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The McMansion Scale, Explained (mcmansionhell.com)
291 points by OrwellianChild on Oct 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 269 comments

This article is best juxtaposed with articles about image synthesis:

* Wave Function Collapse image generator https://github.com/mxgmn/WaveFunctionCollapse

* Image Synthesis from Yahoo's open_nsfw: https://open_nsfw.gitlab.io

* Generative Adversarial Text to Image Synthesis: https://arxiv.org/abs/1605.05396

Put another way, when I look at the McMansions at 10 on the scale, it looks to me like the kind of output you get when you just feed a bunch of pictures of houses into a neural network without feeding in any of the cultural or aesthetic context. Things like the large garages and roofs look like the efforts of constraint solvers working with inputs that are out of bounds.

In a sense, that is exactly what happened.

this is a really good comment. i was going to refer to the 10s as literal 'dream houses', in that they remind me of the places i'd wander through in my dreams, especially when i was younger: nonsensical, sometimes phantasmagorical amalgams of the homes of friends, hotels, historical buildings, and any number of other places i was dragged as a kid.

I agree, I think that is literally the case.

The part of the human brain that deals with 'unified logic' or whatever you want to call it, is visibly absent because it is not there. It was never employed to make those decisions, I think we should be asking broader questions about why not because I believe it to be a societal issue and not a recreational one.

This aside it is worth noting that in days of old they had 'style handbooks' (because they built idiot things in the old days too) to guide them in keeping overall symmetry. I don't think that solves for everything but it would have prevented the worst atrocities.

Just like an anti-patterns or patterns book really.

So these houses are the architectural equivalent of The Homer.


Coming from an art background, I tend to think of those as Cubist in nature, like a Picasso painting. You see just one roof, but from many different perspectives, making it look like many roofs.

You've reminded me that "Old Stormwind" in World of Warcraft had the opposite of that: in order to give a sense of scale from ground level, the 3D model for a building would have different roofs visible from street level pretending to be one roof. It had to be redone when players could fly.

I like the Picasso reference. The line between art and "a bunch of crap put together" is sometime difficult to pin down. And it takes a Picasso to navigate that boundary without stepping over.

Cascading gables are totally Cubist in nature. It's a gable partly obscured by a smaller version of itself! And a gable is itself sort of a simplified outline of a house plastered onto an actual house.

Oh boy I love this comment, great metaphor and I think it speaks to how natural our machine systems are.

There are categories of people with more money than sense who are no better than a neural network. They want to tick the boxes of prestige, but are ignorant of or don't care about the end product.

I was recently struck by this house, offered by Sears in 1921:


What's crazy is the price: $47,085.20 in todays dollars. This is with all finishing materials (including stained glass) & delivered (no cement or bricks).

It's an amazing house, and any old schlub could order it from good ol' Sears.

Something very bad happened in architecture around world war 2.

Well that price didn't include labor which was a very substantial part of the cost of a house even then. Also those houses didn't have any mechanicals, which also drives up the cost of modern housing. And of course the price doesn't include transportation away from the rail lines (which is why so many kit houses are built near the tracks), nor, for that matter, does it include the cost of the land or improvements.

I think the biggest problem with postwar housing is the attached garage. That throws absolutely everything off aesthetically.

PS: This appears to be a well-preserved example of the above kit house: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/1a/fc/e1/1afce1e9d2ed... Very handsome building!

I've been doing some pretty ambitious self-build shed projects recently so have a really good handle on material costs. The costs of building houses, from a materials perspective, is around $40000 in Sweden. The labour would be 3x that.

I dream of building a proper house, but I already live in a good one.

This is interesting. I have a lot of family in Bergen and they're fairly well off, but that's the arm of the family with whom we don't really talk finance. Is that 40k USD for a complete build in materials of a home, or just for the extension you planned? (200k USD for a full home in materials and labour is quite reasonable).

What sort of foundations are common in your region? (I.e., in New England, you have to dig at least X inches below the frost-line, hence why basements are common here-- however in Florida, you'll hit the water table if you try to go even half that far, which is why basements are nearly non-existent there). On the coasts (i.e., your intention is literally to build a home on sandy beach), most foundations are cylinder concrete piers and rebar that go down ~5-10 meters per cylinder (contributing largely to the expense, compared to an average home foundation. (After which, your framing is pretty much going to be standard 2x4 'stick-and-post' truss/stud/post build-outs, while some modern commercial structures opt for steel structure and aluminium framing in lieu of wood.) Do you guys still use the traditional Skiftesverk/Resvirke/Stavverk construction? Has the 'green house' (as in eco-friendly) trend that Germany's been pushing made it into other regions of Europe?

