Talking Heads: on the evolution of the master suite

  • By Bertie Russell
  • 20 February 2020

The last few years have seen the term “master bedroom” fall somewhat out of favour with developers, particularly in the US.

Writing in the Baltimore Business Journal back in 2013, Michael Neibauer flagged up how the word “master” has “connotation problems, in gender and race”, causing high-end housebuilders to abandon it in favour of a new phrase: “owner’s suite”.

The UK appears to be following suit, with terms like “principal” and “primary” increasingly preferred; take your pick, but all do much the same job of conveying the importance of the space in the hierarchy of the house, a notion that can be traced back to Medieval Times, when lords and ladies would hold court in their chambers while the rest of the household lived communally in the “great hall” below.

Privacy was fast becoming a highly-prized resource in the castles and manor houses of Europe, and the “solar” suite of rooms evolved around the sleeping quarters on the upper storeys, incorporating elements including a sitting room for the immediate family, a “wardrobe” (a dressing and storage room for expensive clothes and jewellery), and later “cabinets” (a kind of study) and “boudoirs” (a private bedroom, sitting room or dressing room intended for the lady of the house).

Over the intervening centuries, HNWIs have fine-tuned the idea of a multi-disciplined private retreat, away from the rest of the house, and remain unlikely to compromise on the space where they spend a third of their lives, and begin each day.

In their efforts to exceed these expectations, developers and designers have increasingly been taking cues from the luxury hotel sector to reposition the primary bedroom as originally intended – a self-contained sanctuary, often occupying an entire floor, with areas for sleeping, dressing, bathing and relaxing in ultimate privacy.

Well-executed examples can prove huge selling points; those with poor layouts and minimal features, on the other hand, can be deal-breakers.

We asked a panel of top agents, developers and interior designers to explain exactly what their clients look for, and advise on how to deliver the kind of indulgent spaces that dreams are made of…

The buying agents

Simon Barnes, Founder of H Barnes & Co

Priorities of life take their shape in this room – the master bedroom. This is where you wake to a new day. This is where you return and reflect on how each day went…and you spend hours in this room sleeping and preparing for the next day. It’s an important space and needs priority attention.

Increasingly, the hurried pressure of the outside world and the demands of hectic lifestyles have made homeowners want to retreat from this busy world and feel a sense of peace, well being and calm within their homes; this has elevated the importance of the master suite, drawing inspiration from the luxury hotel interiors domestic design.

After the kitchen and main reception area, the walk-in wardrobe will add most value. Prospective buyers will usually have made their decision after seeing the kitchen and reception room. If you can get them to the second floor, then assuming the master bedroom has a spacious, well planned walk-in wardrobe, complete with separate his and hers space, then more often than not, you will seal the deal!

Master bedrooms and suites, just behind kitchen and family living areas, are the most important areas in our projects today. Gone are the days when these luxury suites are just a larger than average bedroom with an en-suite. Today’s master suites encompass a large sleeping area, a sitting area, sometimes a connected study room, his and hers walk-in wardrobes with separate dressing rooms, freestanding bespoke designed cabinets and storage for belts, watches, shoes and handbags, and either one or two en-suites.

Guy Meacock, Director at Prime Purchase

This is very much a generational thing – if you are a baby boomer, the idea of an ensuite, or his and her’s dressing rooms would be absurd. Houses just weren’t built that way, particularly in the country. You would have a separate bathroom, never attached, and you shared it.

But in London now it is extraordinary. In a high-end redevelopment or high-spec refurbishment, you would fully expect his and hers dressing rooms with obvious weighting towards hers, and his and hers bathrooms. She might have the bath and a shower and he might have a small shower. I saw one the other day – he had his dressing room, that was comfortably as big as a double bedroom, on a separate floor.

There are plenty of sartorial gentlemen who consider it acceptable that they have vast dressing rooms like their wife or partner. In luxury flats there is very much an emphasis towards the master bedroom, sometimes too much. How can you justify an entire floor of the house devoted to this? You shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one bedroom to the exclusion of all else.

Interior design is so much more indulgent. Bedrooms used to be a practical space but now have the same embellishment as, say, the kitchen.

The bedroom is the most personal part of the house where people really invest their time and money. They are elaborate, well thought through, highly technical spaces with clever lighting and use of space.

Jo Eccles, Managing Director of SP Property Group

The master bedroom is an extremely important part of any super-prime property. These days, it is generally expected that a master suite will include separate his and hers dressing rooms and bathrooms as standard. We are almost going back to the Victorian era where grooming and dressing areas were completely separate, and couples only came together once they were suitably attired and presentable.

The materials and interior design will usually be personalised for each gender as well. For example, we are currently acting for a client who owns a fabulous house in St John’s Wood where the wife’s bathroom has a very feminine feel in terms of the fixtures and fittings and choice of stone and other materials, whereas the husband’s bathroom is a much darker colour palette and very Tom Ford-esque.

The dressing rooms are also configured differently, for example there is a lot of dedicated space for handbags and accessories in the wife’s dressing room.

Design oversights in master suites can really work against a seller and landlord; I viewed a house which rents for more than £20,000 per week and the female dressing room only had space for twelve pairs of shoes. The landlord had to take a big hit on the price to secure a tenant.

Lucie Hirst, Director at Colombo Hirst

Buyers are expecting their master suites to be as good as, if not better than, the hotels they stay in. The expectations are high and we are seeing clients rip out newly renovated properties to add the amenities they desire. Most commonly these include, his and her sinks, a steam facility in their showers, plenty of discrete storage, heated flooring and mirrors.

Many want seating in their bathrooms too, something which never would have been considered a few years ago. Bidets seem to be a thing of the past, for British purchasers at least! Rarely will our clients consider a master bathroom suite with no natural light.

We’re also are seeing statement wallpaper in bathrooms, DeGournay is particularly popular, hand painted silk and the height of luxury.

The estate agents

Jake Russell, Director at PCL agency Russell Simpson

The tastes and desires of those purchasing prime property have grown exponentially over the last decade. The master bedroom has become a statement room, a home within a home. Many new-build or remodelled properties now position the master bedroom on the best floor, often occupying the entire space, with walk-in dressing rooms, private studies, his and hers bathrooms and in some cases including a mini spa complex.

Whilst homes in central London were once laid out to create space suitable for social gatherings and dinner parties there is now a real focus on health and wellbeing, with rooms specifically designed to inspire rest and relaxation. We find that the modern master bedroom is geared to providing everything an owner could need on one floor.

One example is a spectacular home on Upper Cheyne Row, where the master bedroom is situated on an entire wing of the house, with large windows overlooking the garden, a spacious walk-in wardrobe and connecting bathroom suite, however, there is also a secret staircase that leads up to a private study room and terrace. It’s this sort of innovative adaptation of a home’s layout and added touches that really help a discerning purchaser fall in love with a home and dream of a life within its walls.

Trevor Abrahmsohn, Managing Director of north London agency Glentree Estates

Master bedroom suites, kitchens and main reception rooms are becoming critical to the decision making of prospective buyers.

Given that the ‘lady of the house’ is more likely to be the decision-maker, the master bedroom is a critical area both from a functional and psychological point of view.

In the middle-to-upper middle price market, long gone are the days when just a pedestrian bedroom and bathroom would suffice.

As the price heads northwards, the requirements expand and become more sophisticated.

Today, a quality property needs to have not just a sizeable master bedroom, but a his and hers dressing room, the latter being double the size of the former, with a marble finished his and hers bathroom/shower room.

In some cases, this area has consumed 70% of the first floor footprint and the latest edition is an office, where either husband or wife can work and, as the price range increases, a steel lined panic room has become omnipresent and obligatory.

In the case of some Middle Eastern families, a second master bedroom, equivalent to the first, is also important and you can draw your own conclusions as to why this should be the case.

