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His-and-her master bedrooms the dream of many couples

The Baltimore Sun

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.

At Escala, a condominium project in Seattle, a quarter of the 270 units have double master bedrooms, said John Midby, a partner in the development. In St. Louis County, Dennis Hayden, president of Hayden Homes, said that each of the 30 detached homes in his latest planned community would have two separate-but-equal bedroom suites.

What could be called the home-sleeping-alone syndrome is not limited to the upper crust. For middle-income homeowners, it might be a matter of moving into a spare bedroom, the recreation room or the den. In the Central West End district of St. Louis, Lana Pepper, a light sleeper who battled for years with her husband's nocturnal restlessness, reconfigured the condominium they bought recently, adding walls and building closets to create separate bedrooms. Pepper, 60, said the advantage was obvious: "My husband is still alive. I would have killed him."

"It was more than snoring," she said, recounting the bad old days of a shared bed. "He cannot have his feet tucked into any of the covers; I have to have them tucked in. So I took all the linens, and split them with scissors. Then I finished the edge so that half of the sheet would tuck under and the other half he could kick out."

That did not help his snoring, so she bought a white-noise machine; she even went to a shooting range to buy "a pair of those big ear guards they wear." They did not suit her.

According to the National Sleep Foundation in Washington, 75 percent of adults frequently either wake up in the night or snore - and many of them have taken to separate beds just for those reasons. In a report issued Tuesday, the foundation found that more than half the women surveyed, ages 18 to 64, said they slept well only a few nights a week; 43 percent felt their lack of sleep interfered with the next day's activities.

Not everyone wants to talk about it. Many architects and designers say their clients feel 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.

An interior designer in Chicago moved into her son's bedroom when he went off to college. "Separate bedrooms are de rigueur for us," she said, adding that she and her husband sleep together on the weekends. The couple asked that their names not be published.

Fred Tobin, a builder in North Canton, Ohio, is friend of a prominent couple in Columbus whose house was remodeled with two master bedrooms. The wife sleeps on one side of the house, the husband on the other. "It's a hush-hush thing," Tobin said. "The husband travels a lot, all the time, and he comes home late, and he wants to be able to check his e-mail and go to bed without waking her up."

Paul C. Rosenblatt, a professor in the department of family and social science at the University of Minnesota, has studied couples who sleep separately, and wrote a book last year on the challenges and benefits, Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing. To him, a large part of the phenomenon has to do with aging. Many of those Rosenblatt surveyed, like the Chicago couple, split into separate bedrooms when their children grew up.

"It's suddenly available," he said, "and if you have trouble sleeping, you go into the kid's room and find you slept better than with your partner."

But some of the people Rosenbloom studies still want a place to cuddle. "In my research, couples had separate places for their sleeping arrangements but also had a together place," he said. "Some do their cuddling before going their separate ways."

Occasionally, the need to separate does have to do with sex. Rosenblatt said one older woman he interviewed said she had her own bedroom because "I've paid my dues. I'm old enough that I don't want to have sex at 1 a.m."

No matter what the reasons, architects and builders say they know enough not to call them "master" bedrooms anymore.

"Women are buying more homes, and women are sensitive to that terminology of the 'master suite,' and they're opting for the term 'owners' suite,'" said Barbara Slavkin, an interior designer in St. Louis.

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