Frost line varies greatly depending on where in Sweden you are, as does soil depth, and there are several ways to go about things.

In the 70s there was a building boom of brick houses with live-in basements. You can't go around the outskirts of any town or large village without seeing estates of them.

However, modern house building has swung back towards wooden housing and I much prefer wood, and was costing a wooden house.

The foundations for wooden houses don't have to be very substantial relative to brick. A very modern way to do things is to lay a large 'raft' of thick polystyrene sheets and then pour a thin but reinforced concrete skin with underfloor heating buried in the top of it. You have thicker bits of concrete providing 'beams' around the edges and under any load-bearing walls etc.

Another approach is to have a 'creep space' under the house so the first floor is a bit higher than the ground.

Anyway, the walls are studwork - normal pine - with fir used for the outside panel, which runs vertically rather than horizontally, with thin strips covering the vertical edges. Very simple, very pretty, lots to paint. Very thick insulation etc.

I live in an old house that is 12" high 4" thick timring with vertical panel on front.

The materials - if you self build - are not very much at all! House building is not material cost, its time or paying for someone else's time cost.

There's a lot of buzz about green houses. Its particularly trendy to have tovtak again. The most striking difference between Swedish and English houses that the Swedish house is much warmer but much cheaper to build and run. Go figure!

Also doesn't include price of cement, brick, or plaster.

As someone with a detached 1-car garage who has to use street parking otherwise, I dream of an attached garage but good lord are they an eyesore 90% of the time! Especially the 3-car variety, I could count on one hand the number of good looking homes I've seen with an attached 3-car garage.

Do you have an example of a good looking home with an attached 3 car garage? Is the garage is hidden in the back or something? I've never seen a three car attached garage that looks good. The majority of two car attached garages are hideous. Though I think the carport looks fine.

One could build a courtyard, or a passage or archway to a garage behind. Or go underground. I think these are expensive options compared to sprawling out like the houses in the article.

A large, attached garage is such a pleasant amenity, I totally understand people wanting one - but there's no attractive way of just attaching one to the side of a house. It's essentially a warehouse out of proportion to the other rooms.

Perhaps ideally, build on a hill, such that views from most sides are of an attractive hilltop house, while from the garage view it is apparent that much of the house is built on top of the garage.

I live in one of these about 2 miles out of downtown Minneapolis. It was built in 1903. A "four square" house. It's about 1900 square feet finished space.

The house has a foundation that's 3 foot of mixed limestone chunks. The walls are made of 2x4s but the lumber is old growth trees --driving a nail into it is significantly harder than something you'd get at Home Depot.

The interior woodwork is the real gem. It makes the house special. 12 inch baseboards with a chair rail. Ornate headers on the doors and room transitions. I had to replace a few sections when moving some walls around and it cost a small fortune to get replacement pieces. I can't imagine doing it to a new build. I also can't imagine being excited about moving into a new place with trim that is made out of some composite material.

It's a simple, efficient design that I've appreciated more lately with these "McMansion" posts.

The best bit is that wear on a house like that adds to it, the corners round, the wood changes colour etc. It doesn't feel any different. Wear on a new house is detrimental and looks tatty quickly.

I lived in a smaller house than that (about 900sf) in SW Minneapolis. Built in the late 40's/early 50's, it was really a beautiful little house with trim similar to what you describe.

But then I moved to the suburbs to a boring 1980's ranch house a bit more than 2x the size and watched my heating & cooling bills drop to less than half what they were before. Charming as the Mpls house was, its HVAC costs were insane (since it was my first house, I had no frame of reference). There's a lot to be said for thick insulation and modern windows.

I live in an even larger house now, with a largely glass east-facing wall and my heating bills are about the same as the second house. Again, modern insulation & 12" thick walls makes a huge difference.

I gutted mine out and put in spray foam before I moved in. Heat bill never tops 150. I realize that most people won't do this though.

You can get insulation put in without doing so. I think it's called retro foam. Also I'm guessing your attic insulation wasn't top notch?

Within a month of buying the house I added insulation in the attic. Shudder to think how much higher the bills would have been if I didn't.

My wife is from MN and lived in Minneapolis, and we occassionally think about moving back there. A house like you describe sounds great - are there more in your area? Do they tend to sell for a premium over other houses due to the style?

I love pre-WWII Minneapolis architecture. I live a couple blocks north of Minnehaha Park, and it's such a beautiful neighborhood - simple bungalows from the early 20th century, but lovely.

What's sad is that swaths of the worst of north Minneapolis are architecturally identical to my neighborhood, but they're worth half as much and the whole area is in deep decay.

$47k might sound cheap. However:

1. It ignores the cost of land, or more specifically, building permits. Houses are fairly cheap to build; the right to build one in a desirable area is amazingly expensive.

