We call ourselves the Benvenue Blood Sisters. There are six of us. We are very close, and we live in a house called the Benvenue Estate, named after the street we live on.
I’ve lived here the longest out of the six of us: three years to be exact, so perhaps I’m the most fit to write this piece, though I think everyone who has passed through our home — whether through subletting a room during the summer or being invited over for our infamous homemade dinners on the porch — has felt a distinct energy in our house that they can’t quite put their finger on. Something worth writing about, in my opinion.
What drew me to the Benvenue Estate three years ago (before it was christened “the Benvenue Estate”) was simply the way the light hit the living room in the afternoon. It fills up the room with a glowing presence. On that first tour of the house, I ignored the tiny plastic shower (in which I would have to later contort my body into yoga-like positions just to shave a leg). I ignored the rotting wooden porch. I ignored the fact that half of the bedrooms are in what is actually a converted garage, located what feels like several miles under sea level. That afternoon light hooked me. I signed the lease.
This house has defined my UC Berkeley experience in a way I never thought a building could. Despite the fact that the house humidity is at a steady 95 percent no matter how often we run the dehumidifier, despite the fact that we have a hole in our wall that gets evidently bigger every time we throw a party, despite the fact that almost every guest has had to plunge the toilet because we forget to give them a heads up about the fragile plumbing system, this place is home.
And I think what’s most interesting to me is that it feels like home to people who haven’t even lived here. We’ve thrown almost everyone we know a surprise birthday party here — an amalgamation of friends (new, old, some strangers) huddling in the living room with the lights out, excitedly shushing one another as we anxiously hear the front door unlock with a click. Visitors have gushed about how amazingly comfy it is to sleep on our couch. (Little do they know we found it on the street one summer.) I had a friend who goes to the University of Oregon and who has never set foot in Berkeley tell me that she had a dream about walking around the Benvenue Estate.
I guess part of it is that all six of us residents are pretty good at social media, so everyone we have ever known is constantly bombarded by our love for one another and the roof we live under. We have our own hashtag dubbed #GuessTheBenvenueBaby, which we use after tweeting something stupid one of us has said. (Highlights include: “When people say ‘avoid alcohol’ it’s really more of a suggestion” and “I write essays not tragedies.”) Yes, we Instagram the Berkeley sunsets from our back porch, complete with our wrought iron “Benvenue Biergarten” sign and twinkle lights.
Part of it is also that our house photographs well. There’s that luminosity I talked about earlier, but there are also stark white walls we’ve covered in postcards and literary-themed posters. There’s a pasta sign hanging in the kitchen, in case someone ever needs to know the difference between maccheroni mezzani and maccheroni gentili. Our coffee table accessories rotate between Vogue, Wired and the Sunday edition of the New York Times.
Most of all, though, there’s a genuine feeling of coming home, of emotionally uniting with your best friends on a daily basis. If someone’s having a bad day a roommate will, without fail, come up to them at the dining table and just silently rest their head on a wilting shoulder. When we’re all feeling stressed about job applications we can crowd around the island in the kitchen and morosely listen to the continuous glug of wine leaving the bottle a little too quickly. We are able to gauge each other’s emotional levels by the way someone is curled into the couch or by which mug they choose for their tea or if they leave the door to the porch open or not.
If I am fit to impart any advice on you, dear reader, it is to find a home, to be a part of something larger that embraces you with kindness and friendship — luminous living room light or not. Houses in Berkeley are notoriously old and dilapidated. Our house is like that too, but we looked on the bright side, spruced it up and gave it a personality. The secret to a successful college house or apartment lies within being optimistic, in regards to both the physical house itself and your relationship with the rest of the inhabitants.
This house has given me that opportunity to be optimistic. Its walls, ratified by memory, have held the six of us together for years. It has taught me that at this very moment, all that it holds within is all I really need.
Contact Addy Bhasin at [email protected].