ATLANTA -- After the kitchen, the one part of any house that gets the most attention is the master suite. And rightfully so: While the kitchen is the gathering place for family and friends, the master bedroom is just the opposite -- a place where quiet and tranquility reign.
Having a cozy nest that creates an escape from the kids, if not the world, is still a high priority with today's homeowners.
"We're still seeing a focus on the idea of the master as a haven that's safe and warm but with a couple of new things added," said Bruce Meller, president of the Decatur, Ga.-based Home Forge Remodeling firm. "One of the top things people are asking us to do is to insulate the interior master bedroom and bathroom walls to separate the suite from the rest of the house. It's a privacy thing." The added insulation can even extend to the floors to keep any noise from the master moving outward.
"It's a little bit in both directions," Mr. Meller said. "The parents don't want to hear the kids, and at the same time, don't want the kids to hear them. I think part of that may be a reaction to the fact that many homes we remodel are not necessarily huge, and the master isn't very separate. Extra insulation can help with that." New-home plans from John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods incorporate privacy aspects into their master suites by separating the sleeping and living areas. At the Braeburn community in Milton, Ga., where 52 homes are priced from the high $400,000s, buyers have taken to master designs that give them room to spread out.
"We had a lot of plans where the owners' suite with a sitting room was one elongated space, but we've had a lot more success when that retreat is more separate, maybe even walled off or on the other side of the bathroom," said Itanza Johnson, a Wieland custom home agent. "That way, a couple can physically be doing two separate things in their bedroom. If your husband is an early CNN watcher, you can still sleep." The master suite also affords parents a place where they can be close to the children without being in the same space.
"Since the concept of the two-story family room went away, rec rooms have moved upstairs, and that's made the idea of a private space in the owners' suite more popular," Mr. Johnson said. "It gives Mom a place where she can be on the same level when the kids are in the rec room, but she can watch TV or pay bills with a little more privacy." At the same time, homeowners are tired of the cavernous, poorly lit master. To make the space more functional, they're adding more lighting than in the past.
"Masters are becoming much more well-lit, with lots of lights with dimmers," Mr. Meller said. "We're putting them in the whole room -- over beds, in the tray ceiling, on separate switches so you can turn on lamps from the wall. Having more lighting also lets you create the mood you want by turning them off or on or dimming them." Along with the sleeping and sitting areas, the master bathroom has undergone an attitude change in the past few years. While many are still spacious, they're not quite as ostentatious, with owners opting for a more scaled-back but sophisticated look. And the first thing they say they don't want is that monster jetted tub.
"For the longest time, people wanted that big bathtub with the jets," said Charley Hipple, president of Cardinal Construction, a custom home and remodeling firm based in Duluth. "Now, they want the big tub but don't want the jets, especially if they already have a pool with a spa in the backyard. Instead, they're creating more of a spa feel with steam showers." Jetted baths are being replaced by soaking tubs that may be shorter or narrower but are definitely deeper. The smaller tubs have an added bonus: more deck space around them for plants, candles or baskets of towels. Some owners are adding heat elements that keep the bath water a constant temperature without draining the hot water heater. And while a spa tub can cost about $5,000, a soaking tub with a heating element may be $2,000.
Bathroom finishes also are changing, with oversize tumbled stone and marble giving way to elegant porcelain that gives a bath a Roman feel, Mr. Meller said. "Porcelain is a lot more finished and consistent and doesn't give you that ragged look," he said.
Some owners are adding these elements not just into one master bath but into two. Once the standard for a million-dollar property, a his-and-hers layout is now becoming fashionable with buyers of homes priced below that benchmark.
"Every wife yearns for her own toilet," Mr. Johnson said. "While the shower may be a shared space, the wife usually gets the tub, a larger vanity and usually the linen closet. Having separate vanities and water closets is very popular."
Another component of the master getting a modern update is the closet. While storage systems are still popular, more owners are opting for open shelves over detailed cabinetry.
"People will go with typical wire shelving but incorporate an island in the middle of the closet so they can keep more of their clothes there than in a chest of drawers in the bedroom," Mr. Hipple said. "They're adding dressing rooms as well, which are changing the way closets are organized." The same approach to open storage also is showing up in the baths, Mr. Meller said.
"They like that feeling that when you walk in, you can see all the towels on the shelves or all the clothes in the closet," he said. "It just makes you feel more cuddled and cozy."