When to fight McMansions: with a move from a 8 BR to a 25 BR home

The Hamptons is often home to fights over McMansions (earlier posts here and here). A new squabble involves a wealthy venture capitalist looking to significantly enlarge his home and encountering opposition:

Ken Fox — whose company, The Stripes Group, has financed Blue Apron and Seamless/Grubhub — hopes to grow his quaint, 1880s shingled home into a 25-bedroom, 14-bathroom “McMansion,” his opponents complain.

“Find another town to destroy,” seethed one petition signer, Olivia Salina.

Fox’s eight-bedroom home — which he purchased for $10.7 million in 2012, known locally as “Mocomanto” — is on both the state and national historic registries, and sits on protected wetlands on the banks of Lake Agawam…

Some three dozen neighbors have joined them in writing protest letters to the zoning board, and as of Friday, more than 300 had signed a change.org petition urging village officials to oppose the plans…

Fox, meanwhile, told The Post through his lawyer that, as planned, Fox’s new house would still be smaller than many of his neighbors’.

Without knowing all the details on the ground, it is more difficult to know the merits of the concerns expressed by the neighbors.

But, this case does point to a broader issue with McMansions: when do communities decide to draw the line? There are several stages at which neighbors and communities can band together and take effective action:

  1. Before any McMansions are constructed. This, however, requires a lot of foresight. Perhaps some of this foresight is gained by watching what happens to other communities.
  2. With a few McMansions present. Community members notice changes and don’t like the new direction.
  3. After plenty of new McMansions have been constructed and the horse is already out of the barn.

I would guess that most disputes with McMansions occur in cases #2 and #3 where McMansions are already present in some number. If so, it may be more difficult to change the rules as the game is being played. If Mr. Fox is correct that there are already larger houses present, are the neighbors simply trying to stop others from joining them in having bigger homes? Or, would this particular structure be such an abnormal monstrosity that it must be stopped?

Since there are already large homes as well as McMansions in the Hamptons, I would argue fights like this one will be difficult to argue for opposed landowners to win in the long run.

Satire: Hamptons residents tear down McMansions to build mini-mansions

This is unlikely to happen anytime soon:

The latest thing in the Hamptons are Mini-Mansions. People everywhere are tearing down their 15,000-square-foot McMansions and replacing them with little three-bedroom houses of 2,000 square feet. This trend is unprecedented in America. But here in the Hamptons, it’s the latest craze.

Alice Henderstreep did this. She’s married to the steel magnate Charles Henderstreep and they tore down their McMansion in Quogue for a Mini.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Some friends of ours in East Hampton did this. I call my husband, he’s in the next room and comes. We’re never far away from one another. And I love it. The dog runs around underfoot. The kids are in the kitchen. It’s family. And the room we now have on our five acres is just phenomenal. We have huge lawns, we now have tennis courts. The kids have parties in our new pool house. We even built a baseball diamond.”…

“This is the way the original settlers lived,” Fred said when we called. “We followed the plans for a saltbox pictured in the historical museum. And so did the Henderstreeps in Quogue. It’s not like that old split level that was here we tore down for the McMansion. This is a recreation of the early settlers. Hand-hewn beams. Wavy old glass in the windows. It wasn’t cheap. In fact, it cost more than the McMansion we tore down.”

The only way I could imagine this happening is if downsizing becomes the new marker of luxury. It would be the opposite of conspicuous consumption: you can afford to downsize your vacation home and live small for a few days. Or, the tiny house movement could go upscale, perhaps with gratuitous use of innovative yet expensive technology. Of course, such claims might be followed up by a pricey trip to another mini-mansion in another wealthy vacation spot…

Fighting the “King of McMansions”

Some well-known residents of Southampton Village, New York are opposed to plans for a new big house proposed by the “King of McMansions:”

What do commodities trader John Paulson, real estate tycoon Harrison LeFrak, CNN morning news show co-anchor Christopher Cuomo, and  President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Anne Eisenhower have in common?

They share an opposition to the “Farrelization” of their neighborhood in historic Southampton Village, where Joe Farrell has proposed building a 5,531 square foot house on a 1.2 acre parcel on Hill Street according to an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

Dubbed “King of McMansions,” Farrell, who was profiled last summer in The New York Times is described as being “a local version of Donald Trump, without the history of debt, the lush hair or the insults.”

Mr. Paulson, Mr. LeFrak, Mr. Cuomo,  and Ms. Eisenhower are just a few of the 85 names who penned letters to a local village review board. The letter writers variously objected to “the size, scale, scope and ‘visual incompatibility’ of a speculative home” proposed for the vacant lot at 483 Hill Street—a neighborhood where ” nearly a dozen nearby residences are more than a century old and roughly half or a third the size.”

And who is this King of McMansions? A developer of big homes in the Hamptons:

But there is no surer sign that the big-spending ways that characterized the pre-financial crisis era have returned to the Hamptons than the blue “Farrell Building” signs multiplying across the pristine landscape here, along with the multimillion-dollar houses they advertise. It is a process some are calling “Farrellization,” and not necessarily happily.

