Sunday, November 06, 2016

McMansion Hell

Have you folks seen this site, McMansion Hell?

Basically, the writer is an architectural critic who explains why it is that McMansions are so darned ugly.  They basically do two sorts of posts.  One is the broad explanatory post, taking some issue and explaining how it works in the architecture.  It may be an overview, as here, or it may focus on a specific aspect of houses, and show different ones with explanations, as with this on front entries, or this one on landscaping, or this one on roofs.  The second sort of post takes a specific house, staged by realtors for the market, and critiques it.  Here's one on a house in Virginia.  And here's one from Georgia.

So I have a bit of a love/hate, or maybe more a love/fear relationship with this site.  I love it because it explains so much about that aesthetic and why McMansions seem so unpleasing aesthetically. 

But I hate/fear it because every post makes me more aware that I live in a sort of ugly McMansion, not guilty of the highest level of McMansion excesses, perhaps, but pretty up there.

For example, if you look at the Georgia house, and scroll down to the kitchen, where the writer talks about white appliances?  Yeah, I can see my white kitchen appliances from where I sit.  And I'm not getting new ones any time soon (I hope!).  So white appliances, check.

Open concept.  Yep, check.

At one point the writer talks about someone's TV being old, but it's basically a big screen TV from maybe 10 years ago.  If it works, what's to complain about?  There's nothing wrong with a 25 year old TV that works, is there?  (Asks a woman who owns a 25 or so year old TV, and who just got a new big, flat screen one a few years ago because the old one couldn't talk to the CD player I bought used.  The old one was good, and color, even if it was only 13".)

My house is probably a 7 on the scale of 1-10 horribleness.  Maybe a 6. 

In addition to the ugliness, the architect talks about the cheapness of materials and building techniques used to build McMansions, and here's where my house falls squarely in.  Bad roof shingles, check (now not bad, because I had the whole thing replaced).  Vinyl siding, check (but seriously, I would hate to have to restain or repaint every three or so years).  Minimal insulation (well, at least I had a lot added when I had the roof redone, so hopefully that is solved).  And so on.  It's sort of worrisome.

On the other hand, I don't have the money to decorate a lot, so my house doesn't have the most egregious decorating faux pas, I suppose.  On the other hand, it's pretty much just whatever old furniture I've picked up over the years, and a few pieces I've bought for specific purposes.  (The writer of McMansion Hell says they specifically show pictures of realtor staged houses, and not houses real people live in, because they aren't making fun of real people.)

When I bought my house, it was in a newish neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac where all the houses were built, but also near areas that didn't have streets through and such.  For a while, it stayed like that.  But in the last three years or so, there's been a building boom, streets have been put through, and a lot of new houses are going in, and they're all so McMansion.  My house is already one of the smaller houses on my street of 9 houses, maybe the smallest.  But the new houses going in are way bigger than most of the houses on my street (there's one that's way bigger than the others, and about the size of the new houses).

Maybe this means our housing values will go up?  Which doesn't matter until we decide to sell, of course, except that our taxes will also go up.  And the city may decide to put in sidewalks.  (It's a cul-de-sac; everyone just walks along the side and no cars are driving fast.)

So, there we are, something fun to read; or, if you're like me, something fun and perhaps anxiety-producing!


  1. Anonymous10:39 AM

    What a mean-spirited site. If the author wants to talk architecture, he can do that. But the fact that some folks in Georgia had teal walls, brass faucets, white appliances and (horrors) an old TV has nothing to do with architecture. If he visited my house, he would criticize my almond-colored appliances and my 1960s paneled living room. And then I would tell him to go to hell, because I set my house up to please myself, and living with old stuff doesn't bother me at all.

    1. The writer does say that she only discusses realtor staged houses, and not houses that people live in.

      The architectural stuff is more interesting than the decorator stuff, for sure.

  2. Do you have a super big house? If it is less than 3k sq feet, she's fine with it because she's fine with "suburban tract houses".

    1. No, mine's a tract house that has pretentions to some of the ugliness of McMansions, I guess.

    2. Anonymous1:39 PM

      She's fine with that. We get a lot of leeway. I think she's really just focused on people with money abusing architecture and the environment. (And not the people themselves, just the monstrosities they leave for sale.)

      Also, her stuff is really impressive for someone just out of school. Especially since an architecture degree isn't usually very marketable.

      We have a white fridge and I'm not bothered by her site or by my fridge. But the white fridge isn't in a multimillion dollar house on a large estate. So there's no dissonance there. (I was happier when we finally painted over the gingham wallpaper in the kitchen though.)

  3. The writer can't spell "gingham." White is very practical in kitchens and bathrooms because you can tell when it's clean. I would be fine with white kitchen appliances, but I am afflicted with a 1992 stove and fridge in black and brushed stainless. I'd replace them except that we've already poured so much cash into this house on really important things. I don't like decorated houses, period. I like houses where it's clear that the owners have better things to do than think about wallpaper.

    1. You're absolutely right about that; my preference, too!

    2. Ha. This is one of the reasons I don't like white kitchens (or white anything)! Mask me and my dirt.

  4. Yes! I love that site.

    But like nicoleandmaggie, I really don't think your house qualifies (& I've at least seen photos on Fb). To me, tacky grandiosity/pretension is the main criterion for a McMansion, and you have a totally modest home.

    But I guess I don't read the site scrupulously enough to be aware that it made fun of white appliances; what I'm interested in are the exterior architecture features, and it's really helped me think through why McMansions just look so darn awful..

    The other critiques may have some point, but it strikes me as snobbery more than anything. Not everyone cares about the same details, and frugality should still be a virtue.

    What I react to negatively in McMansions is the *combination* of grandiosity, bad taste, and cheapness.

  5. Thanks! You folks are making me feel better about my house.

    It doesn't have the worst excesses of McMansion-ness, but, it's sort of trying: weird interior spaces where vaulting sort of doesn't make sense, almost no windows on the sides, cheap building materials and techniques, and such. It's not nearly as big, but this isn't a really wealthy economic area these days, and it's on the bigger side of local houses, I think. (Maybe not; there are bigger houses going in now than when mine was built.)

  6. Trust me, you don't live in a McMansion. There's a whole scale of epic annoyance required to make that hurdle. I've followed the site and I like how it delves into the thoughtless excesses (seven different kinds of windows! six different rooflines!) that I regularly see in my in-laws' neighbourhood. They still live in a classic 1950s bungalow, minimally updated, while all around them towering monstrosities hulk on the landscape.

    That's the McMansion world, not your tract house (nor ours). For all our unfashionable white appliances (1989 dishwasher still works fine!), our houses are generally coherent in design and not chasing all the current fads!