Dear PoP – Should We Combine Small Bedrooms into a Large one?

Photo by PoPville flickr user rjs1322

“Dear PoP,

My husband and I have been working on our Petworth fixer-upper for six months now and it’s decision time. We have two medium size bedrooms and two small size bedrooms upstairs (with two baths too). We are trying to decide whether we should combine one of the medium bedrooms with a smaller one to make a master suite (with en suite bathroom), or keep the walls as they are as we renovate. What’s a better investment over time for the value of our house? Four bedrooms or three bedrooms including master suite?

Would be curious to see what you and your readers think.”

Great question! I’d vote for combining one of the small bedrooms into a master suite. But I’m looking forward to hearing how folks think that will affect the property value.

41 Comment

  • How small are the small bedrooms? Do all four bedrooms have real closets?

  • 4br are better than 3.

    for resale anyway.

  • no, only three of the rooms have functional closets. but we’re looking to 2 of the closets for additional space for the in suite bathroom, and will likely do some built in wardrobes.

    • I would say go with the 3 BR arrangement. In my opinion, most buyers today want a nice balance of bedrooms vs. luxuries/features.

      If you expand the master bedroom into a large suite with a nicely done bathroom, I think it will be worth more to a buyer than a regular master bedroom plus a single small no-closet quasi-bedroom.

      I would retain the closets in the other bedrooms though, people love their storage space!

      I have owned two properties in DC, a rowhouse and a condo in a rowhouse in the last 4 years. I have done a lot of market research and have seen a lot of properties. The single best piece of advice I have is to stay away from funky layouts. Avoid the following whenever possible:

      1. Odd shaped bedrooms
      2. “Nooks” e.g. spaces that are difficult to use without a specific purpose
      3. Bedrooms without closets
      4. Bedrooms without windows

      I hope this helps! Good luck with your reno.

  • If you plan on living in the house do what will make you the most comfortable. No sense suffering away in small broken up spaces for the next few years before you sell. Maximize your enjoyment now. Besides, if you think it’s a good idea to make a master suite, so will some potential buyer.

  • houseintherear

    In my opinion as a person who had an old house renovated last year, make the house how *you* would like it to be. Chances are a buyer will want what you wanted as well. If we’re talking making a two bedroom house into a 1-bedroom, that’s a different story, but once you’re in the 3+ bedroom range I wouldn’t worry too much about resale.

    • pablo .raw

      I think most of the people in need of a 4 bedroom house, will look for it in the suburbs. Make sure the wall you are tearing down is not a structural one!

  • 3 bedrooms, one of which being a master with a bathroom en suite, is WAY more attractive to buyers. Plus it’d be a benefit for you living there as well.

  • Mast suite, for sure.
    We just bought a house in Columbia Heights / Petworth six months ago. The master suite and kitchen is what sold us.

  • Id say houseintherear is about right…

    Besides, how old is your place. It was my understanding that the more original features to an old home the better. I would bet you a Coke a good realtor with experience in these olds row house we say no. 4 Bedroms is better than three.

    Making an old girl new really only applies to upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms, not the number of bedrooms.

  • more bedrooms only increases value. trust me, i watch HGTV.

  • The general rule is more bedrooms the better. That’s what most real estate agents will tell you.

    I think 3 is much better than 2, but between 3 and 4 not as much.The best advice is those above that say do what you want. Unless you are trying to flip the house in which case I would say keep 4.

  • I agree with the above; renovate the house the way you want to live in it. But I also think most people expect and want an updated home to have a master suite with an en suite bath and decent closet space. I’m not sure the “more bedrooms = higher resale” rule of thumb should guide your decision–particularly in Washington DC, where most buyers are not traditional nuclear families.

  • Is there any way to combine the 2 small bedrooms into a 3rd medium bedroom?
    That seems to make the most sense to me because often small bedrooms are close to useless as bedrooms.

  • Unless the two small bedrooms are too small to pass as bedrooms, I say keep them as is. Having a larger master suite is nice, but it’s also good to have a home office/den, workout room, or guest rooms. Besides, if you ever decide to sell, more bedrooms=higher value.

  • I was looking to buy a house in Petworth for a share house set-up for my schoolteacher niece & 2 friends, that would also be suitable for extended family to live in for the future.

    I got so tired of seeing allegedly 4 bedroom houses where 2 bedrooms were closets that I just gave up. (And she took a plum job in Rhode Island instead.)

    Do what suits you for living – but if you’re renovating anyway I would certainly go for 3 good bedrooms.

  • The 4th bedroom sounds like its not really a bedroom since it doesnt have a closet.

    So the real question is, should yuo combine a bedroom with a study/office to make a big master bedroom.

    I say probably, depending on how many other rooms you have in the house. If its just going to be 3br, 2ba, a kitchen, and a dining room/living room combo – then no – dont do it.

    If you still have some other rooms besides the bare minimum – I think its a fine idea.

    • THIS! It depends on the layout of your downstairs, too. If your dining room and living room are just one combined space, that means there’s less space for a private area to put a desk/ shelves/ reading chairs, so you might want to keep the extra bedroom as a study. If your downstairs is a little more generous, then you can probably afford to lose the additional study room.

  • I agree with those saying combine 2 BRS to have 3 BRS upstairs. I think this is a great ideas especially if you can have an en suite bathroom.

    I watch HGTV, too, and they say not to combine BRs to a lower number than is typical for your neighbhorhood. I think the vast majority of Petworth houses have 3BRs upstairs (if there’s a 4th, it’s in the basement). Having 3BRs and 2 baths upstairs is a pretty sweet layout.

