Suite Retreats: First-floor Master Bedrooms

July 20, 2013

Master SuiteWith children who are 4, 10 and 12, Brian DeMarco and his wife are planning for a new phase in their lives, reflected in the plans for a home they intend to build in St. Charles.

“We don’t have to listen for a baby crying anymore,” DeMarco said. “And we’d like our bedroom near the office and television.”

In the far-off future, he guesses, the couple may not want to scale stairs at night. So DeMarco, owner of South Elgin-based custom builder Distinctive Homes by DeMarco, is opting for a first-floor master suite in his new home, something he estimates about 20 percent of his customers choose.

Climbing the stairs at night as a prelude to slumber is an oft-portrayed scene in books and movies. But the ritual is also one that a small, but by some accounts growing, number of homebuyers are ready to put to bed.

In Naperville and Chicago’s western suburbs, where custom builder Steve Carr builds on infill lots, “We’re seeing a demographic that appreciates the comfort of a first-floor master,” he said. These first-floor master suites have everything you’d expect from their second-floor counterparts: bountiful square footage, custom closets and attached baths with luxury finishes.

It’s just that the people building them, said Carr, of Steve Carr Builders & Developers, are planning for the future, when increasing age may limit their ability to go up and down stairs. And, he added, building a ranch home often isn’t a good use of space on compact or narrow lots in downtown districts — the locations his clients are choosing to stay close to their friends, favorite restaurants and places of worship.

Another appeal of the first-floor master, said George Dakis, president of Fieldcrest Builders, a custom builder and remodeler based in Lake Forest, is that the configuration allows empty nesters essentially to live on a single floor. He’s had clients who even close off vents on their second story, lowering their heating and cooling bills while reducing the scope of housekeeping chores.

Yet when company calls, whether grandchildren or friends, the second floor can be pressed into service. Visitor and host each have a secluded oasis to retreat to in the evening.

While first-floor masters are often favored by people planning for their golden years, they still rank a distant second when the preferences of most homebuyers are considered. In the National Association of Home Builders’ most recent survey of potential homebuyers, 47 percent of those shopping for a two-story home preferred a second-story master bedroom, while 18 percent desired it on the first floor, said Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the trade organization.

Predictably, the number of buyers who prefer a downstairs bedroom increases with age, Melman said.

Still, builders like Brian Brunhofer, president of Deerfield-based Meritus Homes, have seen first-floor master bedrooms gaining ground in the Chicago area. Some of the buyers, such as a Texas family who built a home with Meritus, grew accustomed to the setup while living in the South or West, places where master-down plans are more common, Brunhofer said.

Meritus Homes offers its Cavanaugh floor plan, which includes a first-floor master bedroom, at Ravenna of Long Grove or on an infill lot of the buyer’s choice. Prices start in the upper $400,000s at Ravenna of Long Grove.

But increasing popularity of first-floor masters can’t be attributed to older buyers alone, said Maria Wilhelm, vice president of sales for Pulte Homes’ Illinois division.

“We’ve found that young families are considering having a (master suite) on the main floor,” Wilhelm said. “Once the kids are in school, there’s not as much reason to have a bedroom just down the hall.”

Pulte’s Hollister plan includes a first-floor master, two or three upstairs bedrooms and 2,900 square feet of living space. It is available at Kensington Court in Glenview and the at builder’s premier collection in Elmhurst, which will open this month.

“Master-down plans appeal to all kinds of families,” said Barbara Kininmonth, vice president of sales and marketing for Crown Community Development. Kininmonth noted that almost all of the builders working in the developer’s master-planned community of Highland Woods in Elgin offer a master-down plan.

One of those builders, William Ryan Homes, offers its Jaden floor plan, featuring a first-floor master and as many as six total bedrooms. The Jaden is frequently built as a multigenerational home to accommodate in-laws or other extended family, said Todd Warshauer, director of sales and marketing for William Ryan Homes’ Chicago division.

The floor plan, available at all William Ryan communities, is its biggest, ranging from 3,050 to more than 4,000 square feet. It’s priced from the upper $200,000s to the upper $400,000s, depending on where it’s built.

Is a first-floor master suite the ticket for your next home? It’s largely a matter of preference, builders say, but one consideration is that these plans can be more expensive to build. Including a bedroom downstairs can require a home with a bigger footprint, and that can mean buying a bigger lot.

Kininmonth said some buyers overcome this obstacle by getting rid of the living room or other little-used spaces downstairs. Others embrace the bigger footprint to build a bonus room upstairs.

At KZF Development’s Meadow Ridge in Northbrook, a gated community of maintenance-free duplexes and town houses, four of six available floor plans have a first-floor master suite, said Joe Giampa, director of sales. Homes range from 2,236 to 3,680 square feet. Prices start at $495,000.

“People come in our door looking for that,” said Giampa, who added that first-floor master suites are included in open concept floor plans, as well as ones with more traditional layouts. “It’s what the market wants.”

This post was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on July 19, 2013.

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