More Bedrooms Needed for Couples Sleeping Apart?

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

 Last week there was a lot of fuss on broadcast and online about the revelation by the National Sleep Institute that as many as one in four married couples sleep in separate bedrooms or beds. It came as a surprise to many who posted comments on line, some not believing the findings and others saying, so what’s new?  

At the same time, the National Association of Home Builders, perhaps riding on the coattails of the report, projected that 60 percent of custom homes will feature dual master bedrooms by the year 2015, according to a joint report by The New York Times and the Today Show.

“That’s pure poppycock!” exclaimed Barry Goewey, noted architect in Westchester. “I just don’t believe it, and I would never design a home based on couples who sleep in separate master bedrooms,” he continued. “The average homeowner cannot afford the additional square footage that would require.”

Another architect who works in the region, Michael Piccirillo, also found the report incredulous. “In all my years of designing homes, not one family ever asked me for two separate master bedrooms. If anything, people today want to downsize space, not increase it,” he said. “If you add 200 square feet for an extra master bedroom, it’s going to add $40,000 to $50,000 to the cost of the house.  And think about septic!  Many of us in this area are on septic systems, and the requirements for fields are based on the number of bedrooms in a house. It would screw up the whole works.”

Still the statistics are there to observe, ponder and question how these findings will affect the design of new homes in the next decade. 

 In our own lifetimes, we’ve already experienced the design modifications that accompanied our lifestyle changes. These include the diminution of the formal living room, the creation of the family room and the den, the development of the large granite-laden, brushed steel gourmet kitchen, the adoption of the home office and home gym, and the evolution from the Cape to the Colonial as the preferred home style, all of which dictated the need for additional square footage. But, now, separate master bedrooms for husband and wife?

Another consideration is the interior design of master bedrooms for male and female. Joanne Palumbo of Homestyling101 says, “Maintaining separate bedrooms is fine for living, if it suits you,  but once you put the home on the market, the homeowners really should distinguish one of the bedrooms as a gender neutral master bedroom and the other as a secondary bedroom. Showing a home with two gender specific master bedrooms conveys a feeling of discord in the home and will inevitably confuse the buyer.”

Most couples are loathe to talk about their personal lives to friends and families, particularly sleeping arrangements, even if it has nothing to do with intimacy, but they are more likely to share more honestly in an anonymous survey, as with this current report.

Personally, I wondered whether this is a reflection of the condition of the economy and the housing market. Greater anxiety might produce more volatile sleep patterns, or, it might indeed be an issue with intimacy caused by financial problems, the main reason that married couples quarrel. You know the old saying that when poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window.

In the Times, the reasons for separate sleeping arrangements seemed to be other than intimacy issues, but more weighted toward physical problems that were disturbing to bed partners, such as nervous leg syndrome and snoring, and to the practical accommodation of different schedules, like morning and night shifts between spouses. 

And, realtors have been noticing more cases where couples who list their homes for sale are planning to divorce but are still living under the same roof, probably in separate bedrooms, because neither party can afford to move until the house sells.

According to the Institute’s findings, the trend toward sleeping separately has doubled in the past few decades, and perhaps we were conditioned to this practice by the moral codes of the times before sexual liberation. 

When I was a kid, the Hayes Code dominated the movies in Hollywood and it demanded that on-screen couples not sleep in the same bed.  I always knew that this did not reflect real life because, unlike movie couples, my parents always wrapped themselves around each other in the same bed.  I know this because my mother would complain that my father’s muscular legs and arms weighted her down like a vice, but obviously she liked it because they slept together intertwined like a pretzel every night.

Before the adoption of the Hayes Code was the Great Depression when couples were lucky to afford a bed, much less two bedrooms. 

And if you want to go way back to Colonial times, there was little chance of sleeping separately for most folks, coupled or not. Beds were a luxury item at the time and many siblings and adults were forced to share beds, especially when traveling. Male travelers often had to share a bed with three or four other men in overcrowded inns. Sometimes even mixed sexes shared the same bed in an ingenious way, separated by a “bundling board” between them, but that was more a courting custom, to determine whether couples could be compatible all day and night, without being intimate before marriage.

In more recent times that more of us would remember, “I Love Lucy” featured Lucy and Ricky in separate beds (and how we wonder did she have that famous pregnancy under such conditions?), and we never questioned the propriety of these sleeping arrangements. In fact, I think we were all  surprised when on-screen couples finally did slip into the same bed, with the proviso that one of them have one foot on the floor (imagine?), a position that would certainly be a deterrent to achieving intimacy, save for the athletically gifted.

Of course, if we were to judge by what goes down on screen today, our younger generation would think that the bed is primarily for coupling and only incidentally for a good night’s sleep. 

While statistics may sometimes be skewed, they don’t totally lie, and if more of us need to sleep separately for whatever reason and can’t afford the space required, what is one to do?   Mike Piccirillo offers a simple solution:  “Get a great couch.”

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( He can be emailed at or reached directly at 914-522-2076.

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