Evolving Trends in Master Suite Design

As designers, we are all keen to stay on top of trends, and in recent projects, I’m seeing some interesting changes in the way we plan master suites. This goes even to the point of questioning the title of “master suite.”

Whether or not these “trends” will emerge as a new standard, they seem worthy of some discussion, especially as they seem to be driven not so much by current tastes and interests, but in response to the changing needs of our clients, and the role we expect the main bedroom suite to play in the home.


Changing needs

The make-up of our typical family unit is changing. Multigenerational families, including those with more than one “head of the household,” are a fast-growing segment of our population. Immediately, we think of the home where an older parent moves in with a son or daughter, or a boomerang adult child returns home to live under the same roof with parents, sometimes with a child of their own. Indeed, this is a big part of the shift.

In addition, siblings or unrelated adults are sometimes combining households to ease the budget and make a better lifestyle more affordable and comfortable.

In any of these scenarios, the use of space changes and the demands on the private space that the bedroom provides are affected.

Another shift is the age boom. That’s not news to any of us, but it brings to mind the change in sleeping habits and nocturnal patterns that will impact the way we need this space to function for us. What does this mean for the master suite or suites?


Shifting Space Priorities

Basic priorities for the master suite space include generous storage, often with two separate closets – one for each partner – including dressing space, plus the absolute need for linen and related storage near the bathroom. In fact, in a number of projects, I’ve seen space taken from the bedroom, reducing it to a minimal sleeping area, so that the closets can be enlarged. Contradicting this, there is an equal interest in enlarging the area to include a private retreat space, used for reading and relaxing, or for exercise, or maybe a desk space. Often this flex space is separated to some degree from the main sleeping space. This retreat space seems to take its cue from hotel room design, with amenities such as a refreshment center, a television, music and good lighting for the different activities, independent of the rest of the house. This makes the perfect “away space,” which is especially important in those households where multiple generations reside.

Another growing request is for access to the laundry from the master suite, usually through the closet. This is asked for simply because of the added convenience, and for older homeowners, it can minimize carrying heavy loads of laundry up and down stairs or from a remote part of the house to the bedroom where the clean laundry is stored.

Trends in the bathroom of the master suite include the separation of vanities, with the opportunity to plan the vanities at different heights and with different access. The tub, if included, is a spa-tub for relaxing and the shower is generous, more and more with no threshold and even with no doors in some cases.

The toileting area is private but no longer necessarily a private enclosed space, perhaps to improve access. Not wishing to be sexist, it is consistently true that if television is included, it seems to be planned near the tub for her and in the vanity mirror for him.

For some time now, we have been planning dual master suites in new homes, especially for the active adult market. Because we sleep lighter as we age and our nighttime habits change, the second sleeping space can spare one partner from disturbance. To this end, the term “snore room” has become popular, used when a small space is planned adjacent to the main bedroom to avoid the same disruptions. The second master suite can also serve as a guest suite, a space for recovery from injury or illness or a space for a caregiver, should one be needed.

The most significant and interesting shift in this direction is the expansion of a second master suite into an independent dwelling space. Beyond the things already described, this suite includes some amount of sitting area and a small kitchen as well as a separate outside entry and passage into the “main house.” The concept is having huge success in the active adult market as well as in remodeling projects, designed to accommodate extended family returning to live under one roof.

As we see more and more multigenerational households, we will likely see more of this. Think of the design challenges this presents: planning a very small, likely one-wall kitchen and making it accessible, and possibly a bathroom that separates the vanity and toileting area from the wet area of the bathroom, to offer a powder room for guests separated from the rest of the area for the resident.

There is even a trend away from using the word “master” in describing this space, because of the suggestion of domination or control. Given that many of today’s households are occupied by cooperative partners or single parents, a better name might be “main bedroom” (Dr. Jeanette Fisher, design psychology professor, http://www.sideroad.com/consultants/Interior-Decorating-Consultant-jeanette_fisher.html).

Whether or not these names and trends for use of space in master suite design will last, they are interesting to consider. Certainly not a complete design primer on the master suite, this discussion does offer up some great opportunities for us as kitchen and bath designers to get more creative in our thinking as we help the master suite to evolve along with the changing homeowner.


Mary Jo Peterson is an award-winning designer whose work has earned national recognition including induction into the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Hall of Fame and recognition as the NAHB CAPS Educator of the year for 2014.