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Joe Farrell, the president of Farrell Building, during a recent interview and tour of his $43 million, 17,000-square-foot home here. The estate, called the Sandcastle, features two bowling lanes, a skate ramp, onyx window frames and, just for fun, an A.T.M. regularly restocked with $20,000 in $10 bills…

With a customer base composed largely of Wall Street financiers, Mr. Farrell has more than 20 new homes under construction, or slated for construction, at a time, making him the biggest builder here by far. He has plans for more, many of them speculative homes built before they have buyers.

Some of the biggest controversies about McMansions seem to take place in areas where residents have plenty of money. It is one thing when a teardown McMansion is constructed in an older neighborhood and less wealthy residents are pushed out as the housing stock becomes newer and more expensive. (At the same time, an influx of new big homes could also raise property values and give some options to cash out.) But, this is an example where everyone is pretty well off and it is more about the character of the neighborhood. Perhaps it is about old money versus new money, that an outsider is coming in with new plans and disturbing an area that others paid big money to buy into.

The “King of McMansions” is going to be a negative term for many people yet it also implies a level of success. I haven’t seen too many individuals tagged with such terms and even companies like Toll Brothers who were well-known for building McMansions didn’t necessarily acquire such monikers.

Rebuilding the Hamptons, one expensive teardown at a time

Here is a clear example of American’s preference for new homes over older ones: buying a new home in the Hamptons is much preferred to having an older home.

From Westhampton to Montauk, buyers (and renters, too, especially those willing to write a six-figure check for a summer spot) are on the same attitudinal and aspirational wavelength: new is better, more sustainable, and infinitely richer in amenities than old…

The look of the homes is evolving as well: modern is making a comeback, but modern in the guise of barnlike. “The modern barn is the Hamptons equivalent of the TriBeCa loft,” Ms. Comnas said…

Sure, many of these new houses have classic cedar shingles on the outside, but inside they are chic tabernacles of all that is design-forward, indulgent and technologically precocious. The middlebrow bungalows, Capes and ranches of yesteryear are disappearing, victims of the wrecking ball, fast becoming the most popular tool in the builders’ kit. ”Unless a house has really good bones or is grandfathered closer to the ocean than you’re allowed to build today,” Mr. Davis said, “there’s often very little reason to renovate.”…

“I’m seeing that people prefer new because they want to be the first to use everything in a home,” he continued. “New means instant gratification.”

Sounds like a lot of money is waiting to be spent at the Hamptons. I’ve seen numerous articles from the last few decades about people trying to hold on to older homes in this area but the teardowns appear to be relentless. I’ve never quite seen a footnote like the one posted at the end of this story:

Not every buyer chooses immaculate new construction. The recent sale for $75 million of the 84-year-old Wooldon Manor in coveted Southampton Village set a Hamptons record as the highest for a stand-alone home on a single lot.

Is the purpose of the footnote to reassure that at least one buyer has some sense of history? (And it only took a $75 million home to have some sense!)

More broadly, do teardowns cease to be a public issue when all or most of the homes are teardowns? Plus, are these not really McMansions because they are not mass-produced and require so much money? It makes me wonder if the truly wealthy get a pass on such homes while those who are more middle- or upper-middle class bear a lot of the criticism for trying to imitate the truly wealthy…

“The McMansion Man” builds larger houses in the Hamptons

The Hamptons have long been known as a retreat for the wealthy but the recent actions of one builder suggest the houses are getting bigger and nicer:

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Joe Farrell, the president of Farrell Building, during a recent interview and tour of his $43 million, 17,000-square-foot home here. The estate, called the Sandcastle, features two bowling lanes, a skate ramp, onyx window frames and, just for fun, an A.T.M. regularly restocked with $20,000 in $10 bills…

With a customer base composed largely of Wall Street financiers, Mr. Farrell has more than 20 new homes under construction, or slated for construction, at a time, making him the biggest builder here by far. He has plans for more, many of them speculative homes built before they have buyers…

“Houses have gotten smaller over all but not entirely: 8,000 square feet was the norm, now 6,500 is,” Mr. Farrell said. “Everyone wants six or seven bedrooms and their pool and their tennis.”

Where Mr. Farrell built speculative homes that sold for as much as $20 million before the recession, he now specializes in properties that sell for between $3 million and $10 million. “Mostly, though, $3 million to $6,” he said. “I love that market — there are probably 10 times as many people in that market than to buy an eight- or nine-million-dollar house, right?”

I’m not quite sure what the issue is. The Hamptons are for the wealthy and this man builds houses for the wealthy (though they are smaller and cheaper than a short time ago). But, the article suggests there might be several things going on:

1. Even the wealthy in the United States have to be careful to not completely flaunt their wealth. In particular, when economic times are bad it doesn’t look great to keep spending at high levels when other people are struggling.

2. There is an ongoing tension between old money and new money. The older homes, associated with older money, have more character and have been part of the community for decades. The new homes, associated with new money from the finance sector or from celebrities, are seen as gauche.

