Camping in the McMansion of tents

This article sent by a friend is a few years old but still interesting: why settle for a small tent?

MCMANSIONS MAY BE going out of style, but when you’re camping, there’s something to be said for having an abode with outsize square footage. Yes, you can enjoy the great outdoors in a just-big-enough dwelling, but why compromise? Sleeping in the woods is much more comfortable when you have room to spare.

Just like McMansions are often criticized, I imagine some campers would criticize these tents for too much space. Plus, a large tent might be the market of the occasional camper rather than a hardcore camping enthusiast. But, as the article notes, not everyone wants to be packed like a sardine in a tent. And when the square footage of the “McMansion” is just over 100 square feet, half of what you might see in a typical tiny house (and without as much head space), a temporary structure of this size may not be too bad…

Making a McMansion worse with an underground garage?

One new teardown McMansion in Los Angeles is singled out for criticism for a unique feature:

The problem with one particular McMansion currently being built in Sherman Oaks is not that it towers head and shoulders above the houses to its north, the ones to its south, and all the houses across from it on the west side of the street except for one equally obese McMansion.

The problem is that its garage also reaches far lower into the ground because it is subterranean, accessed by a deeply sloping driveway. (Photo above) This is a singularly unique feature when compared to a concentric circle of the 500 nearest single family homes.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who authored the city’s porous and ineffective moratorium on McMansions, refused to personally answer direct questions about the property, but denied through a staffer any responsibility for its permit because at the time it was issued, this address was not yet covered by the moratorium. It originally only insulated some communities, including several in the San Fernando Valley…but not this one.

McMansions are often known for their large garages, whether they have oversized doors to accommodate extra-large vehicles or the big garages dominate the exterior (helping to earn some home the nickname “snout houses”). I thought the underground garage would help make a large house more palatable, particularly if some of the aboveground bulk or facade was smaller because space had been moved. Such a move echoes those of wealthy homeowners in London.

Perhaps the issue is that going underground might affect nearby properties? Presumably, it takes some significant extra work to create such a garage under a house and I was under the impression that few homes in southern California. But, I’m guessing that someone who could afford this property at a high price and the new home could also ensure that the subterranean garage is stable.

“Why we love to hate McMansions, but still buy them”

A rare article (in which I am quoted – you can find those parts yourself) that argues the McMansion is not going away. Here is the closing argument:

His clients aren’t interested in small houses or apartments, he says. “When they were immigrants, arriving, they saw these mansions, these houses, and that was the dream.”…

At Trotters Glen in Olney, Toll Brothers has sold 17 of the 58 planned homes. Stokes and her colleague, Sharon Nugent, say the development attracts affluent buyers in their 40s and 50s, with many drawn by Our Lady of Good Counsel, a nearby private school. Some add multi-generational suites or first-floor master bedrooms to accommodate elderly relatives or themselves in the future. “They’re building the dream home that they can stay in forever,” Nugent says.

Asked if they’d call the homes McMansions, Nugent and Stokes don’t bristle at the term and say their buyers probably wouldn’t either. “I don’t think they’d mind having it called a McMansion,” says Stokes.

“When you read [it in] an article, you think it’s derogatory,” Nugent says. “But in my mind, I chuckle and laugh, because we’re selling them. And they’re selling well.”

The one part that may be missing in this argument is finding more of the people outside of the coasts (California is represented by the fictional Bluth family, the Toll Brothers example comes from suburban Maryland) who like and purchase such homes. At the same time, each of these examples may even drive home the point further: even in the midst of suburban Maryland, there are people building and buying McMansions.

If the McMansion is indeed here to stay, perhaps a different question to ask is how big the American home might eventually be. Some of the rise in the median and average new home size could be blunted by a resurgent housing market where more small and medium sized homes are constructed (as opposed to the big ones that offer more profit). Or, what would change the minds of Americans so they wouldn’t desire a larger home (whether for a status symbol or to store all their stuff or to get the most bang for their buck or to have an investment for later)? Altering the emphasis on the big and comfortable single-family home is likely a long task.

Bonus: to go along with this article, see my recent series on defining the McMansion.
Trait #1: size
Trait #2: relative sizeTrait #3: architecture and design
Trait #4: a symbol

“McMansions are the visual front line of right-wing American culture”

This is a view from afar but I wondered how long it would take to connect McMansions and resurgent conservatives in America.

