To Master a Bedroom


What does it mean to have a “Master Bedroom” in your house? I’m not a master of anyone. I can hardly execute my own will over myself. So we can take that definition and shove it off the table.

I learned while house-hunting that for a bedroom to truly be considered a Master, it must have its own bathroom. If that definition is to be believed as correct, well, I’ve never had a master bedroom in that case. Here is an exhaustive list of the kinds of bedrooms I have had, in chronological order:

  • Three bedrooms that I shared with my younger sister. Her name is Vanessa and she’s really sweet. She has a heart made of gold-like stuff I can only hope my own heart eventually becomes more like. One was in the townhouse we had in Baltimore when I was a small child, the other was in a rental house my parents had when we first moved to Ohio and they were settling in to a whole new state and looking for a house (I was in kindergarten), and the final time we shared a room was in the house I truly “grew up in.” That house was in Ohio and located on beautiful acreage in a forest that was on a hill that stood over a river. It was rural in every sense of the word and plenty versions of me resented that, but wandering aimlessly through the woods and discovering nature as a part of everyday life – not a field trip – was instrumental in making me the person I am today. I never had issues sharing a room with Vanessa. Sure, we fought now and then like siblings do, but I never felt competitive or hostile toward her. All things told, we had fun sharing those rooms. It was fine. It was more than fine.
  • The third bedroom to myself. Eventually, when my brother moved out of the house, Vanessa took his room. In hindsight, maybe I should have – I had first dibs according to seniority laws, but I chose the bedroom that was upstairs because it was very big, even though the bedroom downstairs was farther from our parents and had its own bathroom. I guess I always valued space. I still do. I had so much extra room that I actually slept in the walk-in closet and kept the rest of the room as a hang-out space.
  • A college dorm room that I shared with THREE other young women. THREE. It was smaller than the room I had growing up and yet I shared it with three other legal adults. There were times when there were fewer – in fact, there was even a time when I was the only one in there as the ladies I roomed with dropped out and moved around – but there was also a time where there were four of us in the one single room.
  • An objectively small bedroom I shared with a boyfriend for a few months in New York City. We lived right next to the N train in Astoria, which is an above-ground train, and somehow I got used to the almost theatrical sounding rumble every 10 minutes. I really did. I slept through it and everything. We also had a cat, which wasn’t my idea, but we had a sort of mutual respect for each other.
  • A teeny tiny bedroom in a different apartment in Astoria. When I say it was the size of a closet, I’m really not exaggerating because I know the woman who lives in that apartment now and she uses that room as a closet. As an actual closet.
  • A bigger bedroom in the same apartment. This was good! An improvement. I was able to fit a full-size bed in there and thought I was living the good life because I had a pretty view of a dogwood tree in a back yard that wasn’t mine in the spring. I also had a view of an incredibly creepy neighbor who I actually had to eventually get a restraining order against, but hey! The Big Apple!
  • A big bedroom in Brooklyn I shared with my now-husband. It’s a long story – how I came to transition to living with the guy I would later marry – but that’s what happened and this bedroom was a part of that change. The room was actually pretty enormous by NYC standards (it was pretty large by any-city standards, I think). We had a full-size futon mattress (on the floor) and the apartment had a bird (Handsome) that sort of roamed freely a lot of the time and honestly, even though I was a bit more closed off to absorbing all of the goodness and influence of that situation than I wish I had been, we both look back on it as a golden time.
  • A smaller bedroom in a house. My first ever single family house since living with my parents was in Austin, TX. We’d moved there sort of on a whim: I was tired of living in NYC and had set my sights on New Orleans but when a friend told me there was a program that provided healthcare services to musicians in ATX, that seemed like a good idea. I already knew I wanted to settle down on the West Coast – the Pacific Northwest specifically – but thought that with a newish boyfriend and my life spread out before me that perhaps it might be a better idea to go to a non-permanent place where I could afford to see doctors when I needed them. Our room contained a king bed and not much else – we’d dedicated the larger rooms in our home to music gear and guests.
  • A small bedroom in a 600 sq. ft. house in Brooklyn. Ben and I moved back to NYC after two years in Austin – for some lousy reasons and some legit reasons, c’est la vie – and we “scored” (if paying a $2K broker’s fee on an apartment with an equivalent rent can be considered a score) a ground-floor place with a YARD. We had dogs in this version of our lives – dogs we’d rescued in Texas – and life was easier with dogs if a yard was involved. Our room was fairly medium-sized and still overtaken mostly by the King bed and the loft Ben built for it, but it was good. Still wasn’t a “Master,” though.
  • A big-ish bedroom in a big single family house in rural Michigan. When I say “rural,” I mean: just about as rural as it gets. We were an eight hour drive from the nearest large city (Minneapolis). Our house was nothing but a dot on an expanse of 80+ acres that surrounded it. (This is how I got into fungi, if you’re wondering). The room was good enough – we had sliding glass doors that led to a little balcony, even! But it wasn’t a Master. Annnnnnnnnd, in the late winter, mushrooms would grow out of the carpet. So there’s that.


