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Where We Sleep: The Master Bedroom Question

by Nic Darling on July 22, 2010 · 24 comments

in Design,floorplan,Philosophy

I have been thinking a lot about bedrooms recently. It could be because I have a little girl who keeps me from spending a whole lot of time in what I call my bedroom (a corner of our living room). Or, it could be because we are soon to be building a home with a space that I would actually call a master bedroom suite. Either way, I have found myself wondering how other people think of their bedroom space and what kind of things they want out of it.

Those of you who have been around awhile might be familiar with my predjudice against large bedrooms. However, contrary to what my wife might tell you, I am willing to admit that I am not always completely and totally right, or at least, I am aware that my opinions on this matter may differ from those held by others. The way in which I use my bedroom (largely for sleeping) may be significantly different from the way those with larger bedrooms, like the one pictured above, use theirs (aerobics? interpretive dance? dodge ball?). To dig into this a bit deeper, I am going to tell you a bit about my bedroom and how I use it, and you can do the same in the comments. Hopefully, someone will speak up who has a bedroom that resembles a small carpeted gymnasium, and we can get some real answers to this master bedroom question. Just please keep in mind, as I will, that there may be some bedroom activities we don’t all need to know about.

I typically use my bedroom for three major functions. I sleep in the bed. I read in the bed. I store my clothes in the dresser, shelving system or closet. My current “bedroom” only allows for two of those things as the dresser and hanging rack have found more space to live in my daughter’s room. This isn’t ideal though, and I would still prefer a bedroom that allows me to comfortably sleep, store clothes and read. Essentially, my ideal bedroom is one with just enough room for a bed, a little table on which to place my book and a beverage, a dresser and a small amount of closet space. Multiply that by two for my wife and I’m happy. I like the coziness of a small bedroom. I like the way one window lights the whole place up. And, I especially like the way reducing the size of my bedroom can give space to other rooms that need it more.

The typical household, with children, seems to often have a hierarchy of bedroom size. The parents have the largest room and the rest descend in size based on the age of the children. To me this seems backwards. Young children have a lot more activities that could take place in a large spacious bedroom, activities like making a giant mess of everything. I am inclined, in the future, to always give the larger bedroom(s) in my home to my child(ren). Might I change my mind someday? Certainly, but until those little punks need to be reminded who the master is, I think they might make better use of the space.

Now, as to the bathroom included in the master bedroom suite . . . I get it. I don’t need it, but I get it. I myself am very utilitarian in my ablutions. I take quick showers and don’t wear much makeup. My wife differs. She likes a bath and occasionally makes especially good use of the mirror.  I am still strongly of the opinion that I only want as many bathrooms in my home as is absolutely necessary, but I can understand the appeal of a master bathroom. Now, if only someone would attach one to a smaller bedroom.

I want to be clear that my opinions in this matter are certainly not those of Postgreen as a whole, but if anyone else in the company wants to get a word in on it they’ll have to write their own post or do it in the comments like everyone else. I will also say this, for all my small bedroom dogma, I would be hard pressed to give up the top floor of the Two Point Five.

So, what is your ideal bedroom space? Are there other uses for a bedroom that require more area? How do we feel about the master bathroom? Does anyone else find the use of the word “master” here odd?

Let’s hear it in the comments.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

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1 lavardera July 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

I for one are completely with you Nic. To me, a smaller bedroom, and a smaller master bath for that matter makes for that much less that I have to clean, it cools off faster when we use AC, and is cozier in the winter when two people can contribute a surprising amount of the heat needed.

Having enough closet space is always welcome, and a place to get dressed and knock around without waking your partner is also very much appreciated. Your layout looks like a home run to me, although I might just opt for a legit wall+door to the bath though.

2 Tracy July 22, 2010 at 11:06 am

Since Ive never had a “real bedroom” (ie, one with walls and a door), it is something Ive been jonesing on for a while. Im all for a small space with a bed that is relaxing, used mainly for sleep, and perhaps some book reading. The real luxury would be to have a closet/getting ready area right off the bathroom. That way, the bedroom is kept as a tranquil space where laundry doesnt pile up and make me feel bad for not doing it. (the laundry machine issue is another post).

3 Joseph Sandy July 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

I have always wondered if people actually use the master suite or is it just something that appeals to buyers when looking for a new home.
What I like about a small bathroom is that aspect of shelter and protection. A small bedroom, provides a more enclosed bed than a big bedroom where the bed is floating in the middle of the room. Some people call the small bedroom cozy but maybe its much more than that, maybe its instinctually comfortable, the type of space we would look to sleep in if we didn’t have houses(buildings).
I also agree with Lavardera about the closet space.

