Friday, September 26, 2014

Why I chose the smallest bedroom in the house for the "master" bedroom

When my man and I moved in to this house 9 years ago, we didn't spend a whole lot of time thinking about which bedroom should be ours, because the answer seemed obvious. The largest bedroom is usually the master, right? Done.

(The pictures in this post show the result of that decision -- the larger room in its master bedroom incarnation -- so, like the pictures of the old office in my previous post they're essentially "before" pictures for our room-swapping project.)

I should note that this was before my girl was born, so there were fewer claims on the house's various spaces then. What is now her room housed the futon for guests, the tv, and my man's desk. And when that room became a nursery, the futon (and guest room function) migrated to the office, the tv to the living room, and sort of by process of elimination my man's desk to the master bedroom. Oh and at some point my grandmother's cedar chest got put in the bedroom too and started acting as my bedside table, mostly because there was no other place for it in the house.

Still, there didn't really seem to be any reason to question the idea that large bedroom = master. So why am I doing so now, and cramming two whole grown-ups into a space roughly the same size as our daughter's small room?

To be honest, the new arrangement is mostly driven by my wanting the larger room for the "atelier" (disclaimer: when referring to the room in conversation I just call it the office, because I am only a little bit pretentious) and then trying to figure out how to make the smaller space work as a bedroom.

But I think there are advantages to the arrangement too. Constraining the amount of space also forces us to strip back the functions contained in the bedroom: nothing but sleeping, sexing, and dressing. And I have to admit, that old saw about how a bedroom should be a restful haven (no tv, no computer, etc.) holds some appeal.

Knowing that the space was going to be tight has also forced me to think deliberately and creatively about how to make sure it doesn't feel tighter than it is -- meaning, how to cut down on visual clutter, how to create a unified look to the space so that it truly feels clean and restorative, rather than like a bunch of unrelated stuff shoved where it juuuust barely fits.

It's been an interesting exercise, and while the ideas I've come up with won't all come to fruition overnight I'm optimistic about my overall vision.

What's more grown-up and worthy of the title of "master"* bedroom, after all -- a big room that contains a concatenation of stuff because, well, it all fits there, or a room that, albeit small, is actively designed to be restful and pleasing? You know which option gets my vote.

*After typing the phrase "master bedroom" so many times in writing this post I'm finding myself irked by the gendered connotations. Apparently I'm not alone but there doesn't seem to be much of a better alternative. Ideas?


  1. I'm a big fan of reconsidering spaces. (It's why we have no dining room.) Also a big fan of limiting bedroom activities to those you've listed here. At one point we considered putting all 3 kids in the proper bedrooms upstairs, so that we could take the small not-really-a-bedroom bedroom downstairs, but that would have meant deciding which one could have the master with its adjoining bathroom. We knew that whoever the other two were, they would howl in protest. I think there's some sense to giving the largest bedroom to an older kid/teen because their bedroom is the only space in the house that is just theirs. The whole rest of the house is "mine." But I think that would only work with an only child? Maybe the oldest, if there's some spacing in ages, and each gets to rotate to it? OK, I'm rambling. Just wanted to say, I think we should make our homes work for us, and there are lots of different "right" ways to do that. :-)

    1. Oh, I love that you considered that non-traditional arrangement -- but yes, I can imagine it would be hard to make that fly with the number/age range of kids in your house!

      I agree that there's something to be said for the idea that adults should actually get the smaller bedrooms since they generally have more control over the other spaces of the house. On the other hand, "The whole rest of the house is mine!" is pretty much the argument I've been making to my daughter by way of explaining why she can't leave Legos strewn over the living room floor for weeks on end, but she doesn't seem to be buying it. :-P

  2. Every time I hear the word "master" bedroom I recall a show I watched many years ago, in which a Canadian designer positively slammed the term as sexist and old-fashioned. I couldn't quite remember, but thought it might have been "principal suite", and sure enough, my few minutes of Googling brought up Lynda Reeves (who's on the Canadian site House and Home) and that is (or at least was, a few years ago) her preferred term.

    Now let me see if I can get this comment to load...fingers crossed...

    1. Hey, awesome, looks like it worked! So glad you were able to comment this time.

      "Principal suite," hmm? I sort of like it in principle (ha), though I'm not sure I can apply it to our 10x10 box (we have only one bathroom in the house -- let alone an ensuite one for the grownups) with a straight face. I guess if I can call a home office with a sewing machine in it an atelier...hey, I am going to have the grandest 1950s ranch house West of the Mississippi, or at least make it sound that way! LOL

  3. Wow, 6 kids in a 3-bedroom house, that would require some creative thinking indeed!

    Your dining room sleeping nook looks and sounds really cozy. I love that you have put some effort into recasting the spaces in your house, rather than just shoving stuff into spaces that are still in some way designed for other purposes.

    And you know, the more I think about it the more I like the term "adult bedroom." I'm okay with the cheeky connotations if people want to read it that way, but more than anything I think the term is really just straightforwardly descriptive in a really nice way (and applies whether there are one or two adults, and regardless of the combination of genders of said adults).

  4. We did the same thing in our 110-yr old house. The smallest bedroom is off our living/dining room...great for baby but it limited our evening us of these public rooms. Swapped rooms & now all toys, etc are in more secluded room. Bonus is that our daughter's room gets awesome Western sunshine - right when she gets home from school. The smaller room is kind of cramped but its easy to keep clean. Live using rooms as we need them, not as ordained by whomever out there

    1. That sounds like smart thinking to me, Pdxmama! Love the image of your daughter playing in her room in the afternoon sunshine after school. (In our case, the big bedroom/new office is the brighter room, with an Eastern exposure. I guess it's a tradeoff: good for me since I work in there most mornings, but my husband no longer gets the morning sunshine to help him out of bed. Ah well, I suppose he'll be glad of the West-facing new bedroom on summer weekend mornings.)

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