By: Kayla Johnson
The term “master suite” has been a standard term in the real estate industry for years, commonly used to describe the primary bedroom with an attached private bathroom (en-suite) in a home.
However, discussions over the past few years have highlighted the potentially insensitive connotations associated with this term. The use of the word “master” to describe someone who has control or ownership over others has a painful and, at the very least, contentious history. For some, the term brings about memories of a time when Black Americans were not free, as “master” was often used as a term for slave owners on the plantations. With ongoing racism and barriers to fair housing still in the forefront of many Black Americans’ lives, the use of the word “master” adds to the burden. For others, “master” is an outdated term rooted in misogyny, referring to the master of the house, who was often male. As a result, using this term can be considered offensive and triggering to some.
Many will point to the fact that the term was first thought to be coined by Sears in 1926 as a marketing strategy to sell a particularly extravagant listing. And that seems to be true. The research seems to conclude that this is when the term came about. However, that doesn’t change the fact that several groups take issue with the word “master” and it’s connotations. As real estate professionals who strive to bring about fair housing for all, terminology holds much weight.
To address this issue, many individuals and organizations have started to use alternative terms that are more respectful and inclusive. Some of these terms include “owner’s suite,” “primary suite,” or “main bedroom.” By adopting more appropriate language, we can take an important step toward creating a more welcoming and equitable world where everyone feels valued and respected in their homes and communities.
n many hotels and other public accommodations, African American guests were often denied access to the most luxurious rooms, including suites. They were instead relegated to less desirable rooms located in separate areas or floors. In private homes, African American families were often denied access to the same level of luxury and comfort as their white counterparts, with African American servants being forced to sleep in small, cramped quarters in the basement or attic. In a world where most households are dual income, where women often find that there are glass-ceiling style barriers to all kinds of opportunities from the board room to the home, the term master suite can feel antiquated and unnecessarily demeaning.
Today, the concept of a master suite has evolved to become a standard feature in many high-end homes. It is no longer explicitly associated with racism or segregation. However, the legacy of racism and discrimination in the history of the master suite serves as a reminder of the enduring impact of systemic inequality on the built environment.
Ongoing efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of design and architecture are needed to address this legacy and promote more inclusive and equitable spaces. The language we use can significantly impact others, and we must be mindful of the words we choose. As we commit to fair and equitable housing, it’s important that we understand how language can impact those with whom we work. We should work diligently to ensure that outdated language is removed from our personal vocabularies and from that of our teams and brokerages. This is one way that we can promote equity within the industry.
Kayla Johnson is a licensed Missouri and Illinois real estate agent, I prioritize providing 3D service – dependable, direct, and defined – to families throughout the Metro Saint Louis area. I aim to earn your trust by delivering exceptional service and helping you navigate the world of homeownership.