The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes a shot at defining a McMansion

Spurred by complaints regarding McMansions in a white and wealthy Milwaukee suburb, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel explains the concept:

Neighbors say the newer homes, which boast about 5,000 square feet, dwarf the other homes on the street, which have an average size of 2,000 square feet.

Merriam-Webster definies McMansion as “a very large house built in usually a suburban neighborhood or development; especially one regarded critically as oversized and ostentatious.”

The issue that the residents in the aforementioned Whitefish Bay neighborhood have is that overly large homes are being built on properties that once had a more modest home.

That dictionary definition has a lot packed into it and could conceivably cover a lot of homes. However, it seems the residents of Whitefish Bay are most concerned about the relatively size of the new homes which are more than double the size of surrounding homes.

The article then asks whether three pictured homes from the Milwaukee area would qualify as McMansions. Based on the pictures provided, I would say no to all three though the first could be. Unfortunately, the pictures are too tight on the home – they do not give much indication of the relative size of the home, the full facade and roofline, how the home and lot fit together, and the neighborhood in which the home is situated.

A Milwaukee McMansion featuring Prairie Style, Las Vegas, and Palm Beach influences

News of foreclosure proceedings on NBA player O.J. Mayo’s house in the Milwuakee suburbs includes a description of his large home:

Built in 1995, the “contemporary” dwelling includes some ceilings as high as 20 feet. That’s tall enough to stack three O. J. Mayos on top of each other! The first floor has 4,298 square feet while the comparatively diminutive second floor has just 1,652 square feet. The 3,929 square foot basement has 2,250 finished square feet of floor space — plenty of room for a home theater (to watch those game highlights), a pool table, a bar, and all sorts of other jock stuff. There are two fireplace openings in the roof, and plenty of mantel space to display trophies and the other ephemera of a sporting life.

Four bathrooms offer ample space to shower or bathe after a game, with glass-fronted shower stalls and all sorts of custom fixtures. There are also two half-baths in the home, which has 5 bedrooms. The home sits on a 5 acre lot — the River Hills minimum — and has an attached 1,248 square foot garage. With 13 rooms, this is some house.

Architectural historians will place this structure in the era of the early McMansion. Although the real estate listing mentioned “Prairie School” influences in the architecture, the whole conveys the sense of a Las Vegas mansion colliding with a Palm Beach villa and settling to earth in the green landscape of the North Shore of Milwaukee.

See much better pictures of the home here. On one hand, this seems like a fairly typical big house: lots of space, lots of features, a big lot. On the other hand, the description of the home above is interesting. It is a home outside Milwaukee so the Prairie Style influences a la Frank Lloyd Wright make sense but the other comparisons are out of place. Las Vegas and Palm Beach just north of Milwaukee? This hints at one of the major complaints about McMansions: they tend to borrow and mix a variety of architectural styles that have very little connection to native architecture. A number of critics and architects argue that new buildings should blend in with existing styles. Architectural styles should be somewhat consistent. This, of course, does limit change but tends to preserve the existing character of places.

It’s too bad this article doesn’t go on to explore native Milwaukee architecture. Just how much does Mayo’s home differ from the typical Milwaukee suburban home?

A good definition of a McMansion: Scott Skiles’ suburban Milwaukee home

Since I occasionally criticize the improper use of the term McMansion (see this recent post arguing that the 90,000 square foot home at the center of the film Versailles is way beyond McMansion territory), I might as well also point out when the term is used well. Take, for example, this description of Milwaukee Buck’s coach Scott Skiles’ home:

Scott Skiles was always a smallish NBA player but he has a very large house. His Mequon domicile boasts 4,728 square feet (nearly four times bigger than the average single family home in the city of Milwaukee) and five bathrooms. Plenty of places to shower off that sweat after a grueling practice…

Meanwhile he is still living in Mequon-styled splendor in a home that could hardly be less urban. To measure this, we do a walkability score (from walkscore.com) that calculates distance to the closest school, coffee house, grocery store, etc. as the crow flies and from the site’s “street smart” score, which does this calculation based on the walking distance on local streets. We also look at the distance to Milwaukee’s City Hall; suffice to say, for Skiles it’s no slam dunk.

The Rundown

  • Style: Single-family – Tudor/Provincial architecture
  • Location: Stonefields neighborhood – Mequon, WI
  • Walk Score: 12 out of 100
  • Street Smart Walk Score: 3 out of 100
  • Transit Score: Not Available
  • Size: 4,732 sq ft
  • Year Built: 1997
  • Assessed Value: $1,236,700 (2011)
  • List Price: $1,475,000
  • Currently listed: Yes, with Realty Executives – Integrity [Listing]
  • 4 bedrooms
  • 3-car garage
  • 5 total full baths
  • 13 total rooms

According to the typical usage of the term McMansion, here is how Skiles’ home meets the criteria:

1. It is a large house of over 4,700 square feet. Interestingly, it has more bathrooms than bedrooms. I would guess there is some really large family/great room space in this house. I’m not sure what Scott Skiles’ height, small by NBA standards but fairly tall for the population at large, has to do with it…

2. The walkability score is quite low, suggesting that it is in a relatively isolated suburban neighborhood. In other words, it is not really possible to walk in or out of the house to locations outside the neighborhood. The implication could be that this is another fairly anonymous suburb where neighbors don’t know each other and people hunker down in front of their TVs.

3. There are some pictures of the home in this story. The house does have a number of gables and the driveway is quite large and dominates this particular exterior photo.

4. The house is pretty expensive and built during some of the McMansion boom years (1997).

According to the four criteria I identified that are typically used for defining McMansions, this particular usage meets at least two out of the four: it is a big (and expensive) house associated with suburban sprawl. It may even qualify as a poorly designed home though it is difficult to know for sure with these six pictures. It does not appear to qualify as a relatively larger home

I suspect that many athletes and head coaches live in homes that would qualify as McMansions…