People can live in modernist glass houses…if they have 6 acres in the woods

I have argued Americans prefer McMansions to modernist homes. Another reason this might be the case: the glass modernist house works better on certain kinds of properties.

But it wasn’t until they found the perfect piece of property in the Lake Minnetonka community of Woodland that they were able to make their glass house dream a reality.

They’d been planning to sell their three-story Arts & Crafts-style home in Orono, and were on the hunt for secluded, wooded acreage in the western suburbs…

In 2012, a 6-acre property with wetlands, a bog and a small lake popped up on the MLS. The land, which was in foreclosure, was in Woodland.

Kathleen was entranced by the tiny woodsy hamlet of twisting and turning roads. So, the couple consulted architect Tim Alt of ALTUS Architecture + Design about the property. He advised them to go for it.

This home holds all kind of appeal to modernists: black, low to the ground, lots of windows, multiple wings for different uses, and utilizes materials that fit with the unique natural setting. Yet, how realistic is it to expect such a home to be located near other homes? Even residents who like such architecture are unlikely to sacrifice all their privacy by living in this home within a traditional neighborhood. Americans like single-family homes partly because of the privacy they tend to offer away from prying eyes of neighbors of the government.

Then, finding the right kind of property – away from other homes, attractive nature views – becomes an extra burden or set of resources required for this kind of modernist home. These requirements likely mean it is outside the reach of many homeowners. The modernist home becomes the elite home.

All this means that it is unlikely such homes will be popular. Perhaps this was already clear since one of the models for the Minnetonka home dates back to 1949 and that design is not exactly all over the place. Such modernist homes will continue as curiosities or give people a home to aspire to even as they continue to buy mass-produced McMansions and ranches.

The scary McMansions of Lake Parsippany and giving up property rights

One New Jersey resident is not happy about the arrival of a McMansion next door:

Suddenly, the sun is gone, you’re in its shadow, it’s coming closer and closer. You can feel it’s poorly portioned eyes glaring down at you. You try to make the creature out, but its stucco front and vinyl siding sides confuse you, and there’s the artificial stone surrounding its mouth.

No, this is not an early Halloween tale, it’s the McMansion next store…

This is America, and no one should dictate to you what you can do with your property, but when you choose to have every tree cut down, use every inch of a lot and build a home 3 times the size of the original dwelling, that disrupts other people’s lives and infringes on their rights.

I would have never bought my home knowing the house next to me would be knocked down. Why would I think, a perfectly fine 3 bedroom home would be destroyed? What attracted me to the street was that each house was a little different, and each home had a yard and mature trees.

I’ve been told it’s a way to showcase your wealth, but I only see ignorance and bad taste. McMansions do not make good neighbors, they’re downright scary.

This letter summarizes the crux of the issue with teardown McMansions: how should a community or individuals balance the right of homeowners to use their property as they wish versus what their neighbors would like? Who should win when “no one should dictate to you what you can do with your property” yet certain buildings can “disrupt other people’s lives and infringe on their rights”?

Many communities have adopted some sort of community guidelines that both limit the size of teardowns and try to nudge the new structures toward existing architectural styles. Yet, I wonder if that does not solve the real issue: the negative interactions likely to occur between neighbors. Even if a new McMansion meets community guidelines, what are the odds an upset neighbor next to the new McMansion is likely to be happy with the new residents?

In other words, property rights do not necessarily lead to good neighbors, particularly if some neighbors are perceived to not follow the local norms. The result can be isolation, lawsuits, public arguments, and violence. Property rights might take ultimate precedent in a court of law but having a pleasant social life may require ceding some control.

Asking for advice: my parents keep renovating their McMansion, my sister and I have debts

Would those who spend money renovating their McMansions be better served by helping their adult children with that money? From the one seeking advice:

My parents (mom and stepdad) are in their 70s, retired, healthy, and doing well financially. They spend their money on traveling the globe and constantly remodeling their new Florida McMansion. That’s fine. They can spend their money on whatever makes them happy…

My sister had joint-replacement surgery and has high medical bills. I am going through a legal fight with a previous employer, am unemployed for the first time in my life (I’ve had a job since I was 14), and legal bills are eating my 401(k). Our parents know the details. We’re not asking for any help.

But I don’t want to get on the phone with my mom and have to hear all the issues of remodeling rooms that looked perfectly fine when I visited a year ago. Plus they don’t even ask how things are going with their children and grandchildren. It’s all talk about superficial things and how awesome they are doing.