4 Building a House and Home July 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I only need room for a king sized bedroom and two night stands…especially because I would have separate walk-in closets that would house the dressers and closets, etc. and a wall-mounted flat screen could house the t.v. if we absolutely needed it. But being the wife, I put a lot of value on the privacy a master bath and walk-in closet will provide…so does that count? The problem is that until the rest of the world thinks like us, we also need to keep in mind resale value…

5 Brandon July 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

The top floor of the Two Point Five looks damned near ideal to me. We’d probably put a big, barn-style sliding door on the opening between the bedroom and bath/dressing area for some sound/light isolation.

6 Mid America Mom July 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

HI Nic.

In my experience what you do in or size of the ideal master bedroom is in the eye of the beholder. BUT I can tell you that few would give up a master bath, no matter how small!

I am of the thought that a master bedroom should be for sleep and changing clothes only. A king size bed seems excessive when a queen will do. I cannot see life without a dresser or a nightstand. TV, books, and computer are best left out. That is about 10*12 – 120 sq feet without closet space (a 6/8 foot non walk-in is ideal). An attached bath is not necessary. Last week I commented ” … Many times a second bath (master bath) detracts from having all bedrooms and closets decently sized and designed. *It is harder to design one good family bath.* ”

The first single family home I owned, a 1500 sq foot two story suburban mass produced home from the 80′s, had three bedrooms. The master was about 11 by 15 with an attached bath and a walk in closet that was 5 by 10 feet. The second was 10*12 with a closet on the 10 and another was 9 * 10 with a 3 foot closet. When selling we had people complain that the bedrooms were too small! Where I live now, a city, folks would be happy with all of that.

Looking at the 2.5 is that two closets against the stair? Or just near the door? The footage and shape of the room looks good.
But moving on.

As a slow homer we do look at bedrooms. What is the shape- are there weird angles that make part of it useless or hard to use/furnish? Are the number of bedrooms appropriate to the size and type of home? The room needs to fit a bed. For a master we peg that at american/canadian queen size. From experience under 10 by 10 need not apply! It has to have a decent light from a window. Oh yes add NON supersized closets – walk ins, in many instances, are not better than it’s cousin when you account for shape and floorspace. Feels like the slow home community frowns on closets less than 4/5 horizontal feet.

If you want to drop by today, theslowhome dot com, we are talking about and posting dining spaces in single family homes. John and Matthew are leading us through what elements make a dining room slow :)

Mid America Mom

7 lavardera July 22, 2010 at 11:51 pm

I think walk-in closets are nothing but a closet with a hallway in them. Fine if you want to waste space, but a smarter design can be more compact without walk-ins. See how the plan above combines the circulation needed for the rooms with access to the closets. That circulation space is doing two jobs at once. A hallway in a closet only works for you once or twice a day. The rest of the time it sits unused, a waste of space.

8 Joshua Daniel Franklin July 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

We have an abnormally large and oddly shaped master bedroom so we’ve ended up using it as a “multi-purpose” room. The door is in the middle and the right side of the room has our tatami platform bed and nothing else. The left side is a mix of stuff, including the closet which has clothes including the kids’ dress-up costumes. It is also the “quiet play” or reading room when someone needs that.

9 Chad Ludeman July 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Lavardera stole my comment about the inefficiency of walk-ins. I will say that most master beds are probably big enough to create your own walk-in with large wardrobes placed to the side facing one another.

This bedroom is near my ideal master bed, but I could go even smaller. As long as we have enough storage for clothes, bedding and towels, I’m a huge fan of the bed nooks that fit only a bed and nothing else. It could include a headboard with built in storage for your books or whatever else you like in a night stand. It could be lofted or even recessed a few feet into the floor if your ceiling height is high enough on the floor beneath it. We’ll work the bed nook in sooner or later.

10 Goran July 23, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Its nice to have a little room around the foot of the bed for Fido’s bed. Makes it easier not to step on him heading to the bathroom down the hallway. Re. closet space: we have a 3×9 closet, and two 3 drawer chest of drawers. I gallantly offered my wife the larger half of the closet and the larger chest of drawers. She took that, and the guest bedroom across the hall, for her things. We now call the guest bedroom my wife’s closet, mainly to disabuse me of the notion that it will ever become a bedroom again.

Agree with you Nic: Children need more room and more light. Especially light, which is needed for good eye development (recent studies show children who spend more times outdoors are less likely to be near sighted because the higher intensity of light helps their eyes develop.) We’re lucky in that our house was designed with a nursery right across from the kitchen, and the master bedroom right behind the kitchen, so if I have to work in the kitchen, I can plop our daughter in her nursery, where she can see me, and it only takes two steps to get to her. At night, her room is on the way to and from the bathroom.

The 2.5 is sweet. The outside terrace would be a great place for kids to play

11 mike July 24, 2010 at 12:32 am

funny, having grown up in europe and lived in cramped bedrooms for most of my life, my take on bedrooms is they should all be small, and the living spaces should be larger.

as a kid in belgium, our rowhouse had 3 miniscule kids rooms (probably on the order of 8′x11′, just wide enough for a twin and a small desk/dresser) with a shrunk at the end of the bed.
but there was a large communal space out front where my parents kept games, toys, etc.

as adults, we have a fairly small bedroom – but its strictly for sleeping. no tv, no food (gross). although having a little more width for the dogs bed would be great. she does make a great heat source in winter, though.

12 Mary July 24, 2010 at 7:54 am

About the master bath issue-
We have five children, four teenagers still at home.
As your child(ren) age you will want the privacy and convenient location a master bath will provide. (It doesn’t have to be large, it only needs to have the basic necessities.)

13 Manolo July 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I’m with mike, the master bedroom as sleeping quarters only works best. Not only does it give precious floor space to the rooms you spend the most time in (if the bedrooms share the same floor as in a bungalow or a flat), but I have learned through classes taken in psychology that mixing uses in sleeping quarters causes mixed up body rhythms. In my experience this second point is key. I have lived in basement suites where the bedroom has a kind of study area off to the side, and when I have spent a lot of time in there working, I have found myself unable to sleep well. I wouldn’t say that I was working any harder or was more stressed then, but now that I have a separation of work space and sleep space I find my nights much much more restful.
I also think that privacy, as Mary points out, is very important with teenagers in the house, and having a good space to hang all of your clothes neatly away AND a space to stow the nearly always full clothes hamper is essential.
I also agree that walk-ins are a luxury standard, but little thought is given to their actual functionality. A wall-unit type piece of furniture or an elongated closet type are much much more functional and reduce wasted space. I also really like how a wall-unit can become a really beautiful display case for your clothes rather than a storage closet made invisible behind a wall and door.

14 Micah July 27, 2010 at 10:28 am

Just built a place for myself as well… we made the “master bdrm” a moderately sized room just for sleeping, as you suggest. 14×16 with the closets right in the room as I don’t like the inefficiency of walkins either. check it out at We have lived there 6 months now and it works out great. Don’t waste the sqft on the master – put it somewhere else. I think in your urban location, the resale market will agree with you.

15 Amanda Brennan July 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Being 5’10″ & my boyfriend being just over 6″3″, a large bed is definitely a must! A queen size is good, but a king is great! I feel though that there is no need for a bedroom to be as big or bigger then a living room. Just give me room for two night stands, my king size bed & I’m perfectly happy. TV stands can also be thrown out the window because I mean hello we are in the age of flat screens! Yes, I know they say that there should be no TVs in the master bedroom but placing the TV on a timer & allowing the glow to ease me into a deep sleep is a comfort to me.

Within my home, I spend more time in my studio. I would personally love to have a large studio space which allows me plenty of space for a large drafting table, a place to build my models & of course desk space for my computer. I do have a ton of clothes & need a ton of closet space, but over the years I have piled up on pieces of art, design boards & models that need a little more storage space then my clothes. If I could have things my way, would take the oversize master bedroom & use that space for my personal studio & use the huge walk-in closet for my design storage space. It would be perfect & frankly if I could have things exactly the way I wanted it, that would be it. Unfortunately my boyfriend would quickly veto my ideas & we have to come to some other equal medium.

16 lauri jones July 31, 2010 at 1:08 am

As someone that lives in an old house with small bedrooms and one tiny closet in the master which isn’t even deep enough for the width of a hanger, I used to belong to the club of, “Bigger is Better” as far as the master goes. As the years have passed however, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to have different “activity” areas in the master bedroom. When I enter the bedroom at the end of a long and stressful day, all I want to see is the bed. It’s actually worked out well to have my closet in another bedroom, as my husband and I have very different schedules, and I don’t want to wake him up while I rifle through what I’m wearing for the day. I DO dream of a master bathroom with a big walk in shower that I can stumble into while still half asleep, but even those sounds in the morning could prove disruptive to a partner who doesn’t have to get up yet. BTW, I AM a saint to be so concerned with disturbing my partner in the morning.:)

17 honeybee33 August 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I know you said you didn’t want to go there, but … while I adore almost everything about this layout, I feel compelled to address the lack of a door on the MBR for the sake of – um – “intimacy.” Commenters here have talked about the need for more privacy with teenagers, but what about when the toddlers start to wander? Or is everyone nowadays just s’posed to do it standing up in the shower?! (I’m afraid my husband and I just aren’t that agile anymore!) ;-) Doors, please – I’m gettin’ busy here.