This bedroom! This Master Bedroom. Its inclusion of its own toilet and sink mandates the capitalization of the ‘M’ and the ‘B’ here. It’s big deal, right? I mean, truthfully, having a Master Bedroom wasn’t even on our radar while we were house-hunting. Like, I didn’t even know it was a thing to care about. Our real estate agent would make jokes as she showed us random houses. She’d point to a tiny closet and say, “That’s Elizabeth’s office!” It’s true. I’m all about functional space. I didn’t care too much where we slept at night – basement, attic, whatever works. And so here’s the maybe funny part:  I didn’t really know the house we bought very well until we showed up in it. We bought our first home from out of state (from Michigan to Oregon) and full-disclosure, this house we wound up in was looooowwwwww on our list, if it was on the list at all.

We walked in, smelled the mold, saw the bird poop everywhere, witnessed the atrocity that was/is the carpet and all of its stains, felt the shredded wood on the railing as we walked down the stairs and we were like “NOPE, THIS IS A FIRM NOPE.” We saw maybe four other houses the same day we saw this house and I’m pretty sure we liked every single one of those four better than this one. We saw 40+ houses total and this house that we wound up in represented only a quick in-and-out 10 minutes of that total time, however many hours it was in the end. I could tell you all of the details of how it came to be that we bought a house that was so low on our list, but really all you need to know is the general fact that the Portland housing market is almost-hilariously (except it’s not actually funny) insane right now and that’s how things go down usually if you don’t have tons of cash to throw at your favorite houses.

I don’t have tons of cash, FYI.

The good news is that the more I settle in here and get to know various neighborhoods and other details of the area, the more I feel like this house and location was the exact right choice for us. So all of that is to say that I didn’t know we had a definitional Master Bathroom until we got here. If I’d seen the little 1/2 bath that relegates it as such, I hadn’t made enough of a mental note of it. But by the time we spent our first night on a broken leaky air mattress on the floor of that bedroom, the bathroom had made itself known: the toilet had a special kind of problem that made it creak the eeriest noises all night long. I’d say it sounded like a “Welcome to your new home!” tune except it did not. Not at all. More like a, “Maybe this house is haunted, maybe not, guess we’ll never know” tune.

The stains on the carpeting throughout this house the way we found it are not a thing I’m sure I can comprehend. I’ve had pets my whole life (dogs, a cat, a bird, a rabbit, fish) and I just don’t know how it happens. How does it happen that there are several rather large circles of urine stains on each and every carpeting section? I feel like it’s fair to think that a fraternity full of irresponsible dudes who side-hustled a petting zoo out of the home would have left the carpet in better shape. We’ve been more than eager to toss this carpeting into the trash bin, but we’ve had to be strategic: generally speaking, even the grossest carpeting is a bit safer for a toddler than an exposed-nail-and-staple-ridden subfloor, so better to leave the carpeting in tact until we can get around to flooring, has been our logic. I think it holds.

But suffice it to say: we were ecstatic to finally remove the Master Bedroom carpet when the time finally came recently. We ripped it out, with joy in our hearts, and got to work on removing all of the mysteriously evasive staples from the subfloor. We treated it with an enzyme spray and we coated it with odor-blocking primer. Then we figured out that we sort of needed to remove the linoleum from the bathroom simultaneously if we had hopes of having matching flooring throughout the two spaces. And, mind you, that was all after we’d spackled, sanded, washed, primed, and painted the walls. And the ceiling, doors, and trims. At some point in time, we came upon a moment during which we were able to say, “Hmm, I think we can put the bed in here now,” and so we did.