Advice columnist responds:

But let’s back up for a second. You’ve presented this as a two-item menu: either endure your mom’s affluenza, or stop calling your parents.

There’s a middle choice, though: truth. “Mom, [sister] and I are buried in legal and medical bills. I can’t sympathize over expensive renovations.”

It does not sound as though the McMansion is the actual problem. Yes, the letter writer is upset because the mom both spends money on their McMansion (which, in the letter writer’s opinion, does not need more work) and then spends a lot of time talking about it. But, it seems as though the McMansion could be replaced by a number of objects or hobbies associated with people with resources. It could be golf, fixing up old cars, buying collectible items, playing bridge, or any number of things that, according to the letter-writer, keep the mom from paying sufficient attention to her kids.

At the same time, the McMansion is a potent symbol here. Since it is such a pejorative and loaded term, it leads readers toward a particular kind of person: one with poor taste in architecture, lots of money, and an interest in flaunting their status through their home. Additionally, who would prioritize their expensive home over the real needs of their children? These are not just parents who happen to live in a McMansion; these are unlikable McMansion owners.

Are McMansion owners on the whole more generous with their family? Do they have money to spare and give it away? Others have argued McMansions are bad for children; it is not clear from this letter whether the advice seeker grew up in this home. Could a whole generation of Americans reveal hurts produced by or in McMansions? Even with the attention they receive, widespread tales of childhood McMansion woes are unlikely given the actual number of McMansions in the United States.

Justin Bieber’s new McMansion (or mansion?)

Justin Bieber is reportedly the new owner of a large and expensive home in Canada:

Per a report from TMZ, Canada’s native son just put down $5 million on a new mansion in Ontario.

The 24-year-old reportedly closed on the 101-acre property on Monday. The living space is 9,000 square feet, with four bedrooms, six baths, three fireplaces, a game room, a movie theater, and a three-car garage. In addition, the home features access to a private lake, a two-story, temperature-controlled wine room, a gym, and heated floors. Oh, and it has its own horse-racing track.

The McMansion is not the first extravagant home where Bieber has taken residence. As Architectural Digest noted last year, his history with expansive rental properties dates back to at least 2014, when he got in a good amount of legal trouble for damaging the exterior of a neighbor’s home in Calabasas, California. He sold his home there to Khloé Kardashian for $7.2 million. After that, he moved to Lake Hollywood to pay close to $30,000 per month for a rental home. Since then, according to A.D., he’s lived in at least five other high-end rentals in the past few years.

A picture of the home from TMZ:

BieberHouseTMZ.png

This home might be considered either a mansion or a McMansion. On the mansion side, the house is 9,000 square feet, the property has 101 acres, and features like a private lake and horse track are outside the reach of the typical McMansion. On the McMansion side, the home looks like a newer build with some unique architectural features. Typically, in these situations where a megacelebrity is involved, I would lean toward the McMansion side because their homes and properties tend to have traits far beyond what is offered in a common suburban McMansion.

A research idea: it could be interesting to see how many and which celebrities live in expensive properties that could be considered more suburban (large single-family homes, large lots, a bit further from urban centers) versus those who live in denser, more urban housing units.

The joint spread of McMansions and apartments in Charlotte

Rarely are the evils of McMansions and apartment complexes joined together but one observer in Charlotte suggests this is exactly the case:

As a 20-year resident of Charlotte, I’ve long observed that shoehorning apartment complexes and oversized homes in and around uptown does not prevent sprawl. Apartment complexes and McMansions are popping up like mushrooms in our historic uptown neighborhoods, yet sprawl has accelerated.

I strongly suspect we’re being sold a bill of goods by elected officials who are firmly under the thumbs of developers. Developers need us to believe they’re doing something for the greater good so we’ll allow them to destroy the character and design of our historic neighborhoods.

At first glance, these are two very different kinds of development. Apartments bring density and certain kinds of residents (whether lower-status residents in the eyes of neighbors or wealthy renters who are gentrifying places). They may include tall buildings or a lot of buildings. In contrast, McMansions are large ostentatious homes that may be teardowns (replacing smaller, older homes). They may not loom over surrounding area like apartments and generally McMansion residents are well off but the change in housing unit may be just as stark.

