Ten years ago, interior designer Rela Gleason faced a conundrum as she began to build her own house in Napa Valley, Calif.

“We had grown children and grandchildren, but they were only going to be there for a small amount of time,” Gleason says.

She and her husband wanted to have a house that could accommodate their whole, growing family. “But on the other hand,” she says, “we didn’t want to live in a big house and pass through a lot of empty rooms that felt lonely” when the family wasn’t there.

Her solution was to build a 10,000-square-foot house comprising multiple, detached pavilions. “We wanted big, soaring living spaces—I wanted a big family room so that when the family was there, we could all be together,” she says. “But we basically live in the master suite and the kitchen.”

Many affluent baby boomers have found themselves in a similar position: Their children are gone, but for whatever reason—a need to entertain on occasion, or simply an unwillingness to part with their belongings—they refuse to scale down and instead are increasingly taking refuge in elaborate master suites that serve as apartments within a much larger home.

Evolving Lifestyles
“We’re seeing an evolution of the way that people live,” says Michael Graves, a broker for Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, you’d go to your bedroom when you were going to sleep. But now the function of the master bedroom has changed where it’s a living space as well.”

In one $11.8 million townhouse on the Upper East Side that Graves co- represents with the broker Justin Rubinstein, the master suite takes up the entire top floor. “You can spend your entire evening there,” he says.

There’s no hard data on the prevalence of these suites or the ways people use them, so the information is anecdotal. But in speaking with top brokers across the country, the trend appears to transcend geography.

“I’ve been seeing it more and more,” says Jill Shore, a broker for Douglas Elliman in Aspen, Colo. “It used to be, if you had a built-in refrigerator, that was a big deal.”

In one 12,191-square-foot Aspen home Shore represents, an elevator goes straight from the garage to the master bedroom, which has its own office, gym, fridge, sink, and coffee maker.

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