Lots of things aren’t yet done. The trims aren’t up, the outlet covers are off. The nightstand we intend to sand and whitewash hasn’t had either done and the other nightstand hasn’t yet been procured. The plants need to be moved farther away from the wall if they are to survive and I need to wash and dry the duvet set so it’s clean and less wrinkled. We still have plans to install a hanging lamp maybe and refurbish a dresser. We’ll have to add in our brass-painted closet-rod and whatever closet organization system we come up with and hang some curtains and, oh yeah, we still need to tackle that bathroom, the one that makes it a Master. But here’s something we did do:

IMG_3732 (1)
Here’s Ever watching Ben set up Room & Board’s Hudson Bed. It’s a really sturdy and lovely piece we hope stays with us for many years.

We did set up our lovely Hudson Bed (Maple with Shell stain) c/o Room & Board. This bed is gorgeous as it is, in my opinion, but it’s also extra special to me because it was handmade by skilled artisans in West Virginia with West Virginian maple. Where I grew up in Ohio was right on the border of West Virginia and that’s where my entire family lives now, so that’s meaningful to me. I feel like I know those trees and I’m happy to have a piece of one in my bedroom. In a mass-production-focused world where so much of what we buy – even from the most boutique-seeming companies – actually just comes from an assembly line in a faraway country, I think it’s a little extra special that Room & Board is offering this Hudson line, made by actual people in Appalachia. You can tell from the quality, too. It’s not like some gibberish commercial item made to look exactly like everything else in its line. These pieces are unique from the offset – from the individual wood grains and markings to the variations in the stain to the hand-signed and numbered marking on the piece itself. So, to be clear: I didn’t choose this bed randomly. It’s gorgeous and high-quality, yes, but it’s also a deviation from the cookie-cutter furniture that has come to be so commonplace in American homes. I love the shell stain in particular (which I also have on our Gallery Media Leaning Shelf in the living room) because it offers a nice and cool contrast to our bamboo floors, which are a little warmer than we’d hoped they’d be.

I removed most of our pillows to more accurately depict how pretty the bed is. Again: this is all just the first iteration of this first Master Bedroom of ours. Decor will change – a lot of things will change – but here we are, finally, nine months into arriving to this home, sleeping in an actual Master Bedroom, which we haven’t probably formally mastered, but we sure aim to.

This king duvet is c/o Linens & Hutch. Use promo code: SMALLDOSEMAGIC for 30% off your order of anything with them. That’s an affiliate code for me, so it’s a win-win!






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Elizabeth Seward is a writer and songwriter, among other things. Read a full bio on the ABOUT page.

6 thoughts on “To Master a Bedroom

  1. Your descriptions of all the bedrooms along the way make me smile to myself…and wow! I didn’t realize how rural you were before you moved out here! Cool to see your M.B. transformation 😉 We just finally swapped out the bedframe, painted, and replaced the area rug in ours. Slowly but surely, it’s feeling more peaceful. (Which is what we all need more of in our homes and lives, am I right??) Glad for the peek into your projects!

    1. Oh thank you for following along! Slowly but surely is the way, indeed. And yes! The place we were before this is my husband’s hometown and living there definitely fine-tuned my insight on his upbringing and context. It was lovely in lots of ways to feel so connected to nature, but I really missed all of the things that come with cities/culture! So happy to be settled into Portland now where I can readily access both. 🙂

  2. Brings back memories Elizabeth of our early days of marriage. Uncle Tony would come home from work and most evenings and Saturdays he’d start working on the house, a bungalow with only two bedrooms and one bathroom, but a great big yard near the water in Pasadena, MD
    Good Luck in your new home and enjoy your creativity and family. Aunt Mary McCusker

    1. Wow! It is so nice to hear from you here! Thank you for finding my blog and commenting. I hope all is well with you and I am indeed very inspired by the generations before me all the way down (or up?) the family line who’ve worked hard in this way on homes, as well. It makes them extra special places to be, in my view! 🙂

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