The New Master Suite: Luxury Meets Sustainability

By+Jeffrey P. Helman, AIA

There, I said it, the “S” word. I promised myself I wouldn’t lean on that word in this discussion. Nearly everyone is talking about being “sustainable,” and in many ways, it is often over-promised and under-delivered. However, in this case, it simply means being responsible while creating comfort and luxury. 

In the early years of luxury Master Suite design, “luxury” was often defined in terms of sheer space, and lots of it. Master Baths (and Master Bedrooms for that matter) were seemingly required to be a virtual gymnasium-sized space that derived their drama not from good design, but from overwhelmingly large scale, thus the era of the beloved McMansion, which has thankfully run its course.

Today’s market is beginning to recognize luxury in simplicity and that less certainly can be more. This emerging trend is finding value in defining “luxury” in new ways:

▪ Luxury without wasting space
▪ Luxury in detailed organization and thoughtful storage
▪ Luxury in beautiful and natural materials
▪ Luxury without wasting water
▪ Luxury without wasting energy

Thus, luxury meets sustainability. Luxury in simplicity: less is truly more.

Now, lets dream a little. 
Think resort. 
Think comfort.

Your place to start the day; your place to end the day; how a tranquil and functional place can meet that need while providing a moment of peace in a hectic lifestyle.

The modern master suite, specifically the master bath and closet, should be thought of as a place to not merely take care of one’s hygienic needs, but a place of retreat, filled with things of beauty and comfort.

In the creation of a master suite bathroom oasis, one should focus on a resort-like ambiance. It is not by accident that most up-scale hotel spas accomplish this very well and with careful design and planning, it is not difficult to achieve in your own custom home. To attain this level of atmosphere, comfort and function, a number of elements that are currently trending as “must haves” in the world of master suites are crucial:

1 – Oversized Walk-In Showers

Commonly referred to as “water parks” in our office, these spacious showers are frequently large enough for two, have multiple shower heads and sprayers, provide a large seat, and often are without a door, with water oriented strategically to avoid spray outside the shower area. Once you jettison your shower door, you’ll never look back, and no, it is not cold without one. 

2 – Free-Standing Soaking Tubs

For years, jetted tubs were all the rage, but that trend has gone down the drain in favor of soakers and free-standing models, eliminating the cost, hygiene problems and noise of the whirlpool pump. Antique claw foot designs have been given a modern flair to create the contemporary and timeless styles found in many of today’s luxury baths. The real question owners must ask is whether to even have a tub, as many are opting for a larger more luxurious shower and eliminating the tub. It’s your choice and no longer a mandate!

3 – Windows

Natural light and ventilation may well be one of the single most important features to a successful floor plan. The natural light from windows can be used to merely brighten the space, or can be completely capitalized on if views are available. A good design can have dramatic views and still provide necessary sight line privacy at the same time. 

4 – Good Lighting

I stand by the credo that good lighting can make or break a space, and in master suite design, this is imperative. While there must be ample task lighting at the mirrors for obvious reasons of personal preparation, there should also be consideration for mood setting ambient lighting, in the event that a relaxing shower or a soak is the main purpose. Thus, differential lighting control and light levels are imperative to truly achieve the spa-like ambiance. Wall sconces, pendants and even chandeliers can add a touch of drama. Most importantly, don’t forget natural light. Windows for light and ventilation can be the most important feature of all. 

5 – Functional Storage

Unfortunately, no amount of dramatic ambiance can overcome insufficient storage for all of our stuff! We try to create storage solutions that accommodate paper products, personal items, medicines, linens, and myriad of other things found in the master bath and closet. Many of these items are small and can be accommodated in smaller scaled tile niches in the shower or vertical apothecary cabinets on the counter. Create the storage space, and put things in their place!

6 – His and Hers vanities

“Honey, I love you, but I need my own personal space!” That’s right, we all want it and need it. It can be combined in a long countertop or in separate vanities, but the bottom line is each person having ample room for all the necessities of the morning and evening rituals, without bumping into one another. This includes each person having his or her own personal medicine cabinets and drawer bank, which eliminates counter clutter, my own personal pet peeve. 

7 – Private Water Closet Space

Ok, I am far from a prude, but I really love my private potty space. Enough said, you get the point. Close the door. 

8 – Natural Materials

Wood, stone, tile, glass, it’s all on the table and all make for an outstanding spa-like experience. Get creative and try the unexpected with some exterior stone in the shower as an accent. To maintain costs, remember it does not take much of this type of material to create a huge statement.

9 – The Closet

While a whole feature could be written on just this subject, suffice to say that we all want large closets, and it is beneficial for it to be connected to the bath for the ultimately private “”shower-to-dressed-and-out-the-door” sequence. The trick to maximizing the closet space is hyper attention to detail in terms of hanging space, double rods, drawers, open cubbies, shoe racks, and personal valet shelves for phones,  chargers, money and jewelry. Of course, if space allows, trending features such as closet islands allow for wardrobe layout, luggage packing, and general organization known only before in the kitchen.  

10 – Conservation

Yes, I end with the S word again, this time with true conviction. Sustainability and conserving water is in everyone’s best interest, whether you pay for your water or whether it is in short supply. Look for toilets that flush with less water and have dual flush modes and showers that still offer strong pressure without wasting volumes of water. 

When considering the many opportunities in master suite design, homeowners should look at these trending elements and decide how they can be fulfilled in their own way. This oasis is a personal retreat from a busy lifestyle and should reflect  individual tastes and desires while providing those pampering touches that can be so important.

After all, the kitchen is for everyone, the master suite is just for you. 


About the Author
Jeffrey P. Helman, AIA President of HELMAN SECHRIST Architecture, holds a Bachelor of Architecture Degree and a Bachelor of Science Degree from Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning. He is also a member in good standing with the American Institute of Architects and the National Home Builders Association and is fully registered in the States of Indiana and Michigan.