Our bedrooms are all upstairs, but we have lived in houses with downstairs bedrooms. So why is it a tradition for the main sleeping quarters to be on the second floor?
Bedrooms are usually upstairs because they are private and can create a greater sense of security. In addition, with the living space downstairs it’s normal to group all the bedrooms together upstairs. However, many modern families do have their bedrooms downstairs so everything is all on one level.
Let’s explore the topic of upstairs bedrooms in more detail, and discover the history behind bedrooms being upstairs, and the pros and cons of having them either upstairs or downstairs…
Why Are Bedrooms on the Top Floor?
The simple answer to this is that upstairs bedrooms are more private. When guests arrive, they can be shown straight into the living rooms, rather than have to pass by your bedrooms and bathrooms first.
It’s also convenient. A top-floor kitchen makes unloading the groceries quite a chore. Plus, if you have a porch or patio, it’s much easier (and nicer) to reach it via the living room or kitchen than someone’s bedroom.
If you have kids, it makes sense to get them to sleep in the quieter part of the house. Read them a story, switch on the listener if they’re still little, then go downstairs to watch Netflix without the risk of waking them up.
Where Did the Tradition of Having Bedrooms on the Second Floor Come From?
As well as all the practical reasons we mentioned earlier, the upstairs bedroom has a long history. The idea that you “go upstairs to bed” could come from the old tradition of a “sleeping loft”.
Back in the days when families (and sometimes livestock) lived in one room, additional sleeping space could be made by putting boards down in the rafters, reached by a ladder. You’re also safer from other tribes/robbers/wolves (delete according to time period).
With time, the idea of a second story became synonymous with status. You had made it in the world if you could build a home large enough to need a second floor.
The truly wealthy had separate rooms for the children, and even needed servants’ bedrooms: this meant that they had to be able to build upwards to accommodate all these requirements.
Is It Better to Have a Bedroom Upstairs or Downstairs?
This depends entirely on your circumstances, and to some extent, personal preference. We’ve mentioned that sleeping upstairs gives you more privacy, and makes things like shopping and outdoor living easier. However, a downstairs bedroom has advantages of its own.
If you have any mobility issues or want to stay in the same home when you’re older, a first-floor primary (sometimes called a master) bedroom is a great idea. You have access to everything in the house without having to think about the stairs.
You can also fit luxurious extras into your first-floor primary bedroom, such as garden access or even a private patio with a hot tub (a nice dream!). In fact, a lux, downstairs bedroom suite is a selling point for realtors.
When the kids are little, it’s good to have them close by at night. When they’re teens, not so much. Moving downstairs to a first-floor bedroom could give you the calm and sane haven you really need. Alternatively, you could convert the garage and move the teen in there…
Why Do American Houses Have Some Bedrooms Downstairs?
There are several reasons why some American homes have downstairs bedrooms. Having easy, flat, and stair-free access is a major reason. These days, as many people prefer to stay in the same home as they get older, a well-designed first-floor bedroom is a way of future-proofing the design.
It could also be that it’s easier to extend a home at the ground level. If you have a need for extra space (a growing family or a dependent relative), a garage conversion to create an extra bedroom is easier than moving house or building a large extension that includes a second floor.
As your family grows and everyone’s needs change, some distance can be a good thing. Teenage and college-age kids need their privacy, and you’d probably rather have a bit of space, too. This could involve creating more bedroom space downstairs.
In some cases, all the bedrooms are downstairs. Scandinavian-style “upside down” houses are becoming more common. This type of home is great if you have far-reaching views and want to make the most of them. The bedrooms are downstairs, while the living room and kitchen can enjoy the beautiful landscape through large windows and from the balcony.
And of course, some homes just have a single story! In these cases, the houses are generally designed to have the bedrooms and bathroom away from the front door, so you still have privacy from guests and the mailman.
Why Are Master Bedrooms Downstairs?
Given everything we’ve just said, why is the largest and most well-appointed room in the house, the primary or master bedroom, often downstairs in American homes?
Here are a few reasons why the best bedroom is sometimes on the first floor:
- For easy access. Older people and people with mobility issues may find a first-floor bedroom much easier to navigate
- Future-proofing. You’re in your dream home and you don’t want to leave it! A good bedroom on the first floor means that any future mobility difficulties are catered for
- Privacy. The primary bedroom can be away from the kids, their friends, and any guests
- It could be a guest suite. Mother-in-law coming to stay for a month? It could be much more relaxing if she’s on a different floor to you…
- Access to outside. If you love to sit outside with a coffee first thing, or have a quiet nightcap before bed, access to the garden is a big plus. You could even have a private little deck outside a pair of patio doors…
- It can be cooler. Hot air rises. If you live in a warm climate, a downstairs bedroom can be cooler than an upstairs one. It’s also much quicker to plant trees that shade lower floors
- If you need to extend to build a new master bedroom suite, it can be more straightforward and cheaper to build a single story extension or convert existing space. Take a look at how this couple transformed their garage into a new master suite.
To find out more about the history of the master bedroom, read our recent article in the subject.
Final Words: Is It Safer to Sleep Upstairs or Downstairs?
There’s some disagreement about which is the safest place to sleep, upstairs or downstairs. Which team you’re on probably depends on where your own bedroom is! As we mentioned earlier, a sleeping loft kept you safer from any wolves that may have wandered in, but is this still the case with a 21st-century burglar?
If you hear an intruder, you’re better off upstairs, out of the way. However, if you clearly sleep downstairs, your presence could be a deterrent to any would-be burglar who’s cased the joint…
In terms of fire safety, the first floor is obviously going to be safer as it offers more escape routes. Make sure your upstairs bedrooms have working smoke detectors and an alarm system, windows that can be fully opened (but can be safely locked into position to prevent kids from falling or climbing out), and you’ve thought through your home’s fire plan.
What about a combination of upstairs and downstairs sleeping: is it safe to have a bedroom on a different floor to your kids? When your children are infants, it’s safest to be within easy reach. When they become older and more independent, you can move to your dream downstairs bedroom suite (possibly with some sort of monitor).
Whatever you decide to do, we hope this article has helped answer all your questions. 🙂