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Originally published March 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 11, 2007 at 3:04 AM

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New homes, separate his-and-her bedrooms

Not since the Victorian age of starched sheets and starchy manners, builders and architects say, have there been so many orders for separate...

The New York Times

Not since the Victorian age of starched sheets and starchy manners, builders and architects say, have there been so many orders for separate bedrooms. Or separate sleeping nooks. Or his-and-her wings.

In interviews, couples and sociologists say that often it has nothing to do with sex. More likely, it has to do with snoring. Or with children crying. Or with getting up and heading for the gym at 5:30 in the morning. Or with sending e-mail messages until well after midnight.

In a survey in February by the National Association of Home Builders, builders and architects predicted that more than 60 percent of custom houses would have dual master bedrooms by 2015, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of research at the builders association. Many new projects already do.

At Escala, a condominium project in Seattle, a quarter of the 270 units have double master bedrooms, said John Midby, a partner in the development. In St. Louis County, Dennis Hayden, president of Hayden Homes, said that each of the 30 detached homes in his latest planned community would have two separate-but-equal bedroom suites.

What could be called the home-sleeping-alone syndrome is not limited to the upper crust. For middle-income homeowners, it may be a matter of moving into a spare bedroom, the recreation room or the den.

In the Central West End district of St. Louis, Lana Pepper, a light sleeper who battled for years with her husband's nocturnal restlessness, reconfigured the condominium they bought recently, adding walls and building closets to create separate bedrooms. Pepper, 60, said the advantage was obvious: "My husband is still alive. I would have killed him."

"It was more than snoring," she said, recounting the bad old days of a shared bed. "He cannot have his feet tucked into any of the covers; I have to have them tucked in. So I took all the linens, and split them with scissors. Then I finished the edge so that half of the sheet would tuck under and the other half he could kick out."

That did not help his snoring, so she bought a white noise machine; she even went to a shooting range to buy "a pair of those big ear guards they wear." They did not suit her.

According to the National Sleep Foundation in Washington, 75 percent of adults frequently either wake up in the night or snore — and many of them have taken to separate beds just for those reasons. In a report issued Tuesday, the foundation found that more than half the women surveyed, aged 18 to 64, said they slept well only a few nights a week; 43 percent felt their lack of sleep interfered with the next day's activities.

Kristen Scott, an architect in Seattle, said about one-third of her empty-nester clients asked for separate bedrooms, which can cost a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000. In Honolulu, Nancy Peacock, an architect, said her clients increasingly requested "punees," as daybeds are known in Hawaii — sometimes on the lanai, the covered porch of the house.

In St. Louis, Carol Wall, president of Mitchell Wall Architects, said that three or four years ago her company began "doing a lot of these little rooms off the master bedroom where the snorer would go." More recently, couples, including some in their 30s, have started asking for two master suites, "and we don't ask any questions," Wall said.

Not everyone wants to talk about it. Many architects and designers say their clients feel there is still a stigma to sleeping separately. Some developers say it is a delicate issue and call the other bedroom a "flex suite" for when in-laws visit or kids come home from college.

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Charles Brandt, an interior designer in St. Louis, said, "The builder knows, the architect knows, the cabinet maker knows, but it's not something they like to advertise because right away people will think something is wrong" with the marriage.

Fred Tobin, a builder in North Canton, Ohio, is friends with a prominent couple in Columbus whose house was remodeled with two master bedrooms. The wife sleeps on one side of the house, the husband on the other. "It's a hush-hush thing," Tobin said. "The husband travels a lot, all the time, and he comes home late, and he wants to be able to check his e-mail and go to bed without waking her up."

The move to separate sleeping spaces is yet another manifestation of changing marital patterns.

"Couples today are writing their own script, rewriting how to have a marriage," said Pamela Smock, a University of Michigan sociologist. "The growing need for separate bedrooms also represents the speed-up of family life — women's roles have changed — and the need for extra space eases the strain on the relationship. If one of them snores, the other one won't be able to perform the next day. It's nothing to do with social class, and it's not necessarily indicative of marital discord."

Nevertheless, Smock said husbands were less willing to change familiar patterns.

"Men are supposed to be, one, dominant, and two, sexual," she said. "Their wives might be thrilled to have their own bedroom, and see it as a romantic thing — going back to their romance, going back to dating, to intimacy, but the husband might not see it that way.

"As a social pattern, this could increase," she continued. "A lot of people I know fantasize about living in the same apartment building as their husband — but in a separate apartment. That could be next."

Paul Rosenblatt, a professor in the department of family and social science at the University of Minnesota, has studied couples who sleep separately, and wrote a book last year on the challenges and benefits, "Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing." To him, a large part of the phenomenon has to do with aging. Many of those Rosenblatt surveyed, like the Chicago couple, split into separate bedrooms when their children grew up.

"It's suddenly available," he said, "and if you have trouble sleeping you go into the kid's room and find you slept better than with your partner."

But some of the people Rosenbloom studies still want a place to cuddle. "In my research, couples had separate places for their sleeping arrangements but also had a together place," he said. "Some do their cuddling before going their separate ways."

Occasionally, the need to separate does have to do with sex. Rosenblatt said one older woman he interviewed said she had her own bedroom because, "I've paid my dues. I'm old enough that I don't want to have sex at 1 a.m."

No matter what the reasons, architects and builders say they know enough not to call them "master" bedrooms anymore.

"Women are buying more homes, and women are sensitive to that terminology of the 'master suite,' and they're opting for the term 'owners' suite,' " said Barbara Slavkin, a St. Louis interior designer.

Whatever you call them, they certainly seem to suit the Peppers, the St. Louis couple who reconfigured their new condominium to give them each a sleeping sanctuary.

Ted Pepper's room, lined with a bank of windows that open onto a rooftop terrace, has none of the sleeping paraphernalia — the sound machine, the sleeping mask — found in his wife's room. The only evidence of his sleep habits is the twisted knot of sheets and blankets on his bed.

"Now, there's a demonstration," said Ted Pepper, 67, gesturing toward the swirl of bedding and chuckling. "She'd wake up if I moved even a little."

The Peppers agree: Separate bedrooms have added spice to their relationship. "It's more exciting," Lana Pepper said, "when you can say: 'Your room or mine?' "

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