18 lawless August 10, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I think you’re likely to get a skewed response given the audience here. I’m in the same boat though, a small efficient bedroom with a nice organized wall unit closet with full-access sliders.

I agree with the comments of some sort of door or privacy barrier for the 2.5 br above. As one with 2 small kids, it’s nice to not have the ability to know we’re alone.

19 Frank Sherman August 16, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Size matters (to some), but experience, daily use, privacy, acoustics and thermal comfort are higher on my list.
Experience: Bedrooms are for sleeping but can serve as a retreat space in a small of busy household.
Daily Use: my partner and I get up at different times of the day and night. We really appreciate the ability to dress, shower, fart, and putter around without walking each other.
Privacy: Doors and walls are good things, they prevent our occasional guests from being subjected to my snoring (or at least they are polite about it in the morning).
Acoustics: (see snoring above). Also it is nice not to have the noise of daily living intruding on the person who might still want to sleep.
Thermal Comfort: without disrupting the overall passive air flow qualities of the design, having some spaces that you can isolate to heat and/or cool independently is a good thing, especially if one of the residents is picky about temperature and moving air (swear to God it is not me). Creating small enclosed rooms requires thinking about how air moves thru the room, whether thru careful window placement, transoms, or other passive ventilation techniques.

20 Nic Darling August 16, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Thanks for all the comments.

I think the door question became a little bit more prominent in this discussion because I connected a broader question of bedroom sizes to our newest floor plan right at the end of the post. That’s okay though. We can run with it.

I think that there are certainly circumstances and lifestyles that would benefit from a judicious use of doors. There are also, I would argue, some that don’t. Regardless of which way you swing (get it) there are ample opportunities for adding doors to the 2.5. You could add one where the bedroom connects to the bathroom or one at the base of the stairs leading up to the third floor. Or, if you were particularly door happy, you could do both. However, as Frank pointed out, you would still need to consider passive air flow qualities. Not an insurmountable problem, but one to be noted.

I am sure that when we build more of these we will have to make some allowance for doors, but for now, in what is perhaps a impractical aesthetic attachment to the space, I love the unusual, open master suite. I think it is an inventive approach to what is usually a somewhat banal moment in traditional homes. It incorporates elements that people seem to love in a hotel or resort but never bring into their own house (likely because of the above noted privacy concerns).

I would also like to point out that my use of the 2.5 floor plan at the end of the post was not intended to set it up as an example of my ideal “master” bedroom, but rather to note my hypocrisy in loving the layout despite my belief that it is somewhat excessive. I intended to question the master suite concept as a whole and use the undermining of my position to illustrate our pervasive impracticality (my own included). Want and need are to vastly different things and our homes always fall somewhere in between. It is finding a balance on that continuum that interests me most when building new houses. Modern comforts and interesting design pitted against environmental and social impacts. Let’s get what we need, spice it up with what we want while doing the least damage along the way.

21 Carolyn August 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I guess I will be the one to argue against children (at least pre-homework age kids) needing large bedrooms. If you have a child who is of napping age, the less in the bedroom the better. I want my kids to sleep in their room and that is about it. We have a almost 4 month old and a 2.5 yr old sharing the smallest bedroom in our house. The room is tight, but holds a crib, a toddler bed, a dresser w/ a changing station on top, a 5 drawer chest and a small bookcase. I want my children to associate that room with sleep, maybe reading, definitely not energetic play. On the other hand, we have a queen size bed for 2 adults and 2 dogs to sleep in- since I am nursing, the baby is often in our bed as well, I wish we had a king! There is still a bassinet in our room as well. Our bedroom (which sadly does not have an attached bathroom and that is my dream) often serves as the place where the family’s day begins and ends with story time in bed, etc.

22 J.S. September 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I am single, and I love large bedrooms. It would have been awesome to have 200 sq.ft. or more to play in as a child. Today, my large bedroom serves as sleeping space, home office, and den. During the winter, I save a lot of money by heating only the master suite instead of the whole house, or having a seperate office and den.

Last year, I built another layer of exterior wall in the bedroom right along the existing wall, giving a total thickness of about a foot and about R35 in total insulation. Since the room is large, I don’t even notice the missing 5″.

23 dolores August 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Thinking about moving to Seattle from Chicago and in the process of looking up homes on the internet. Wow, I’m throughly shocked at the waste of space given to master suites. Because of this waste, most homes now have three bathrooms. I do not want to buy a home with three bathrooms. This is nothing more than a scam to keep us in dept. Having three bathrooms gives us more work to do, more things to buy, and more things to fix. We will never be able to retire. If I ever have my own home build, I’d insist on having only two bathrooms, no skylights (insurance alone to get them fix is outrageous), no dishwasher(since they break all the time, can’t find anyone to fix them, so stuck buying a new one), and no goofy looking fireplace.

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