Merritt. "I couldn't see it any other way."
Christina Pindar '12 didn't intend to live off campus.
"I was completely set on the idea of living in Brunswick Apartments," she said. "I've been perfectly content with on-campus housing." It was a friend who did the research and landed them in house at 270 Maine Street, facing the South Street terminus.
As plans progressed, Pindar got more excited.
"I didn't really care where I was living. My thought when going into this was that it will be a fun way of having a very different experience."
The landlord wanted to fill both the house and an attached apartment, so Pindar's group ballooned from four to nine people. Pindar didn't know most of the nine well, but "they've proven to be as cool as I thought they were."
The house wasn't rented by students last year, but it came fully furnished. "Wi-Fi was included; utilities are included—basically everything we need is included," said Pindar. "We have a washer and dryer, and anything you can imagine to put in a kitchen."
"We all really like our house," said Pindar. "It's really beautiful, and it's really close to campus. We all joke about how this is nicer than the house we're going to be living in when we graduate from college."
Thanks to being the inaugural student renters, said Pindar, "Other off-campus houses feel like a place where students have lived, whereas our house is a place where a family lived."
"Social houses are supposed to be a hub of social activity—[they are not] very calming place[s]," said Pindar. "Whereas coming to our house now is a very calming atmosphere by contrast. The main reason it feels off campus is that it's a living experience that's removed from the hustle and bustle, everything that encompasses school, the innate hecticness."
"We made house rules. We had a house meeting. We had a huge house cleaning party," said Pindar. "We have funny policies, but I don't know if I necessarily want to tell the Orient about them."
"I make this sound so boring," said Pindar. "It's awesome."
Handmaker and Matt Apeseche '12 are preparing dinner for imminent houseguests. A hundred pounds of flour lie on the kitchen floor, just ordered in bulk to last the semester.
"We save a lot of money by living here," says Handmaker.
Asked why she chose to live off campus, Handmaker replies, "to be able to cook for myself. It's been a house tradition. Everything in the house is everybody's—well, as far as food goes, I suppose."
"It felt like a healthy living style," says Apeseche of his rationale.
"If there was a Potter St. initiation, it would probably be bread-baking," says Handmaker.
Max Goldstein '07 launched, five years ago, the at-present unbroken string of Bowdoin students living at 11 Potter.
"Anyone who's lived here in the past always knows they're welcome," says Handmaker. "There's definitely a continuity."
Incidentally, between Goldstein's Watson Fellowship, Oppenheim's Rhodes Scholarship, and former resident Charles Stern '09's Fulbright Scholarship, the 11 Potter Pirates have quickly established an impressive fellowship record.
Because she lived there last year and stayed close over the summer, "to move back into a dorm would be really difficult," says Handmaker.
At this point, says Handmaker, the house feels more like a Brunswick residence than a Bowdoin residence. They buy food from local farmers they know. Handmaker worked with one over the summer and to do so after graduation would be "my dream."
Returning to 11 Potter is a sort of escape, says Handmaker, "I really feel like I'm coming home."