Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A New Niche in the Home Market

Architects and homebuilders are noticing a new trend in housing: separate bedrooms for couples:

Not since the Victorian age of starched sheets and starchy manners, builders and architects say, have there been so many orders for separate bedrooms. Or separate sleeping nooks. Or his-and-her wings.

In interviews, couples and sociologists say that often it has nothing to do with sex. More likely, it has to do with snoring. Or with children crying. Or with getting up and heading for the gym at 5:30 in the morning. Or with sending e-mail messages until well after midnight.

In a survey in February by the National Association of Home Builders, builders and architects predicted that more than 60 percent of custom houses would have dual master bedrooms by 2015, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of research at the builders association. Some builders say more than a quarter of their new projects already do.

It's an interesting example of careful marketing: how you name these things is important.

In St. Louis, Carol Wall, president of Mitchell Wall Architects, said that three or four years ago her company began “doing a lot of these little rooms off the master bedroom where the snorer would go.” More recently, couples, including some in their 30s, have started asking for two master suites, “and we don’t ask any questions,” Ms. Wall said.

Not everyone wants to talk about it. Many architects and designers say their clients believe there is still a stigma to sleeping separately. Some developers say it is a delicate issue and call the other bedroom a “flex suite” for when the in-laws visit or the children come home from college. Charles Brandt, an interior designer in St. Louis, said, “The builder knows, the architect knows, the cabinet maker knows, but it’s not something they like to advertise because right away people will think something is wrong” with the marriage.

Indeed. We're strangely set in our ways about these things; couples are supposed to sleep in the same bed every night, right? But a lot of couples are apparently finding that they can changing some of these logistics is beneficial to their sleep schedule, and their relationships; and people who market houses are following their lead.

I thought this paragraph was interesting:

“As a social pattern, this could increase,” [University of Michigan sociologist Pamela J. Smock] continued. “A lot of people I know fantasize about living in the same apartment building as their husband — but in a separate apartment. That could be next.”

Actually, it already has; there's been a fair amount written about "Living Apart Together" couples, who have separate households. As half of one such a couple, I understand where the people who feel awkward about explaining their ideal sleeping arrangements; we've endured a surprising number of strange questions about having two houses. And yes, people do assume that it means something is not right, which is irritating (but ultimately not really our problem).

Along with the dual "owner's suites" in new houses, however, I think there's another new kind of room we'll see emerging:

But some of the people he studies still want a place to cuddle. “In my research, couples had separate places for their sleeping arrangements but also had a together place,” [Paul C. Rosenblatt of the University of Minnesota] said. “Some do their cuddling before going their separate ways.”

The "together room" is an important one; there's no rule that says you have to sleep together every night, but shared space is important. And I suspect homebuilders and their marketers will be there with the appropriate style of room when demand grows.

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