    Last, if you’re doing a lot of rearranging with the layout, if you can manage to have nice-sized closets in all the BRs, that would be amazing (and rare for this area).

    Good luck!

  • As a realtor who is very familiar with Petworth row-homes, I would say go with the master suite option. 3Br (one being a fantastic master suite) is worth a lot more right now (and likley in the future) than 2Br and 2 very small br/offices.

  • Renovations should be a personal decision. If you’re personally worried about resale, then make that your personal concern regarding renovations. I like to maintain the original structure of my fixer upper, but if I had the option, I would probably consider making a master suite.

    Good luck and have fun!

  • Three with attached bathroom for master. No brainer.

  • I think you should have a party at your house and invite all of us so we can see it in person – alot depends on the size of the rooms currently in question, and the result of taking one away. Or create a current and proposed floorplan so we can get some idea of the space(isn’t there a website that lets you do this for free?)

  • Not to take anything away from the peanut gallery, but if you really want a definitive answer on the best investment over time, you should be asking experienced realtors and contractors. I think this is particularly advisable given the fact that, as I read your posts, you plan to remove a couple of closets and add built in wardrobes – both of which will greatly affect the size and functionality of your “bedrooms.” For example, if you are building out a wardrobe into a “medium size” bedroom (i.e., turning some of the current floor space into closet space, as opposed to building the wardrobe into a wall in the bedroom or in another way that does not take away any of the current floorspace), that medium size bedroom may turn into a small bedroom. At the very least, you should buy a roll of cheap blue painter’s tape and a tape measure and mark off the areas of your bedrooms that will be lost as a result of your plan so you can be sure that you will be able to function in the space you envision, let alone that the space will be usable for some prospective buyer down the road.
    The number of rooms doesn’t really matter. It’s whether they are functional that counts.

    • As you read the post – you didn’t read the post. They said nothing about removing closets. But hope you feel better now for dismissing all other commentators.

      • Actually, I read the post and the follow up comment from the original poster, which you clearly did not read. In that comment she (lauraly) says “we’re looking to 2 of the closets for additional space for the in suite bathroom.”
        My plain language interpretation of “we’re” is that she (lauraly) is one of the persons whom the original post is about.
        My plain language interpretaion of “we’re looking to 2 of the closets for additional space for the in suite bathroom” is that she (lauraly) and the other member of the “we” are going to use at least some space from 2 of the closets for the new bathroom.
        And yeah, I stand by my comment that if they really care about resale value they should run their plan by some professionals, as opposed to relying upon anonymous blog posts.

  • We are renovating our house in Petworth right now too. I would say one of the most important things you should do when renovating your space is do proper floorplans!!! You can layout your space a million times on paper, but once you build it’s hard to change. Make sure your space is adequate for the purpose you intend it for. I don’t think it’s so much a number of rooms, but more how that room feels if you were to lose one or change the size of all of the rooms. Also other things to consider are ganging all your plumbing in walls that are back to back (like if you are going to have 2 bathrooms upstairs) which will save you money on plumbing. I bet you have one of those tiny rooms in the front of your house like most Wardman-style homes, right?…and are trying to knock down the wall between that room and the adjacent?

  • Think hard about it. That was done to our house somewhere along the line. And, while I like the bigger master bedroom, the room is very difficult to work with because there little usable wallspace for furniture (row house, back wall is all windows, another wall is half closet, entry door and bathroom door on the other). So, it is hard to make use of all the space. I feel like we have a giant space in the middle of the room where crap collects.

    If I was going to do it over, I’d rethink the removal of the wall, do it more carefully, or make the largest bedroom into to the master (with an attached bath) and keep the smallest room as a study.

  • If all you’re thinking about is whether to remove a wall or not, do it. If you’re really worried about resale, you can always put the wall back when it comes time to sell. Just drywall and lumber. Cheap as dirt.

  • just curious, and totally off-topic, but i don’t understand the picture choice to accompany this post? I mean, not to say I mind seeing my old kitchen window up there and all, but what does a burned down building have to do with combining rooms in a home renovation?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Hahaha, I was waiting for someone to ask that question. I was just trying to illustrate tearing down a wall. Plus I thought this was a cool photo on its own…

      • it is a cool photo. agreed.

        however, i’d have to say, if the person who submitted the question does decide to tear down the wall, i suggest they choose a different method! 😉

  • My husband and I are currently renovating our Petworth rowhouse. We also had 4 bedrooms, but decided to create a large master suite in the back of the house. We are leaveing the 2 bedrooms in the front of the house and enlarge the closets in each room. We are also creating a legal bedroom in our basement.

    A legal bed room in the District according to IRC (International Residential Code) 2006, defines a bedroom as having direct access to a window, at least 70 Sq Ft of space and a closet. If it is a basement room it must have a window that exits directly outside(can not exit under an inclosed structure such as a deck, porch or addition). The window must be at least 5 sq ft and only 44″ off the finished floor. The ceilings must also be at least 7′-0″ in height. The codes the district uses can be found on their website under DCRA – construction codes.

  • when I was looking at houses I would count small bedrooms against a house. I would count closets added to already small rooms as a double negative.

  • wow, thanks so much to everyone for sharing your perspective. unfortunately, we can’t combine the two smallest bedrooms since they are on opposite sides of the house. and while i can’t say i’m now convinced by either side, we now have additional helpful information and perspective. and that’s much appreciated! once we decide and move forward on the renovation, we’ll be sure to send some photos. but since we’re diy-ers, it might be a while! 🙂

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