The making of signs

Generally students make their own signs for their flats, and usually they are made from whatever is readily and cheaply available. Signs vary enormously in their design and the materials used to construct them. Lack of availability of tools and cash for raw materials mean signs are often fairly basic in their design and limited in their execution.

However, there have been inventive materials used over the years, including headboards, cupboard doors, villa doors, white boards, skateboards and planks from beer crates. Sometimes the name is spray painted on a vinyl couch, or written in liquid chalk or vivid (permanent marker) on a window. More recently materials like vinyl type and 3D letters have become more affordable and can be seen in some signs. The creativity students display in the creation of signs is one of the aspects I really enjoy about this project.

Moe’s is a good example of a named flat, while it is currently without a sign, that has had a variety of signs in it’s 19 year history. The sign below was made using a cupboard door, this sign replaced a yellow skateboard (surely a reference to Bart’s skateboard on The Simpson’s?!) with “Moe’s” spray painted on it in black.


Moes, 89 Clyde Street (2013). 

Some students and landlords commission the construction of signs, usually from a commercial outfit, but a new (to me at least) market has emerged. Recently I met Jasper, a 4th year student, who for the last three years has been making flat signs on commission. Jasper constructs the signs at home in the family garage where he has access to tools and materials over the summer break, fitting this in while also working full-time.

He has a couple of years of flatting experience behind him, but his most memorable flat is his first which was named. We all know it – Pics’s Flat. Inspired by The V Flat across the road on Dundas Street, the flatmates approached Pics Peanut Butter for sponsorship. After consulting with their landlord Jasper created the sign which was screwed into the lintel over the door. This was the first sign he made; it has since been stolen.

Pic's Flat

Pic’s Flat, 108 Dundas Street (2014)

To date Jasper has made about 12 signs and has designed several more. He advertises at the end of the year on Otago Flatting Goods Facebook page and students usually approach him with a name in mind – he said the majority are interesting, unique names. Jasper consults with the residents, mocks up the design in Photoshop offering a couple of alternative designs and once it’s signed off, he builds the sign. Some of the designs can be fairly complex, like the Shrieking Shack (stolen last year) which involved using a jig-saw to cut out each letter. The Hoe-tel, another of Jaspers creations on Castle Street, was stolen and he remade the sign for the residents based on a photo they sent him.

Occasionally a landlord is also involved in the design process. Recently a pair of flats on Leith Street commissioned a flat sign (apparently the landlord’s idea); the sign-off on the name and design required the agreement of the 12 female residents (split across two flats) and the landlord. That flat is The Dolls House on Leith Street.

Flat signs collage

Collage of signs. Source Jasper Fawcett. Used with permission

Given that several of the signs Jasper has made have been stolen I wasn’t surprised to hear that he thinks the signs should stay with the flats. Often signs stay in-situ, sometimes students take them to their next flat where they may or may not be displayed. It raises the question why someone would steal student flat signs when they are so easily identifiable … is there a collector out there?

I was interested in Jasper’s opinion on why students name their flats. He said that in his experience, students leaving halls often first look for flats with names to rent because it’s cool to live somewhere with a name and it’s easier (and more fun) to refer to your flat by name than by street number. He believes most landlords are ok with the practice because it attracts students to the property. He feels that flat signs are part of the student culture here in Dunedin.

Students certainly do refer to flats by name and use them as a mechanism of way-finding. On my way in to campus to meet Jasper, I overheard a conversation between two students on Howe Street.

Student 1: “Are you doing anything tonight?

Student 2: “Yeah, I’m going to that party on Leith Street.”

Student 1: “At The Nunnery?”

Student 2: “Yeah.”


The Nunnery, Leith Street (2015)


  1. Marilette

    We’re in Moe’s this year, we were quite upset about the sign being stolen a few months before we moved in. We figured we might as well leave the house naked because a new sign will likely be stolen again since a million (gross exaggeration) people pass it every Thursday and Saturday night.

    • flatnames

      It sad for me too that the sign has been stolen! It’s not the same without Moe’s. Happy to help with a new sign though if you want to make one (with land lord permission).

  2. Homer Simpson

    Found this page as a Wikipedia reference to the simpsons episode Flaming Moe! Can’t believe I read this whole post – definitely makes me miss old college days. Cheers.

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