By Genevieve Buck for Chicago Tribune, September 2000.

An editor of a down-to-earth home magazine—meaning Better Homes and Gardens rather than Architectural Digest—tells this story relating to creature comforts: One of the entries in the publication’s home improvement contest came from a woman who had enriched her bathroom by installing a TV and a VCR so she could watch a movie while blissfully soaking in her bubble bath.

"It was the only time she could take for herself, the only place she could be alone," said Joan McCloskey, Better Homes executive building and remodeling editor. She mentioned the anecdote during a conversation about the latest “toys” that buyers and owners want in their homes.

Kitchens and bathrooms continue to be the rooms that garner the most attention and the biggest chunk of the upgrading budget. But other rooms and spaces are increasingly horning in, stealing some of the kitchen/bathroom spotlight and a slice of status as well.

Now it’s master suite and much more specifically the morning bar.

The morning bar, or the bedroom’s very own wet bar, refers to a space in the master suite that includes a small refrigerator, sink, plenty of outlets and counter space for the coffee maker, espresso machine and microwave. The appliances and other paraphernalia are generally ensconced in cabinetry that matches the decor of the bedroom. After all, there must be an appropriate home supplies (OJ, Starbucks, bottled water, champagne) and china, crystal, silver and linens (no paper plates, Disney mugs, plastic knives and forks in this setting).

Just as the proliferation of 5,000-and-up square-foot homes has inspired the industry term "McMansions" the increasing emphasis in size and amenities on the home’s prime bedroom now seems to call for dubbing them the "McMasters."

First came more space and the best location, be that ground level or half the upstairs. Soon, the suites included sitting room space, an armoire for the television, a fireplace and not just one but two walk-in closets. Currently, some of these gargantuan wardrobe boutiques are being outfitted with built-in wood cabinets/drawers, an island (makes packing easier), as well as triple mirrors, skylights or windows for natural light, a big help in determining whether a suit is black or navy.

The master suite would be incomplete without a luxurious bathroom, sometimes of rec-room proportions, a phalanx of sprays and spigots, tubs framed and glorified with pillars and surrounded by windows that might look out at treetops or, perchance, the neighbor’s patio.

Now enters the morning bar. This luxury adds more to life than the mere convenience of having a fridge and coffee pot handy, claims Todd Augustine, one of two builders who included morning bars in models at the recent Gallery of Homes, sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Greater FoxValley, in Batavia, Ill.

Augustine, president of Augustine Custom Homes Inc. Of Geneva, said he has come to consider the master suite as a "retreat, a kind of sanctuary," a place for relaxing. "It’s removed from the rest of the house so people can close the doors and unwind," he said.

There are some pragmatic reasons, as well. "The bar is functional, it utilizes space and space is expensive today," he said, adding "and it is convenient—saves the trouble of going downstairs for the drinks, juice, champagne, the baby’s bottles.

"There's also the pleasure of waking up to the smell of coffee and having it ready and right there by the time you're out of the shower," said Augustine.

Better Homes' McColoskey said it could be the introduction of the coffee maker into hotel rooms that spurred the idea of having one in a home's bedroom. But what's the point of having a coffee pot without a cup and saucer, a glass of juice as a chaser, a fridge to keep the OJ and cream cold, a cabinet for stashing the stuff? This phenomenon shouldn’t be surprising, says Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders. "We’re living in a time when everybody wants everything. Things that used to be upgrades in mainstream-priced homes are becoming standards by demand," Ahluwalia said, citing two-story foyers, hardwood floors, 9-foot ceilings, double oven, decks ("a must").

"They want the 2,200-square-foot house to have the upscale features of the 4,000-square-foot house—two fireplaces, three-car garages, space for a computer in the kitchen, the security system, high-speed wiring to handle the technology aspects," he said.

"The morning bar," said James Coughlin, vice president of Crystal Lake, Ill.-based Residential Development Group, "is the next phase of that cocoon process that homeowners are experiencing." He said the first indications of this ongoing trend were bigger family rooms, media rooms large enough for oversized screens and the home office.

Coughlin said that the firm conducted market research that "showed us that at this level ($325,000 and up), discretionary buyers want additional creature comforts in their homes." Residential is responding by introducing a new floor plan for a two-story single-family home that includes its first morning bar. Under construction in its Greenview Club Home Villas adjacent to the Crystal Lake Country Club, the two-story, three-bedroom homes will have an optional morning bar designed to fit into a wall in what is billed as the "master retreat," a 9-by-14 space (with balcony and optional fireplace) open to the sleeping area and adjacent to the bath.

Though Ahluwalia thinks nobody wants basic anything anymore, he believes that both the term "morning bar" and some of the more luxurious decor might only apply to the $500,000 and up" homes. However, he thinks that having the same basic (a refrigerator and wet bar) off in a sitting room area of a bedroom in a $250,000 residence is understandable.

That's where the wet-bar, or some variation thereof, is located in Warrenville, Ill.-based Neumann Homes, according to Jean Neumann, senior vice-president of sales and marketing. A Neumann model in the $300,000 price range shown in one of its southwest suburban developments did feature a refrigerator and a wet bar in the bedroom’s sitting room and sold. It’s when potential buyers see it, Neumann said, that they think the idea of a wet bar is appealing.

For example, a Chicago-based partner in a professional services firm first saw such a bar in Todd Augustine's model homes "I'd never heard of a morning bar," said Mike Slattery. He and his wife, Denise, parents of two children under 6 years old, have since purchased Augustine's model. "My priorities were functionality of layout, the needs of a family, maybe a study," he said. But "the flexibility, the uniqueness and convenience of the breakfast bar" offered something that previously wasn’t on his priority list, he said.

"Solitude," he said, "a place for Sunday dialogue. We saw this as a place for catch-up time, a place that offered the opportunity to sit, read the paper, have our coffee, talk as adults."

"Could I live without it? Sure," he said, if he and his wife hadn’t seen it. Once they did see the morning bar, however, both realized the master suite could be the space where they could "reunite, talk to each other as the two people who fell in love, not just Mom and Dad."

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