The suite needs to be fully climate controlled, with air-conditioning and under floor heating, but now it is common that all the lights, electronic blinds, security, CCTV and stereo feeds are all controlled from an electronic tablet, which can also be used via the internet from anywhere else in the world.

Once a master bedroom has been fully adorned, the sale of the property is almost assured. Although I am not saying that a well-fitted kitchen, spacious reception rooms and an indoor pool are not part of the accoutrement of a quality property.

Marc Schneiderman, director at north London agency Arlington Residential

At the top end of the market the ‘master suite’ has recently evolved. Now known as the ‘principal bedroom suite’ top end buyers expect at the very least a large enough bedroom to incorporate a sitting area, large bathroom ideally with a separate shower room and a large dressing room or two separate dressing areas.

Often in a large family home the occupants of the principal bedroom suite want a quiet place they can retreat to and sitting areas have become very important.

A property recently sold by my firm on Avenue Road in St Johns Wood featured a magnificent  principle bedroom suite of around 2,000 sq ft in addition to which there was a large terrace. Homes such as these are rare.

Debbie McFadyen, Sales Manager at west London agency Finlay Brewer

In this day and age an en suite to the master bedroom in a house is perceived as a ‘given’ and the absence of one is often a deal breaker when it comes to an offer. Examples of these include:

  • 15 Prebend Gardens W4: An elegant big-boned 5 bedroom 2 bathroom Victorian family home of approximately 2,400 sq ft with a fabulous full width master bedroom but without an en suite.  Is was an issue with a large number of buyers. The vendors subsequently withdrew the property and have now reconfigured the master to include an en suite and dressing area.
  • 46 Carthew Road W6: A sensational fully refurbished three double bedroom Victorian property with only a single family bathroom – buyer’s responses highlighted the lack of an en suite bathroom and the cost of adding one.
  • The Brook W6: A unique Georgian Grade II listed building that was the home of the renowned artist Lucien Pissarro was viewed by over 100 potential buyers and whilst the property obviously needed considerable refurbishment almost all of those who viewed discussed which way they would reconfigure the property to include an en suite to a potential master bedroom!

The interior designers

Charu Gandhi, Founder & Director of Elicyon

Clients often want large walk in double showers with great care taken to decide on the exact shower specification – ranging from experience rain showers to high pressure shower heads.

It is increasingly prevalent that the master suite is treated as a sanctuary and place to retire and retreat, which means the removal of the typical TV across the bed. We are finding that it is often moved into an ante room or adjacent living area dedicated to the master suite. Where we continue to place TV’s opposite the bed, these are discrete; either tucked behind sliding screens or a mirror or moving artwork.

A strong focus on the socket provisions continues, ranging from a multitude of discrete sockets tucked into drawers to the side of beds.

We have also been designing large bedside tables, allowing plenty of space for books, a tray for water and decorative items. To further free up the table surface we use wall mounted or hanging lights instead of the more traditional table lamp.

A revival of the four poster bed as a statement piece that further enhances the sense of being cocooned within the space has seen an upsurge. We feel that the best layouts celebrate the bed within the room, allowing you to step into an empty space and look onto the bed or headboard. This informs our typical layouts, whether in new build developments or period properties – to enhance the impact, sense of flow and views from the bed.

Laura Marino, Founder and Creative Director at L London

When it comes to the master bedroom the brief we continue to receive is to create a peaceful retreat that is a calm and sophisticated space, regardless if the rest of the home is colourful. In terms of changing tastes, there has definitely been less demand for overt bling. In master bedrooms, where there is a luxury of having space I’ve noticed non-essential treats (therefore true indulgences) are being requested more frequently, such as built-in coffee, tea and bar stations or a biofuel fireplace, an entirely separate sitting/office area and his and hers walk-in wardrobes with a central island.

There has also been a shift in client’s attitudes towards electronic devices, which were formerly a status symbol, proudly displayed in living rooms and bedrooms alike, and now, if incorporated at all, they’ll ask that they are discreetly incorporated into the room.