This is the sort of problem one can run into when using the McMansion as a symbol: it is painting with very broad strokes. Some might see McMansions as a sign of the right-wing, presumably people who don’t have great taste and like to overconsume in the suburbs. But, is this true of most McMansion owners? Are there no liberals who own such homes? All those teardown buyers (plus the people who sold them the property) are right-wingers? There might be a grain of truth to it but I doubt the ending is constructive to building any relationship or convincing those same people not to purchase a McMansion.

Asking again: who buys McMansions?

Given the negative connotations of the term McMansion, who exactly purchases such homes? The A.V. Club takes a quick shot:

It doesn’t seem likely that McMansion Hell will make these kinds of houses disappear from the landscape. Not as long as there are orthodontists and hedge-fund managers with money to burn.

This is a standard claim: the people who move into McMansions are the nouveau riche and they want the home to impress others. They are not concerned with architectural purity; they just want neighbors and people to drive by and be wowed by the grandiosity and features. But, is this actually true? We don’t know some fairly basic information, such as who lives in McMansions or what they actually think about domestic architecture.

For me, the basic question is this: if McMansions are so unquestionably bad, whether due to architecture or excessive consumption or contributing to suburban sprawl, why do people continue to move into them or live in them? There is something in the McMansion that appeals to a good number of Americans with the means to afford them (and before the housing bubble burst, more of those who maybe couldn’t afford them). And if you oppose McMansions, I’m guessing the architecture criticism simply doesn’t register with many Americans. The postwar era is littered with bad housing (I know ranch homes get some love today but they aren’t special) and aesthetics may not matter much compared to other factors (like the quest for more space or being in certain desirable locations) when purchasing a home.

Los Angeles continues to tweak McMansion regulations

The work continues in Los Angeles about how to best address McMansions:

The City Council this week voted 13-0 to rewrite two ordinances governing the size of new houses in single-family neighborhoods and on hillsides, the Los Angeles Times reported:

“One mansionization measure backed by the council would reduce the square footage allowed for houses in R-1 zones — areas where only single-family homes are permitted — to 45% of the overall lot size, down from 50%. The council also moved to eliminate provisions that have allowed homebuilders to obtain additional square footage for their projects.

For example, developers have had the right to go 20% bigger when they showed they followed environmentally friendly design standards. That would disappear under the council’s plan.”

This isn’t the first time the city has taken on the issue. The first mansionization ordinances passed in 2008. But homeowners and others argued that the law didn’t go far enough to protect neighborhoods, and McMansions are still invading historic neighborhoods.

This highlights how regulating McMansions is not a one-time deal. In this case, the city already had regulations on the books. But, with enough pressure from residents, two changes were made to limit the size of new homes (through two different means). Presumably, these regulations could change even further as residents and builders see how things go over the next few years. It is harder to imagine the McMansions guidelines would allow for larger homes but builders, developers, and residents interested in such homes also could exert influence.

This may also serve as a reminder about the difficulty of crafting city-wide ordinances when different neighborhoods (and residents) might have different concerns about McMansions. In other words, what works in one neighborhood may not work in another. I could understand why local governments wouldn’t want to create a patchwork of regulations but it would be interesting to know how many residents and neighborhoods are driving these regulations.

Your McMansion is so big, you need a wifi mesh

Coming soon to a McMansion near you: a wifi mesh from Google.

Google Wifi is available for pre-order in the US at retailers like the Google Store. A single Wifi point retails for $129, and covers homes up to 1,500 square feet. The three-pack, at $299, covers homes up to 4,500 square feet. Google Wifi ships on December 6th, just in time for fast Wi-Fi for all of your holiday guests.

All the Wifi points are connected to each other. Data can take several paths toward its destination — and Google uses their Network Assist technology to ensure that Google Wifi points always choose the fastest route from your device to the internet. This means that you get faster Wi-Fi speeds for things like streaming and gaming.

Because it would defeat the purpose of having an impressive McMansion if you and your guests couldn’t enjoy a wonderful wifi experience…

I’m waiting to see more McMansions and regular homes build around the all-important wifi as the central feature. Forget all of this about open concept living, great rooms, separate spaces for men, women, and the kids; homes should start with great wifi and build around that. With the Internet of Things supposedly just around the corner, this may happen soon.

UPDATE 11/20/16 at 1:16 PM: This is no joke. I keep hearing Comcast ads pushing their faster Internet. The reason you need it? So all of your holiday guests can do all they need to do on the wifi at the same time. Aren’t all those holiday guests supposed to be interacting or spending time together as a family?