The Sopranos prequel highlights the path from Newark neighborhood to suburban McMansion

The Sopranos’ McMansion is a key part of the original show. The new prequel movie might help explain how the family ended up in a New Jersey McMansion:

Photo by Dhyamis Kleber on

By the 1990s, the mob was operating out of detached villas with swimming pools in upstate New Jersey, but if you want to learn precisely why the adult Tony Soprano lives in a gilded McMansion rather than a clapboard house with a stoop in Newark like his mother’s, The Many Saints Of Newark has the answer.

As Harold’s fortunes rise, black families move onto the same streets as Italians, causing much angst to the latter, including Tony’s parents, Johnny Boy and Livia Soprano. It makes Tony’s racism that much more obvious when, 30 years later, his daughter, Meadow, brings home her mixed-race college boyfriend. “I think there was talk, back in the day, about ‘Were black people getting short shrift on The Sopranos?’” says Odom Jr. “Was our story being told? I think David had a desire this time to look at an arc that really didn’t get explored the first time, at how the two communities intertwined and where they butted up against each other.”

This sounds like a white flight story line: as the population of Newark changed, as more Black residents moved into what were exclusively white neighborhoods, white residents moved out. This happened in numerous cities across the United States (as my own research on religious groups in the Chicago area adds to). In The Sopranos, Tony and cronies make money off housing programs in the city.

At the same time, this narrative could say more about a general move to the suburbs and less about the specific move to the suburban McMansion at the heart of the show. Tony Soprano presumably used his wealth to purchase a big home in a quiet subdivision to hide his work and give his family an opportunity at a more normal suburban life. But, did he go straight from Newark to the suburban McMansion? Did his journey include a more modest suburban starter home or a suburban apartment (as it did for other characters on The Sopranos)? Did a young adult Tony Soprano make his moves from a suburban split-level or anonymous apartment off a major suburban road?

The housing path of Tony Soprano is not an inconsequential part of the story that is being developed here; it highlights his family history, his success, and his goals in life. If I see The Many Saints of Newark, I will be keeping an eye on the residences depicted within the film.

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:


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.

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.

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.)

Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace includes owning a McMansion

Author James Patterson discusses why is he is writing about Aaron Hernandez:

You’ve said that Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace is the story of our times, even bigger than O.J. What is it about this case that you think fascinates people?

“Well, part of it is just that fall from grace. It’s just amazing, and when we did the 48 Hours piece, which was on Saturday, I became even more aware of it: Striking looking guy, Hollywood smile and dimples, $40 million contract, McMansion, opportunity or promise to be one of the best professional football players ever. Beautiful fiancee, they’d been together since high school. Baby girl. And for it all to go up in a puff of smoke is amazing.

I’m intrigued to see the mention of a McMansion in here. Hernandez had multiple other markers of success including winning on the football field, having a large salary, and looks. But, it was still important to have a certain kind of suburban house. This home outside of Boston certainly had some McMansion features:

The 5,647-square-foot residence includes five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a wet bar, a hot tub, a sauna, a finished basement, a theater room and an in-ground pool.

The location was also apparently popular with Patriots players:

It’s a great neighborhood, which certainly has some of North Attleboro’s most expensive homes,” says Boston-area real estate agent and writer David Bates.

“A review of North Attleboro public records reveals that Patriots have been the buyers of six of the 12 million-dollar, single-family sales in that market,” Bates adds.

In contrast, imagine the well-paid sports star who buys an urban home or condo to be near nightlife and work. What pushes a good number of players to McMansions in the suburbs? Here are a few possible reasons:

  1. Suburban homes offer more privacy away from fans and media.
  2. Americans in general like suburban homes so perhaps sports stars are just like other Americans.
  3. It may matter if the athlete has a family and kids as suburbs are widely viewed as offering a better setting for raising kids.

This also reminds me of an earlier post comparing the large homes of Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Even for the football elite, having an expensive suburban home is important.

Miniaturize yourself to afford a McMansion

Here is a (fanciful) way to truly downsize and still acquire a McMansion:

Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, an overstretched man in an overstretched world, working as an occupational therapist down at Omaha Steaks and still living in the house where he was born. Paul hungers for a fresh start and finds it courtesy of the newfangled technique of “cellular miniaturisation”, which promptly shrinks the recipient to a height of five inches. This technique has apparently been pioneered by scientists out in Norway, although one might just as easily claim that Payne has been doing it for years. Films like Election, Sideways and Nebraska, for instance, spotlighted a burgeoning crisis in American masculinity, focusing on men who fear that they’re seen as small by the world. With the excellent Downsizing, Payne has simply gone that extra mile.

