A young couple entered a remodeled home in southwest Minneapolis on a sunny day recently, slipped off their shoes and began exploring. They ogled the home's spacious, modern kitchen with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and a second-floor laundry room.
As he headed toward the basement to imagine his home theater and exercise room, she wandered toward a first-floor room she had almost missed — an unusually large main-floor bedroom suite with its own bathroom, tucked into the back end of the house.
She paused, considering its purpose. "Guest room!" she said.
Yes, and more. Architects and home builders say that such suites are gaining in popularity, and not just for guests. They are an appealing option for accommodating aging parents or young adult children returning to the nest.
And while the young home-seekers are too young to imagine it, there's another group hungrily eyeing the option:
Long-married couples starved for the "S" word: sleep.
"Snoring, medical issues, conflicting schedules — to get a good night's sleep, the dual-bedroom solution seems to work really well," said Paul Foresman, spokesman for Design Basics of Omaha, which offers several floor plans with dual master bedroom suites for couples, each with its own full bath and walk-in closet.
Jim McNeal, an architect with Charles Cudd DeNovo, said he has done "a fair amount" of homes with a dual bedroom option, "due to snoring issues, or the comings and goings of owners. Some are up late, others up early." It's a pragmatic choice, he said. "Different lifestyles for different work habits."
The National Association of Home Builders predicted in 2007 that 60 percent of custom homes would offer dual master bedrooms by 2015. The recession slowed that down, but the trend once again is ticking up.
Houseplans (www.houseplans.com), an online home design company, recently reported a 27 percent increase in interest in plans with dual master suites since early 2014, as measured by users adding them to "favorites."
While the rooms typically are on the same floor, some homes feature equal sleeping quarters on separate floors. Edina Realty agent Bill Minge recently walked through a 4,000-square-foot Colonial featuring a "fifth" bedroom one floor below a master bedroom of the same size.
"I have seen this in some new-construction homes, and also in some homes that have had more major additions," Minge said. "They normally talk more about having a separate room to sleep in, but they would still use the same master bathroom."
In modest Minnesota, we prefer to refer to these options as "flex" or "bonus" rooms. Just don't make us confess to sleeping on the living-room couch.
"It happens way, way more than we think," said Sarah Susanka, an architect who spent many years in the Twin Cities and authored the "Not So Big" book series.
"One of the interesting parts of being an architect is that you learn a lot about your clients and how they actually live."
That's true in her personal life, too. Susanka, who is 57, said, "I can't tell you how many of my friends, when going through menopause, become crotchety and miserable because they couldn't sleep.
"But to leave [the bedroom] seems like you're deserting your mate. It suggests to people that there is something wrong with your sex life or that you don't love each other anymore." She doesn't see it that way. "In many ways, you are as happy as you always were," Susanka said. "Just being able to acknowledge that sometimes you need some space to sleep will make you healthy."
Ellyn Wolfenson also sees the upside to sleeping solo. Wolfenson, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet, is an empty-nester who raised eight children with her husband.
"Nobody says, 'I want two master suites for the purpose of not sleeping with my husband,' but I do know one multimillion-dollar home where they are doing that very thing," she said, noting that one of them is facing serious health challenges.
"People are living longer, which means they're married longer. I sleep with my husband but when I'm sick, I don't. I have zero problem with that. We have a good marriage."
Good marriage or not, it is true that we are a nation of bad sleepers. We can't unplug from our electronic devices. We binge on Netflix and drink too much caffeine. We finally fall asleep, only to wake up at 4 a.m. with work and family worries bullying our brains.
Then we get older and add more reasons to be cranky: snoring and sleep apnea, restless-leg syndrome, hot flashes and conflicting propensities for soft vs. hard mattresses for our aching backs.
Discord in the boudoir
Studies reveal that at least 25 percent of couples fight in bed due to being kept awake by partners, and even greater numbers sleep in separate beds on occasion.
The decision to sleep separately is often a long time coming, said Susanka. "There gets to be a point — for my parents it was around 75 — when Dad was having to flip around at night because his back was hurting.
"They said, 'OK, we've got the bedrooms. Let's use them.' They just feel better and sleep better if they have two rooms."
Sometimes, though, a separate space makes it too easy to avoid relationship troubles, said Resmaa Menakem, a licensed social worker with a private practice in Edina.
"People who are not in this field don't really see the intricacies of what marriage is," said Menakem, author of a just-published book titled, "Rock the Boat: How to Use Conflict to Heal and Deepen Your Relationship."
"Marriage is a very tough proposition," he said. "If you're going to do it for any amount of time, you're going to go through a lot of stuff."
One way to manage the heat of a long-term commitment (not the good heat, but the heat that makes you want to throw things) "is two master suites," he said. "That doesn't resolve the problem, but it lowers the heat," which allows the couple to find workable strategies for healing rifts.
He worked with one couple who were raising children together, but were no longer sleeping in the same bedroom or having sex. He told the one on the couch: "Kick your ass back upstairs."
She balked, but eventually did that very thing and, over time, through therapy and moving toward each other, literally, their relationship improved.
Sometimes, architects can solve sleep deprivation issues without creating totally separate spaces, noted Matt Ditzler, an agent with Re/Max Results and founder of the Minneapolis construction company Re-Dwell Inc.
That might mean building one giant suite, with a smaller room and a smaller bed in a sitting room just off the master suite. "Usually," he joked, "the husband ends up there."
Paul Rosenblatt, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota Department of Family Social Science, is probably the least surprised of anyone to hear about the trend.
The author of the 2004 book "Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing," Rosenblatt interviewed about 50 couples, from newlyweds to couples married for more than 45 years. Plenty of them slept apart for troubling reasons, he said, including estrangement, where one of the duo slept in a college-aged child's bed, a reality they hid when the child came home.
But many couples found that dual bedrooms led to fewer duels. Well-rested, they were happier at the breakfast table.
"Lots of couples do this experimentally at first and don't know where they're going," Rosenblatt discovered. "Sometimes, they become surprised that they don't like [sleeping apart] much. They worry more about the sound of a car outside. They worry about, 'Will we still have an intimate life?'
"And they miss the warmth of having someone next to them." And some told him they were only alive because their spouse was sleeping next to them when they experienced a heart attack or went into a diabetic coma.
He recalled one couple who built a folding door between dual bedrooms. "They can sleep apart and be in the same chambers, too," he said. "They can access each other.
"I never asked them for the details."
Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum