"The master bedroom suite should be a sanctuary, a luxurious retreat, a place to get away from it all." That's the strong belief of interior designer Helen Velas, president of Eleni Interiors in Naperville.
While many experts rate the kitchen as the most important room in a house, the master bedroom has been gaining in popularity and in elegance in recent years.
After all, about a third of the average person's life is spent sleeping, so the design of bedrooms is key.
"Today's master suites are definitely fancier than they used to be, even though they're coming down in size," Velas said. "Whether in a small or large house, people want the master to provide a feeling of luxury with nicer finishes and furniture. In the master bath, these may include upgraded cabinets, granite countertops and high-style sinks. Such amenities are available at lower price points at Home Depot and Target."
"Baths today are designed to feel like a spa. Cabinets have a furniture-quality look. In the walk-in closet, those who want custom-like built-in shelves can buy them for a do-it-yourself installation.
"Wallpaper and crown moldings can dress up even a small bedroom. A fireplace can add a cozy and romantic note. Many masters are entered through double doors from the hallway. Other popular features include bay windows and tray ceilings," Velas said.
"People want to make their master suite into a mini hotel room with all those amenities," said David Smith, vice president of marketing for Cambridge Homes, based in Libertyville.
"Master suites are a symbol that you've made it, even for first-time buyers," Smith added.
Smith said spacious master suites are available in average-sized residences. For instance, the 2,438-square-foot Grandview model at Cambridge Lakes in northwest suburban Pingree Grove has a master measuring nearly 20-by-18 feet. It also offers an optional cathedral ceiling.
"The master bedroom in our new house fits our needs perfectly," said Vince Zaccardi. He and his wife, Deanna, and their three children last year moved from Naperville to a 3,600-square-foot house at Town & Country Homes' Hunt Club in Oswego.
"You don't want the bedroom so large that there's wasted space," he added.
Before the house was built they were able to make some design changes. "We shrunk the large walk-in closet by a few feet so we could have a linen closet in the hall," he said.
Their bedroom measures 15 feet 6 inches by 17 feet and has room for a rocking chair. The upgraded master bath has his-and-her vanities with two sinks.
"It pays to upgrade when you buy rather than doing it later," he said.
The impact of the economic downturn has been felt in the design of master bedrooms, according to Brian Murphy, vice president of marketing for Town & Country Homes.
"In recent months, people have stepped back from the very large master suites that had evolved into grand spaces in the late-1990s. Back then, master bedrooms grew from 15-by-15 feet to 20-by-20 feet. They took up half the second floor and boasted such luxury amenities as marble baths, wet bars and chandeliers," Murphy said.
"Now the only luxury remaining is the large walk-in closet. People are more selective in how they spend their extra money, but some still want upgraded carpeting and his-and-her vanities and closets."
Murphy believes the demand has lessened for coffered ceilings and sitting rooms in the master. "The heyday of the huge master suite is past. We're back to 15-by-15 square feet."
According to Murphy, buyers rate the master suite third in importance -- after the kitchen and family room -- in affecting their decision about a house.
He noted that most masters are on one side of the house to create distance from the children's bedrooms.
Murphy added that master suites are not as important in townhouses as in single-family homes.
Retirees also are demanding large master suites. At Del Webb's Edgewater development in Elgin the 2,450-square-foot Somerset model has an "owner's suite" that measures 18 feet 7 inches by 13 feet 11 inches. It has a large walk-in closet and is shown with a bay window and tray ceiling.
Downsizing of the master suite also has affected higher-priced houses, but not as much as in the production housing market.
Custom home buyers still want all the extras.
"In upscale houses, walk-in closets may be big enough to contain dressing rooms, ironing boards, full-length mirrors, seats and even a safe for jewels," said interior designer Velas.
"Fully-equipped bedrooms may have sitting or reading areas as well as coffee bars, small refrigerators and microwaves," she said. "Other nice touches include a TV mounted for viewing from the bed, and a sound system and mood lighting," she said.
"The biggest change in custom homes has been the demand for larger walk-in closets. There's never enough storage," said custom builder and architect Charles Page, based on the North Shore.
"One of the houses I built had a 30-foot-long walk-in closet--just for her. Built-ins made it possible for her to color coordinate every clothing category, from shoes to sweaters," Page said. "His and her walk-in closets are standard, but the woman's closet is 50 percent to 100 percent larger than his."
"Master suites often can cover 800 square feet and also have a private terrace for first-floor masters or a balcony for second floor masters. Fifteen years ago, masters were in the 400- to 500-square-foot range."
Page added that the master must be large enough to accommodate a king-size bed or an elaborate four-poster plus other furniture.
In the master bath, some buyers want separate his-and-her showers. "Whirlpool tubs, steam showers and heated floors are standard. Many want large flat-screen TVs in the master bedroom plus a separate TV in the bath."
Page said the master is second only to the kitchen in importance to custom home buyers.Custom builder Jeff Samuels, president of Samuels Homes, commented how master baths have grown. "Years ago, it was just his-and-her vanities. Now we're building his-and-her baths that are connected with a meet-me-in-the-middle shower."
Custom designer and builder Orren Pickell, based in Lincolnshire, said the trend toward first-floor master suites is gaining momentum. "Houses are being designed so a first-floor master can be added later, as the homeowners get older."
"It's not the size of master suites that counts, but rather how it works," said Peggy Taheri, vice president of sales and marketing for Wheaton-based Smykal Associates.
"The buyer's furniture must fit in the space, and the location of windows and electrical outlets is important in organizing the room. It doesn't cost more to move those things around when the home is being built," she said.
Taheri added that walls can be moved so that space from an adjoining bedroom can be added to enlarge the master.
"The bedroom must be big enough to meet the needs of the homeowners," said Taheri. "Young couples, for instance, may want to have enough space to put a bassinet and changing table in the master," she said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times