The benefits for Paul are clear from the outset. As a little man, he costs less and consumes less. His assets of $152,000 convert to a whopping $12m in the bonsai community of Leisureland Estates, which means that he can now afford a McMansion or a luxury bachelor pad, like one of those cash-poor Londoners who sells their Hackney flat and then buys up half of Rotherham. A flick of the switch and the process is complete. Afterwards the nurses return to theatre and lift the clients from their beds aboard small steel spatulas…

The point, of course, is that glass-domed Leisureland is merely America in microcosm, with all the same corruption and wealth-disparity, loneliness and strife. Neither does it exist in splendid isolation. If the outside world starts to burn, then Leisureland is all-but guaranteed to go down in flames too.

It sounds like the McMansion critics win in the end in this fantasy land.

Seriously though, wouldn’t many Americans want to say they had both downsized as well as acquired a sizable and well-appointed house? Here is how this could happen:

  1. Given the size of many new houses in recent years, people could downsize – lose 1,000+ square feet – and still have really large houses.
  2. Downsizing does not necessarily mean giving up amenities. What if someone gives up a large home for a smaller home but it has all the latest features or is located in the trendy neighborhood? Downsizing can be associated with trying to live a simpler life but this could be hard for many.

We’ll have to wait and see what those with the potential to downsize – largely Baby Boomers – actually do.

Comparing the McMansions of Matt Ryan and Tom Brady

Relive some of the excitement of Super Bowl by comparing the McMansion of Matt Ryan in Duluth, Georgia versus Tom Brady’s homes:

I’d say Matty Ice picked himself the most conventional McMansion possible…

But what his house, or houses? I bet he has no taste…This house in Brookline, Massachussets? You’re kidding me. It’s kind of tasteful. Okay, it’s great, it’s perfect…What about the house in LA? I bet that’s hideous…You know what though, Tommy Boy? You are not McMansion material…

The winner here is Matt Ryan for keeping it real.

All those hours of coverage of the big game and you didn’t see important information like this. Both clearly have large homes but there are notable differences. This analysis suggests this comes down to personal taste but I think there are some other factors at work:

  1. Brady operates in different locations where expectations about large homes may be different. Compared to the Atlanta area, are there were fewer McMansions in Brookline (probably) or in the Los Angeles area (maybe not but there are also more legitimate mansions)?
  2. Brady operates in a different social circle than Ryan. With his model wife, Brady has to fit in with a range of famous people while Ryan is with the football crowd. Both have plenty of money but there is a difference in social class and taste a la Bourdieu.
  3. Both grew up in suburban areas: Ryan in Exton, Pennsylvania (outside Philadelphia) and Brady in San Mateo, California (Bay Area). This could influence both wanting to live in suburban areas now.
  4. Ryan is younger than Brady and perhaps he hasn’t had the time or experience to move to a more “mature” home.

Overall, I suspect many pro athletes have homes critics would call McMansions.

Contrasting living in a McMansion and a micro-unit

Real-life tales of living in a McMansion and a micro-unit! First, the residents of the 7,500 square foot McMansion and then the 344 square foot micro-unit dweller:

The McColls lived in Arlington for years before deciding last fall that it had become too dense. “The straw that broke the camel’s back,” Kim says, “was when I saw my kids playing in the back yard and I had to shush them because it was too loud for the neighbors.” Their five-bedroom in Loudoun County’s Willowsford development has two offices—key because they often work from home—and abundant entertaining space. Also: More than 20 miles of nearby trails means the kids have room to shriek all they want.

Williams sold most of her furniture and sacrificed proximity to family when she left her 1,100-square-foot condo in Olney for a micro-unit in a building on DC’s 14th Street, Northwest. And she has no regrets. Because she isn’t much of a cook, the sliver of a kitchen is no big deal, and she didn’t have to give up her one must-have, a bathtub. (It’s off the hallway.) Before, her closer-in friends didn’t like driving out to Olney; now she can socialize without leaving her floor. “When Scandal comes on, the neighbors down the hall cook and have people over. They have a junior one-bedroom—they have room for a couch.”

Quite the difference in housing units. This is fairly obvious from the floor plans. But, I suspect this goes deeper and Bourdieu’s theories about social class may provide some explanatory leverage. Would these two sets of residents ever cross paths? Or do their housing choices suggest such different tastes and lifestyle choices that they might never interact and if they did know each other, not spend time in the home of the other? One life revolves around work and friends close by while the other involves children and space. I would guess the decorating is different as are the leisure activities pursued by each group.

In other words, these housing choices may just be the tip of the iceberg of deeply-rooted social clusters. Would the micro-apartment dweller ever live in a McMansion, let alone even imagine it?