What appears to be the common thread of concern from this one resident is that both kinds of development are different than what is currently there. If I had to guess, these “historic uptown neighborhoods” are filled with well-kept, single-family homes with decent sized lots built decades ago. Both the McMansions and apartments, in their own ways, present very different kinds of structures. The same concerns might be leveled against an ultra-modernist home or a block of row houses: they are not like what is already in the neighborhood.

Often, McMansions or apartments are restricted to areas of similar structures. This is typically the purpose of zoning: keeping single-family homes away from land uses that residents fear might disturb the neighborhood’s character, and, ultimately, their property values. When developers or local officials start mixing uses, particularly in established areas, this may not go well at the beginning.

Convicted mobster and his supposed “Sopranos-style McMansion”

As part of his sentencing, a New York mobster has to sell his large home. One media source claims it is a “Sopranos-style McMansion”:

During his sentencing on Aug. 15 in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Giallanzo was ordered to serve 14 years behind bars, pay $268,000 in restitution to his victims, forfeit $1.25 million in assets and sell his mansion in Howard Beach.

Federal prosecutors said that Giallanzo used proceeds from his racketeering ring to transform his home from a humble ranch into a two-story palazzo that could have rivaled Tony Soprano’s digs on “The Sopranos.” The mob captain reported spent more than $1 million to reconstruct and furnish the home, which features five bedrooms, five bathrooms, radiant heated floors, luxury appliances, three kitchens and a salt water pool with a waterfall.

https://qns.com/story/2018/08/16/howard-beach-mobster-must-spend-14-years-federal-pen-sell-sopranos-style-mcmansion/

This is certainly now a large home and has an interesting exterior. While it would meet the definition of a McMansion (in at least two ways), it is quite different from the McMansion of the Soprano family.

Let’s start with the McMansion definition. The picture of the home as it stood at least a few years ago (according to Google Street View) is helpful. It was once a ranch home on a corner lot. Not very big, in a residential neighborhood, and in a tight corner lot that offered little opportunity for a backyard. The new home is a teardown. The house is now two stories. On a small lot, the home even pushes closer to the edges. This is a teardown McMansion.

Additionally, the home has a mix of architectural features. It has a consistent brick facade (at least on the two sides facing the street). It has a round turret on the corner; given the placement of the windows, this could be a staircase. The front entrance includes a entry with a roof and columns and numerous windows of different shapes. The roof has multiple gables on the front. On the whole, the design of the home is too busy. Definitely a McMansion with its mishmash of architectural styles.

The comparison to the Soprano home on The Sopranos would seem to make sense: the owner of the home above was in the mob, he lives in a large house, and he was able to live there because of his ill-gotten gains. But, the home above is very different from the Soprano home. Here are just a few differences: a corner lot in a more urban neighborhood versus a big suburban lot with the home set back from the street and at the top of a longish driveway; whatever style the teardown is built in versus the French styling of the Sopranos home; and current interior features (three kitchens! radiant floors!) versus the 1990s McMansions of the Sopranos home (mostly about size, lots of room, and certain decor).

While these homes might both fit the general category of McMansion, they are quite different. Arguably, the Sopranos home is more tasteful or at least stands out less from its surroundings (because most of the nearby homes are similar).

(See an earlier post about the McMansion features of the main residence on The Sopranos.)

Building and buying larger homes leads to “McMansion envy”?

Here is the full Bankrate.com headline of the story I discussed yesterday about Americans buying larger homes:

McMansion envy spreads as Americans demand more bedrooms, baths

What is “McMansion envy”? The common sense interpretation seems clear: people see and desire McMansions. Yet, this gets complicated fairly quickly for a number of reasons.

  1. The data then presented in the story does indeed tell a tale of Americans buying larger homes. But, not all large homes are McMansions.
  2. There is no other mention of the term McMansion. While the term seems to be a stand-in for large homes in general, there are also references in the story to homes with more and flashier features (including more bedrooms and bathrooms as well as higher-end finishes, though this last part is difficult to defend with Census data).
  3. McMansion is a pejorative term and few real estate listings or homeowners proudly use the term to describe their homes. Instead, the term typically refers to tacky or garish large homes (see McMansion Hell for an example).
  4. Indeed, the exact definition of a McMansion is more complicated than just a big home or a poorly-designed home. I argue McMansions have four possible traits.

I do not expect this concept of “McMansion envy” to spread except for critics of larger homes and McMansions who want to describe some sort of sickness from which Americans suffer.