Buyers now expect/desire high ceilings, preferably 2.9m or more, help to make a master room feel luxurious, especially in London. Even if the room itself is small, high ceilings usually give a room the desired “wow” reaction. Comfort cooling is also top of the list – with global warming it’s a must – and beautifully designed bathrooms with discreet storage, interesting tile patterns, or natural stones mixed with hearty ceramics.

One thing we always incorporate is to maximise wardrobe as much as possible with the given space. Even today, I walk into new homes and see wardrobes that only have double hanging space and a static interior, meaning you are unable to adjust the hanging bars or shelving to allow for longer hanging clothes. For prime and super-prime properties I think it is essential that there is enough long hanging space for dresses and coats, pull down rods for the high hanging bars, shoe racks and/or cubbies along with built-in shelving and discreet space for suitcases.

At our latest boutique project, Westminster Fire Station, each of the 17 apartments are unique – meaning no master suite is like another. We worked carefully with the architect (Openstudio) to create a sense of flow and offer practical living options with individual design touches throughout the development. For each master bedroom, we’ve worked together and have looked to specifically maximise the amount of bespoke wardrobe space available in the bedrooms.

The developers

Brian De’ath, Director of Sales at Canary Wharf Group

The biggest change to the master suite in recent years is the use of four and five-piece bathroom suites. We have seen an increase in the size of en-suite bathrooms at the expense of additional bedrooms, as buyers become more aware of their actively used rooms. For many, it makes more sense to have a large master suite that gets used every day, over a second or third bedroom that gets used once a year. Showers themselves have come a long way, moving from small cubicles with step-up trays to seamlessly integrated glass partitions with hidden drainage and lighting that creates a harmonious space.

In the Loft apartments at One Park Drive, the master suite shower is situated half within the bathroom and half within the dressing space, which has allowed us to incorporate a spacious free-standing shower where it otherwise wouldn’t fit. This also acts as a focal point and blurs the line between the separate master suite areas, creating an uninterrupted flow through the entire suite.

Buyers also expect a certain level of quality in their master bathrooms, so it is important to create a calming atmosphere akin to a 5* spa. We have used neutral yet luxurious mother of pearl tiles and carefully concealed lighting to create a softer, zen-like atmosphere. Gone are the days of aggressive spot lighting which floods the entire suite with artificial light. Pendant bedside lighting has also become a very popular feature;, it talks of a certain level of luxury. Bedside lights that hang from the ceiling or are suspended off the wall are again something that are more difficult to put in place, but are much appreciated by the end-user.

Sufficient storage within the master suite is also essential, not only in terms of wardrobe space in the dressing room and bedroom, but within the bathroom too. Buyers and more aware than ever of their environment and their wants within it,  so we only include fittings and furnishings in our show flats that are a true representation of the end product. Most master bedroom suites have king or super-king beds, something that just wasn’t the case 8 or 9 years ago, so we only use super-king beds in our show flats. This is synonymous with the level of luxury expected by our buyers and also acts as a comparison tool for them when viewing other schemes.

James Taylor, Head of Clarges Mayfair

For many UHNW purchasers, their home needs to embody and embrace their global lifestyle, offer a place of serenity where they can unwind and disconnect from the outside, yet connect with others. At Clarges Mayfair we are seeing this become evermore prevalent, as a surge in international purchasers are looking for properties that suit their multigenerational family needs. We’ve seen businessmen looking for a space they can move parents and grandparents into as well as two siblings looking for a shared investment, yet be using the space at different times.

The benefits of living in a private development means there is bespoke service, a high degree of security and amenities for all and apartments can be adaptable. Many of the apartments in Clarges Mayfair have been tailored to this multi-generational living trend. As an example, some of the larger apartments offer two master bedrooms complete with walk-in wardrobes and full master bathrooms, to allow family members their own space and privacy, and this option is proving hugely popular.

Read the original article here.


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