Continued mansionization debates in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times reports that controversy over mansionization in Los Angeles continues as the city struggles to develop guidelines that will please residents:

Los Angeles leaders say they want to tighten restrictions on mansionization, but citywide fixes are expected to take at least 18 months to allow for repeated hearings and environmental review, according to city officials…

Local politicians and planning officials say that L.A.’s rules against mansionization — meant to prevent bloated houses from being built on modest lots — have fallen short. The restrictions, put in place six years ago, curb the size of new and renovated homes based on lot size. But the rules also include “bonuses” of 20% or 30% more space than otherwise allowed…

In the meantime, city planners have suggested temporary rules to curb demolitions and give residents “breathing room” in neighborhoods that have mobilized against mansionization, including Sunset Square, Studio City and North Beverly Grove.

The Los Angeles chapter of the Building Industry Assn. is worried about those moves, saying that the temporary restrictions could “result in a flurry of lawsuits.” Homeowners have not been given enough warning about the restrictions, which “will immediately remove property owner rights,” the group’s chief executive, Tim Piasky, said.

Planning officials say the temporary restrictions would immediately address the problem in mansionization hot spots: desirable areas with older, smaller homes targeted for teardowns…

“It creates a situation of haves and have-nots,” said Traci Considine, whose Faircrest Heights neighborhood has been recommended to get temporary curbs on home demolitions. “If you do a few Band-Aids for a few select neighborhoods, the target is just bigger on the backs of the neighborhoods that aren’t protected.

Los Angeles is a big city so having city-wide regulations could be quite difficult. Austin passed a noted anti-McMansion ordinance but the city has 885,000 people in 272 square miles while LA has 3.88 million residents in 503 square miles. In addition to size differences, real estate in California is huge: the housing market is still quite pricey so limiting the ability of property owners to cash out is a bigger restriction than in the cheaper Austin market.

I would guess that the long-term solution is different guidelines for different neighborhoods in accordance with what residents desire. Yes, this might push the mansionizers to different neighborhoods. But, this is how communities often tackle this problem.

Do you want a “McMansion of Micro-Houses”?

A new 900-square foot home in New Haven, Connecticut drew some conflicting reviews:

A micro-home debuted in town, a possible solution to New Haven’s pressing absence of affordable housing.

The three-floor, 900-square-foot ski chalet-looking home on a fine elegantly landscaped setback on Scranton Street in West River received generally rave reviews at the debut Thursday afternoon. It also drew a critique: That it’s still too large, too expensive, not a cool enough interior or replicable enough, yet a fine experiment and first step.

That critique came from the guy whose idea the house was. He called it the “McMansion of micro-houses.”…

The house was designed and built by first-year Yale School of Architecture students such as Katie Stege (pictured with her teacher Avi Forman) as part of their required coursework. The work is done under the Jim Vlock First-Year Building Project.

The home – which features some interesting design – is going for $155,000.

The general idea of the new house makes sense: the goal is to build relatively cheap new housing in New Haven yet this home is a bit too big and expensive to fit that bill. But, pairing the negative term McMansion with ideas that are generally lauded – affordable housing and micro-homes – is an odd approach, particularly coming from the funder of the project. It is like saying, “Thank you to the professors and students for the efforts but this home is like the poorly-constructed, overly-large mass produced suburban tract homes built across America.” If you are trying to build good affordable housing that the public will accept, it would behoove you to not apply the McMansion label to it.

Adding an observatory to an “otherwise ho-hum OC McMansion”

Already have a saltwater pool, a four-car garage, and 6,000+ square feet? Follow the lead of one Orange County McMansion and add an observatory:

Behind the doors of this “custom,” yet seemingly cookie-cutter mansion in pricey, master-planned Laguna Niguel, lies a definitively unique feature: a “commercial-grade telescope” in a private observatory. The owners have spent “Over $450,000 in upgrades since 2010-11 to perfect an already gorgeous home,” according to the listing (via the LA Times), but a large portion of that probably went toward putting that star-gazing equipment in place. The 6,073-square-foot, four-bedroom house also comes with a saltwater pool with waterfall, a fire pit, four-car garage, wetbar, and built-in outdoor barbecue. The property last sold in 2010 for $2.75 million, according to Redfin; it’s now asking $3.188 million. There’s a potential sale in the works, but it’s still accepting backup offers.

And they say McMansions lack customization. I would guess that this family did not recoup their entire investment in this observatory though given the large population of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, there has to be one household that really wants an observatory.

Such a feature could be viewed by some as the sort of customization lauded by the Not-So-Big-House movement and other architects and psychologists who tout the fit of the home with the occupants. Yet, guessing again, I imagine more people would see this observatory as another garish symbol of the McMansion.