Older suburban homes can feel small and compartmentalized. Despite some having a large number of square feet, the division of rooms and the size of those rooms can make for somewhat of an oxymoron – tight spaces in a big house.
One of the projects I’ve been working on is to convert the existing 2nd floor of a suburban house, which currently includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms, into a one bedroom/one bathroom plus a master suite. Of course the original house (which I believe dates back to the late 1970s/early 1980s) included a master bedroom with a master bathroom, but in order for older homes to compete with newer homes a sizable master suite is typically required.
Now the argument can be made about what the proper size of a master suite should be. Where is that balance between adequate and substantial? People want enough space to create a comfortable setting, but then they don’t want too much space so that it feels as though their sleeping and bathing in a huge warehouse space. After jumping into the schematic design for this space, I soon realized that the existing architecture (and especially the placement of the existing windows) was going to determine the size of the spaces.
I began with the logical items that typically determine the location of some functions. The plumbing is currently grouped together, so the new master bathroom would be located adjacent to the existing bathroom to remain. The existing windows were going to remain as-is, so of course the bedroom would be located where there were windows. The client wanted a walk-in closet, so the existing closets would be redesigned to accommodate their request.
At the same time as thinking of the logical, I began to incorporate the ideas of what a master suite represents. It’s not only the larger size that creates a meaningful space (a space that evokes the sense of “master of the domain”), but it’s also how on enters the space. I believe that the master suite (the most private of spaces in one’s house) shouldn’t be entered by simply going through a two and a half foot door at the end of the hallway. I always think of the Italian apartments during the Renaissance where the owner’s bedroom was the most private and usually the most decorated room in the home. Anyone entering the owner’s room should feel a sense of importance. For the proposed design I angled the hallway so that it could accommodate a four-foot wide double door, which begins to provide that sense of importance when someone approaches the room.
One of the drawbacks to the existing space planning was that the proposed master bedroom became large. The room became the width of the 2nd floor (approximately 25 feet) and 10′-4″ from the back wall to the front wall (not including the alcove where the double door is located). Because I didn’t want to add meaningless cost to the project by relocating or even eliminating any of the existing windows there was really no way around the size of the room. The abundant size of the room does allow certain “zones” to occur – a dressing zone adjacent to the walk-in closet (which also has a 4-foot wide double door), and a circulation zone between the doors entering the master bedroom, the mast bathroom door, and the exterior sliding glass door leading to a deck.
The master bathroom, just like the master bedroom, involved finding the balance between adequate and substantial. The logical included hiding the toilet and showcasing the other fixtures including the double vanity, bathtub, and the glass enclosed shower.
The potential for a comfortable and beautiful space is everywhere, including within the compartmentalized constraints of the typical suburban house.