Why do we call the largest bedroom in the house the master bedroom, and what’s the significance of this?
The first reference to a “master” bedroom was in 1926, in a Sears home catalog. However, the word “master” in this context has negative connotations in modern society, so many realtors, HOA’s, and homeowners now use the term “primary” to describe the largest bedroom in a house.
Let’s dive down into the subject of master bedrooms in more detail, and discover why naming conventions matter…
Why Is the Master Bedroom Called That?
According to historians, the first reference to a “master” bedroom was in 1926, in a Sears home catalog. In the catalog, a Dutch colonial home kit was listed as having a “master” bedroom with a private bathroom, kitchen cabinets, and a sun porch.
It was the most expensive item in the catalog, listed for a whopping $4,398.
Why Shouldn’t You Call It a Master Bedroom?
Today, we might wish for a Dutch colonial home kit with a four thousand dollar price tag, but the reality is that it’s not going to happen. Because times change – sometimes for the worst but more often for the better.
Today, one change for the better is that most people and businesses are turning away from names with racial, sexist, or negative cultural connotations. It’s just wrong to use an insulting term as a name for a business, mascot, mountain, or – anything.
The term master comes from the Latin word magister, which means teacher, director, or head. Master is a term that refers to a person that dominates and controls another person.
In 1926, Sears catalog may have only meant that one bedroom was significantly larger than the others. However, the choice of the word “master”, however innocent it may have been, was a poor one. Because the word “master” has some nasty baggage.
And because words matter.
Of course, we are talking about slavery. The practice of slavery was first recorded in Mesopotamia in 6800 B.C. The Egyptians, Athenians, Romans, Europeans, English, Africans, South and Middle Americans all practiced slavery. Even Native Americans had slaves.
The history of slavery is long and shameful – and the term “master” is inextricably interwoven. The term produces both anger and fear. It is racist, offensive, inappropriate and outdated.
Not only is the term “master” racist, but it is also sexist. Back in 1926, most heads of households were white men. But times have changed. Today, many homeowners are Latinx, Asian, Black, American or Alaskan Indian.
And, many homeowners are women.
In a 2019 study, 64 percent of Americans owned a home. Of all the homeowners, 73 percent were white. 58 percent were Asian. 51 percent were American or Alaskan Indian. 47 percent were Hispanic and 42 percent were Black.
Today, around 61 percent of all American homeowners are women. Of these women, Asian women have made the greatest gains in homeownership, almost surpassing the rate of Asian men’s homeownership.
Here’s the reference with more homeownership statistics for you to dig into.
Many businesses have replaced the terms “master” and “slave”, including Python (a giant programming language), and GitHub, a software provider with over 56 million users.
Some people say that changing the names of bedrooms, computers, mountains, mascots, and pancake syrup doesn’t matter, but we think it does.
Even baby steps are steps.
What Do They Call a Master Bedroom Now?
Today, the outdated term master is being replaced with main, primary, or owners.
In June 2020, the Houston Association of Realtors voted to stop using the term master and instead use the term primary. Since then, many other real estate communities have voted to change the term.
Others have not. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says that using the term master doesn’t violate any fair housing guidelines. They say that there is no evidence of harm.
While we agree with John Legend that this name change won’t make up for the rampant, systemic inequities of the real estate business, it’s a start.
Here’s an article from U.S. News.
Is the Master Bedroom Upstairs or Downstairs?
Most often, primary bedrooms are downstairs, although there are pros and cons.
One of the pros to having a primary bedroom downstairs is so parents can be more in charge of the kids. If you have teenagers, making sure who is where at night is critical. When your primary bedroom is on the main floor, you can be more aware of cars coming and going and front or back door activity.
For some families, sometimes a primary bedroom pro is privacy. Assuming the other bedrooms are either upstairs or in the basement, it gives parents some much-needed privacy. Often, primary bedrooms on the main floor will have a small “escape hatch” patio.
Older homeowners prefer their bedroom on the main floor because of stairs. When mobility issues set in, stairs make life harder. Typically, having a primary bedroom on the main floor ensures a full bathroom there as well. You have what realtors call “one-floor living”.
For empty nesters, a bedroom on the downstairs level can decrease your heating bills because you can essentially shut off the entire upstairs.
Finally, for the aforementioned reasons, the resale value of a home with a downstairs primary bedroom is typically higher than one with an upstairs primary.
One of the cons to having a primary bedroom on the main level is the view. Upstairs bedrooms are generally more spacious and have better views. Another con is noise. Downstairs bedrooms are closer to the street outside and you may hear footsteps above them.
Which Room Should Be the Master Bedroom?
Traditionally, the primary bedroom has the most square feet, but you don’t have to follow that rule. If you have a choice, pick the bedroom that you love most or is the most practical for your family. Keep in mind that your choice may change with your age and the age of your family.
Whether a bedroom is located on the main floor or the second floor is important. A main floor bedroom may have a small, private patio or overlook the fabulous backyard. Sometimes, a main floor primary allows parents to monitor teenagers closer.
A second-floor primary bedroom (aka primary up) may place you closer to your small children or babies. Often, second-floor bedrooms are larger and have wider views.
If you have the choice, consider the pros and cons of having a primary bedroom at the front of the house or the back. Bedrooms at the front of a house are more visible. You can monitor what’s happening on the street outside and at your front door.
Primary bedrooms at the back of the house are quieter, darker, and more private. They often have beautiful views of the backyard. But you may not be able to hear your kids as much as you’d like.
Feng shui followers will choose the bedroom on, or closest to, the southwest corner of the house. In feng shui, a bedroom in that corner will contribute to longevity, prosperity, and good health.
Interested in feng shui? Here’s a video on the feng shui in the bedroom.
Why Are Master Bedrooms at the Front of the House?
Some houses locate the primary bedroom at the front of the house because it increases the amount of visibility. If you need to know what’s happening around your home, consider a front-of-the-house bedroom.
What Is the Difference Between a Bedroom and a Master Bedroom?
Traditionally, a primary bedroom has the largest amount of square feet, a full bathroom attached, and it has a large closet (typically a walk-in).
Many modern homes have not one but two (aka dual) primary bedrooms. Both bedrooms are large, have attached bathrooms and large closets.
If your future may include taking care of elders, having dual primary bedrooms is a great idea. Or, If you can’t afford a mortgage on your own and are considering purchasing a home with a friend.
When it comes to learning about the naming used for master bedrooms – our final words here matter – which is why they are now called primary bedrooms.
It’s not that we’re being overly politically correct either. After all, what you call the rooms in your own house is ultimately your own choice.
However, for HOA’s, realtors, and other public bodies – perhaps a change of terminology across the board is long overdue.