Question: “What are some pictures of McMansions that some people find aesthetically pleasing and well designed?”

In contrast to looking for photos of the most garish McMansions, one Quora user ask the opposite question: “What are some pictures of McMansions that some people find aesthetically pleasing and well designed?

This is a fascinating question because it assumes such pictures could be found. The definition of the term itself tends to imply something is wrong with the home: it is too big (absolutely or relative to other nearby homes), it is not designed well, or it is tied to other issues (sprawl, excessive consumption). Beyond that, McMansions could be viewed less as a matter of bad taste and more as morally wrong. There are not too many loud defenders of McMansions though it seems like builders like Toll Brothers, who critics have argued have built such homes for years, are doing okay.

So if people can’t bring themselves to suggest a McMansion is well designed, I wonder if tweaking the question might get better results: “are there McMansions that are less problematic?” If phrased this way, we could place McMansions along a continuum of well designed to poorly designed or better to bad and see the range of possibilities.

What Gen Y wants in a home

This is a headline that immediately caught my eye: “No McMansions for Millennials.” Some discussions at the recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) conference focused on the needs of this younger group of homebuyers. Here is a quick summary of what Gen Y wants:

A key finding: They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, said Melina Duggal, a principal with Orlando-based real estate adviser RCLCO. A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit such as Bethesda and Arlington in the Washington suburbs will do just fine.

“One-third are willing to pay for the ability to walk,” Ms. Duggal said. “They don’t want to be in a cookie-cutter type of development. …The suburbs will need to evolve to be attractive to Gen Y.”

Outdoor space is important-but please, just a place to put the grill and have some friends over. Lawn-mowing not desired. Amenities such as fitness centers, game rooms and party rooms are important (“Is the room big enough to host a baby shower?” a millennial might think). “Outdoor fire pits,” suggested Tony Weremeichik of Canin Associates, an architecture firm in Orlando. “Consider designing outdoor spaces as if they were living rooms.”

Smaller rooms and fewer cavernous hallways to get everywhere, a bigger shower stall and skip the tub, he said. Oh, but don’t forget space in front of the television for the Wii, and space to eat meals while glued to the tube, because dinner parties and families gathered around the table are so last-Gen. And maybe a little nook in the laundry room for Rover’s bed?

A few thoughts about these findings:

1. Proponents of smart growth, such as New Urbanists, should be happy. It sounds like the younger generation wants to live in more urban areas with more amenities and less sprawl.

1a. Is this want they will want in the long-term or is primarily an after-college thing? What happens when they have kids? What happens when they have more money?

1b. Are there enough housing units that fit these descriptions? I could see these falling into two camps: expensive places in trendy neighborhoods or cheaper places in rougher or neighborhoods earlier in the gentrification process.

2. Putting the word McMansion in the headline to describe the homes of a previous generation is an interesting choice. What exactly is meant by “McMansion”? Overall, it seems to be used as a term for all suburban homes. But then we get some subtleties of the term: cookie-cutter design, yards, jacuzzi tubs, lots of space, spread out. But to suggest that all suburban homes are McMansions seems to betray more of the headline-writer’s thoughts on suburban homes than it does to actually reflect reality. Just how many suburban homes are McMansions anyway – we don’t really have way to count this.

3. People at the conference discussed features of a housing unit that would allow it to be more social: bigger interior entertainment spaces, using outdoor spaces as entertainment spaces, etc. Does this suggest that this generation is blurring the line between the community and the home more so than previous generations? The characterization for decades of many suburban homes is that people drive out of the garage in the morning, drive back in at night, and barely interact with anyone else. Will these sorts of denser spaces lead to more community among Generation Y or will they simply use their entertainment spaces to interact with already-established friends?