But like any good home design show, the real main character is not the couple doing the renovations, but the end results. For the two years that I’ve watched this program, I’ve tried to dial down what one might call this aesthetic, which is both specific and generic—like every other high-end Airbnb listing on the market, or an antiseptic boutique hotel that prides itself on design. But it wasn’t until halfway through this season when one of the McGee’s clients hit the nail on the head. “It’s upscale-looking,” a woman says of her newly-renovated basement, which is divided into three clear “zones” meant to delineate what kinds of leisure activities should occur there and why. It’s not quite upscale, but suggestive of it instead, a different kind of new money aesthetic. But if given the choice between Studio McGee’s all-white fantasia and a giant McMansion fit for a Real Housewife of New Jersey, I’d take gold restroom fixtures and Travertine tile any day. At the very least, it’s fun.
What is the look inferior to glitzy McMansions?
What this translates to is large architectural gestures that convey wealth—vaulted ceilings in the kitchen and the living room, a “wine room” with built-in bookshelves that meet the ceiling, and other flourishes that speak to the vast amounts of money this couple must have to maintain their bonus home. It’s not that any of these design choices are anywhere close to hideous, per se—Studio McGee’s signature look is quieter than the Property Brothers, but more sophisticated that Chip and Joanna Gaines’s farmhouse chic. Staged as they are, though, the spaces designed by Studio McGee lack any discernible personality. Children get giant bedrooms with queen-size beds; every kitchen has an enormous island, whether or not the space actually needs it. (While most kitchens could use an island, not every space needs one. Understanding this difference is crucial.)
Is the primary offense that the bland yet wealthy interiors required a lot of money to implement but have no personality? McMansions are often criticized for their blandness; they are big boxes with large rooms that people can fill in many different ways.
It could be that the “fun” of the loud McMansion is that it shows up better on TV and with its particular cast of characters. The show under review is meant to show off a particular aesthetic of its designers while the Real Housewives of New Jersey has a different purpose. The loud McMansion on TV might be fun in the way that McMansion Hell is fun: you make fun of the McMansion and its dwellers. Which home viewers might want to live in might be a different story.