Robert Lieff, 75, an attorney and founder of the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, purchased this 21.5 acre property in California’s Napa Valley for $805,000 in 1998, according to the Napa County recorder’s office. Mr. Lieff, who purchased the land with his then-wife, Carole, was looking to build something with more character than the usual stock. ‘I just saw so many houses around there that were like ‘McMansions’ — I had no interest in that,’ he said. He opted instead for this corrugated steel and glass home, which over the years has won plaudits for its design.
The house does indeed have a lot of character and has a kind of modern beauty to it. The pictures are quite interesting as the home features a lot of straight lines, open spaces, and beautiful views of wine country.
Yet, as I’ve wondered before, how many Americans would choose this house over a McMansion? Granted, there might be some price differences; even most McMansions are not built on 22-acres of land. But even if the prices, square footage, and land were equal, would this modern house appeal to most Americans? Critics and architects tend to like such homes, and they want to preserve modern homes built in recent decades (such as these homes in New Canaan, Connecticut) and promote new ones. But mass-market homes tend not to look like these modern homes and suburban tract homes have been roundly bashed since Levittown.
Perhaps we could trace this back to Bourdieu’s ideas about social class. Here is how this might be argued: modernist homes appeal to those with the education and class training to like them. In contrast, those of the middle- and lower-classes like other features of houses such as their functionality, space, or the middle-class nature of the neighborhood (safe, good schools, etc.). Perhaps it is tied to what the home at the base of the American Dream is supposed to look like: a cozy place for kids with a comfortable yard but not too unusual. (However, some of the McMansions are quite unusual, though not perhaps in the good sense.) We might see these boundaries pushed in coming years: there are more people interested in providing affordable housing with a modernist twist such as semi trailers remodeled into housing units.