New approaches to the master bedroom

Designers offer advice for creating space that's a stylish, practical sanctuary

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A well-designed master bedroom should be an oasis of romantic calm. It's also supposed to be the practical place where you store clothing and get a good night's sleep, and it may also be where you watch television, pay bills and even set up a home office. 

That's a lot to ask of a single room.

On the bright side, says interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, you have plenty of decorating freedom.

"Since bedrooms are all about self-expression and comforts," he says, "you can break the rules as much as you want." 

Here are some tips on breaking those rules with style.

• ONLY THE CALMEST COLORS: Forget trendy shades or your favorite bright colors. Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design advises sticking to a soothing palette of ivory and white, evoking a luxury hotel room.

"You can layer color into that if you want to," she says.

If your idea of peace and quiet involves deeper colors, Flynn suggests navy blues or black-browns.  

• BIG BEDS IN SMALL ROOMS: Think your medium-size or small bedroom can't handle a gorgeous four-poster bed? Burnham says a bed like that can serve as "a statement piece" that brings lots of style. It actually frees up space, because you won't need any extra, decorative pieces of furniture.

Flynn agrees, as long as the bedroom isn't extremely small and the nightstands are in proportion.

• SOFTEN EVERYTHING: These designers are seeing a trend toward upholstered beds and headboards, and even upholstery fabric used on walls.

"It's this idea that you're being completely cocooned and buffered from the world," says Molly Luetkemeyer of M. Design Interiors.

With softness in mind, Flynn suggests using more than one layer of window treatment: "I usually layer black-out shades with custom, pleated drapery panels," he says. "This softens the hard edges of the room, helps with noise control and also allows the homeowner to sleep in as late as they want."

If you're worried that all that softness will make the room too feminine, Burnham suggests adding just a few sharper, cleaner lines for balance. Choose sleek, mid-century vintage lamps to place on either side of an upholstered bed. Or opt for a dresser with simple, clean lines rather than a piece that's ornate and curvy.

• SKIP NIGHTSTANDS: Flynn suggests using 30-inch-tall dressers or chests instead of traditional nightstands. Luetkemeyer agrees that closed storage at bedside is a wise move for most people. It keeps necessities handy, but hides clutter to make your sleeping area look organized even when it isn't.

• PENDANTS AND SCONCES INSTEAD OF TABLE LAMPS: Chandeliers are often used in dining rooms and entryways to add glamour and drama. Flynn's tip? They "work just as well in bedrooms."

"I often install pendant lights over nightstands instead of using table lamps," he says, "especially if the headboard is tall and dramatic. … I always, 100 percent of the time, install them on dimmers."