3. The construction of more spec/mass housing means the whole area will suffer by appearing more generic. Any historic architecture will disappear under a flood of mass-produced McMansions.

These are interesting arguments in themselves but I suspect (1) many Americans can’t relate and (2) there is enough money involved that it doesn’t really matter – just help pave over the issues with some more money. In other words, this provides a small window into how the wealthy view change within their own neighborhoods.

Drawing the line: an 18,000 square foot, $45 million home IS NOT a McMansion

I know the line and price point between a mansion and a McMansion is not exact but this goes way over the line: an 18,000 square foot, $45 million home in the Hamptons is definitely not a McMansion.

Even in a rich man’s playground lined with one McMansion after another, the Linden Estate in Southampton, N.Y., stands out as one of the best. The stately — and gigantic — home sprawls across 18,000 square feet on a 9.11-acre plot, and it has not one but two outdoor pavilions and a bevy of resort-style amenities (including indoor and outdoor pools). But it seems like that might not have been enough to satisfy one tech tycoon.

James H. Clark, co-founder of Netscape (you remember that, right?), was reportedly under contract to buy the glorious property at a $49 million price tag last July — after the mansion spent a staggering four years on the market. Clark and his wife (both pictured at left) even gave Haute Living magazine a tour of the home’s immaculate grounds. But the sale was never completed, and now, less than a year later, the home is once again up for sale for $45 million, Curbed reported. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but man, what a bummer for the owner.

I’m not sure exactly what McMansion means in this setting. Mass-produced? Probably not homes of this size. A large house? This one is extra large, or gigantic as noted in the story. A home for the wealthy? Clearly.

I wonder if there is something else going on here. One idea about McMansions is that they are about excessive consumption. This often refers to the average American taking on too big of a mortgage or purchasing a lot of space that they don’t need. But, might this also refer to excessive consumption by the ultra-wealthy? Of course, the wealthy may not have the financial difficulties in purchasing some homes but the tone here might be that the even the wealthy don’t need a home like this. Then, the term McMansion applies even more broadly to any home consumption that might be considered out of the ordinary.

83 year old Hamptons resident sues for demolition of McMansions in her neighborhood

The McMansion battles continue, this time in the Hamptons as an 83 year old resident takes on the newer big houses in her neighborhood:

Evelyn Konrad claims in a new federal lawsuit that her high-powered neighbors — many of them finance honchos — have turned her subdivision into an overcrowded “Queens by the sea” because of an improperly adopted zoning code.

The suit doesn’t seek money — it seeks demolition.

Undeterred by her wealthy opponents, the brassy Stanford law graduate once skewered the supersized digs as “multimillion-dollar penis enlargements,” in a letter to a local newspaper…

In addition to Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley, the suit names a host of cash-flush neighbors, including former Merrill Lynch honcho Donald Quintin and Manhattan attorney Denis Guerin.

Not your typical octogenarian, the yoga-practicing, bikini-wearing former NBC business reporter said that her modest, 2,200-square-foot colonial, purchased in 1984, has been slowly encircled by ballooning buildings ever since a new zoning code was adopted in 2005…

Konrad has demanded a jury trial and will argue the case herself, thank you very much.

I wonder what a jury would do…

It sounds like the zoning change from 2005 that is really at issue. I have no idea how often zoning regulations are overturned in court but I suspect they are infrequently challenged and even more rarely overturned.

How a 6,000 square foot Robert A.M. Stern home in East Hampton escapes being called a McMansion

A basic component of the term McMansion is a large house. But this defense of a large Robert A.M. Stern home in East Hampton shows that this isn’t a necessary component of the term McMansion:

Looking past the seven bedrooms, this Brown Harris Stevens listing on Lee Avenue in East Hampton seems to be an antidote to the McMansion trend currently occurring in the ‘Gauche-ing over’ of the East End, making a seemingly cozy use of its 6,000 square feet…

From the language in the listing, the fully screened-in porch is the work of Robert A.M. Stern (the listing says “Robert Stern” but we’re going to assume that they’ve left the A.M. off for those ‘in the know”), making it a nice, neighboring companion piece to the library and town hall that Yale’s dean of architecture has designed for East Hampton over the last 20 years.

So, while the deck—and attached house—will run you $6.5 million, you will be getting an adorable piece of early 20th century living with a late 20th century porch on roughly an acre of land in the tony Georgica section of East Hampton.

Perhaps I am just being cynical but it sounds like this home is not a McMansion simply because it was designed by a well-known architect. Because of this, it is better quality and more aesthetically pleasing.

If you look at the slideshow pictures, the home does seem to avoid some McMansion design features: no pretentious columns or two-story foyers; the rooms have some traditional features; and the kitchen is not full of granite countertops, a Viking stove, or a Sub-Zero refrigerator (at least as far as we can see).

Still, it is a 6,000 square foot home. Can that much space really be cozy? Only in places like the Hamptons could this size home seem restrained. What about arguments that all big homes are bad (large homes don’t fit with other green products) or need to be regulated (see this recent discussion in Australia)?