Looking for new houses that don’t give off a McMansion vibe

A discussion of some new homes in Mt. Airy, Pennsylvania involves which homes do and do not give off a “McMansion vibe“:

“What’s THAT?” she said suddenly. “That’s just not okay.”

She was looking at two identical McMansions near the intersection of Lincoln Drive and Wayne Avenue, tall houses too big for their lots with boring beige stucco and stone that lacked the tell-tale Wissahickon schist sparkle.

I had a similar reaction to a house on the corner of Bryan and Durham, in a close-knit neighborhood known for the quality and variety of its Halloween decorations. It’s a neighborhood where kids play in the streets and everybody lives in almost identical row houses and twins with deep porches and sparkling stone walls. The new house looks like something from a soul-crushing suburban development, and the owners haven’t bothered to plant anything in the huge sunny side yard. The most notable feature of the house is a No Parking sign on the front of it.

So I was relieved when I looked at the listing for a new house being built on one of my favorite streets in Mt. Airy–St. Georges Road. It’s one of two planned homes by Blake Development.

From the looks of the plans, the house suffers a little from a common East Coast malady, multiple siding disorder, where the vertical exterior surfaces have a little too much variety. They’re stone, no they’re stucco, no they’re wood-like planks made out of concrete. But overall the house holds true to the character of the neighborhood. I’m encouraged by the interior shots of the developer’s other projects. The rounded door under the stairs is very Mt. Airy, and the kitchens
are good quality but not overly fancy. They’ve also won a bunch of awards for historic restoration.

It seems that the primary trait of what distinguishes between a McMansion vibe or not is whether the new home fits architecturally with other homes in the neighborhood. So, the definition of a McMansion could then differ quite a bit from place to place depending on whether the new home is near 1950s ranches, early 19th century Cape Cods, or other styles.

This could also lead to an interesting question: should new homes always fit in with existing homes? More broadly, should all new buildings fit in with nearby buildings? What happens when architectural styles change? I suspect the answer in practice is that it depends; not all homes or buildings are perceived as worth preserving and it often requires dedicated groups of residents or local actors to defend existing styles.

By the way, what neighborhood wants to be known primarily for “the quality and variety of its Halloween decorations”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s