Downstairs masters are usually described as being accommodations for empty-nester homeowners who only need one or two bedrooms and don't want to needlessly climb stairs. But placing a master suite on the main level has significant implications for how private and public zones interact throughout the entire house plan. Even younger homeowners and couples with children should consider how such plans are different from more traditional designs. And that difference may be exactly what they're looking for.
Considering that a typical master suite takes up about half the total square footage of an upper level, relocating the master to the main level is a significant departure from traditional design. Foremost, the designer must make room for the suite within the main level footprint, usually by relocating one or more public rooms—say, the family room—to the upper level. But if it is placed upstairs, the family room is in danger of being out of easy reach of the other public zones of the house, such as the kitchen. The designer may compensate for this potential problem by placing the stairs near the family room. That puts the two rooms back in proximity with one another, albeit on separate floors.
The alternative to moving a public room upstairs is to eliminate it from the plan entirely. Instead, the existing lower-level family space becomes a two-story great room, with a balcony for the upstairs bedrooms. This arrangement usually increases the level of privacy for the bedrooms—a benefit that families may consider a fair trade for the loss in total living square footage.
A home does not have to be in the 4,000 square-foot range to provide adequate privacy and comfort for lower-level masters. Even a short hallway or entry space outside the bedroom door can establish a psychological transition between the suite and the rest of the home. Smart use of buffer spaces—closets, half baths, pantries, and other infrequently used spaces—can keep noise from family rooms, garages, and kitchens from reaching sleepers. Some plans include a laundry area just outside the master suite. We like this trend because it recognizes the practical benefit of keeping appliances and laundry close to each other--as long as the appliances are quiet enough not to disturb homeowners.
If the lot is large enough, placing the master suite on a separate wing of the house is the ultimate way to establish privacy and comfort. In such cases, the problem of proximity to public zones has been addressed. Elegant relief spaces set off the suite from the nearest gathering room and the garage is far enough away to be ignored.
In larger homes, then, the remaining concern is privacy within the suite, between the bedroom and the bath. Light and noise from an occupied bath may put early risers and late sleepers at odds. Designs that put one or more walk-in closets between the bed and bath can minimize the amount of noise and light reaching sleepers. Orientation of the bed outside direct line of site from the bath will also help.
In all cases, remember that the master suite is meant to be your special retreat. Customizing the space to your specific preferences may involve a bit more planning at the design stage, but for a room in which you'll end and start each day, the extra effort will be well worth it.