"We wanted to create spaces that have a neutral palette," Molla says. "The students provide the color."

By leaving ceilings and walls exposed, the college was able to spend more money on high-quality carpets and Merillat cabinets in the baths and kitchens, adding beauty to the apartments, Weesner says.

In addition to being durable and attractive, the interior spaces are flexible.

The first-floor lecture hall is suitable for showing films or putting on poetry slams; a theater space can serve for an art exhibition, dance recital or reception. Even the counter in the lobby might be used as a security desk or a ticket kiosk.

Living and learning areas are blended throughout the building. Lounges on the apartment floors might be places for students to hang out and play video games or the rooms might be used for meetings and presentations.

"The idea of formal learning areas is getting more outdated," Weesner says. "The lines are blurred as to what is my apartment and what is my classroom."

In the apartments, students will have the chance to apply their artistic talents to their rooms.

The twin beds can be bunked, raised above dressers, or stand traditionally on the floor. Seating cubes can be configured as individual chairs or combined into loveseats.

Molla calls the custom-designed seating the 21st-century version of a "really flexible bean-bag chair."

The walls in the apartments are covered with inexpensive fiberboard that can be painted, tacked or nailed. When it wears out, the panels can be flipped over or replaced.

Such freedom to decorate their rooms as they wish is important to the art students, Gamble says.

"It's crazy how different each room is," she says. "People really like to create and design their own space they feel comfortable in."

Take a lesson from MICA

The new Leake building — part dorm, part learning areas — blends pretty and practical in its interior designs so students can create art there and display it, too. Here are some tips for any home:

•Hide dirt by creating a palette of rich browns, beiges and copper colors.

•Create warmth with textured walls and floors.

•Choose furnishings that can be recovered rather than replaced when they wear out.

•Don't be afraid of high-quality vinyl for furniture and floors that see a lot of use