2. It ignores the cost of labour, which added a fair bit then and a lot more now (cf. Baumol's cost disease).

3. It ignores changes in house size, quality, fixtures, whiteware, plumbing, insulation, glazing, efficiency, safety, fire risk, etc.

You could buy what that $47k got you, today, for quite a bit less (the cost of building materials has been headed down steadily). But...why would you want to?

> You could buy what that $47k got you, today, for quite a bit less

Demonstrate this please. Without materials substitutions. Genuinely interested in the answers.

The cost of raw materials is very high as far as I know.

You can't get good hardwood, copper and so on without paying top dollar. Same goes for slate, trim.

I know that because I am actually attempting to build a tiny house in a traditional style for a little higher than 50k.

This would be a very valid comparison because it is;

1. Ignores cost of land. 2. Labour is free. 3. Doesn't ignore mod-cons.

I think the real difference is a normal person could have afforded the older house with a legal status!

Given the hand turned moldings in virgin old growth hardwoods and endangered tropical softwoods, you couldn't match the quality of the original materials today at any price. Near substitutes would ring you well into seven figures.

But you can get many better materials, also. Wallboard is better than plaster. Steel framing in essential members is better than the best wood. Vapor barrier, waterproofing, insulated windows.

Things have changed. A direct comparison is hard. Changes in land use regulation are going to cost you a lot more than material changes.

I agree. Building science technology has been great but I wish the botany biotech people would get on with making hardwoods that grow in a year with hundreds of rings (artificial wintering). Maybe this is off topic but I have seen no serious innovation from biotech. GM food is mostly banned in Europe, but even outside of food we should be seeing great strides in raw material production to a higher standard and I'm just not seeing it.

I feel that most people building today optimize for the cheapest per sq ft, but if you are a builder owner and are a geek, you can really buy some amazing materials and employ some clever methods like advanced framing. You can construct a house with an energy bill of $100 a year if you want.

I think the future is in building smaller and smarter.

> Changes in land use regulation are going to cost you a lot more than material changes.

That's a fact. However I'm going for a tiny/small house in the countryside so I'll just dodge that bullet.

> Demonstrate this please.


Has an extra bathroom, an extra 2-car garage. And modern electrical, and plumbing.

It's not pretty at all. But it's $7k cheaper ($40k), safe, and is to-code legal in most places.


Has 1.5 extra bathrooms, an extra 2-car garage, and modern electrical and plumbing. Probably a closer match to the style, at roughly that price ($46,600). Also to-code legal in most places.

- - -

Obviously we're never going to get an exact match in materials. In many cases, you wouldn't want to -- a lot of safety standards have improved since then. But "you can buy what $47k got you for quite a bit less" is a reasonably accurate claim.

If anything -- kit houses at the $47k price tag are probably much nicer today than the were back in the day. (more space, more amenities, safer, etc)

Interesting. Thanks for sharing. No word on the materials but that does seem quite reasonable. I'm not sure why I don't see more people buying these then.

I'm guessing getting a Lot in a good zip code, and then having to match housing requirements from local zoning or the HOA is what drives prices. Rival goods basically.

> I'm not sure why I don't see more people buying these then.

I think one major hangup is finding the labour.

I have almost no construction skill, and also work a full time job. I can't take on a kit house myself without becoming homeless in the process. Any contractors I talk to are so busy they are booked out months (or years) in advance.

Another hangup seems to be the design. Any contractors I have found who are willing to build, only ever want to build/sell you a house they designed. And they all seem to exclusively want to design/build suburban homes on huge empty lots that (in my opinion) look like dated McMansions.

I would love to build a small (900sqft - 1400sqft) modern kit/prefab house on a small urban lot like this: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3920/14620317361_5766da68c1_z.... or http://prefabcosm.com/media/photos/2008/01/12/ecube1398.jpg

Every home builder I've ever talked to will only (exclusively) build huge (1800sqft - 3000+sqft) homes, on large empty suburban lots, that all look like this: http://www.mayberryhomes.com/CmImageDir/inventory_1695.JPG or https://nhs-dynamic.secure.footprint.net/Images/Homes/AllenE...

I'm generally familiar with SF bay area construction costs so let me use that as an example. That "Saratoga" house is about 1,800 sq. ft; the cost to merely frame 1,800 sq. ft two-floor new construction on the SF peninsula is about $120,000-$130,000 assuming no steel. That does not include foundation, roof, flooring, plumbing, HVAC, insulation, drywall, painting, siding, cabinetry, doors, windows, etc.--which could be 5x-12x more depending on finishes.

That sum also does not include general contractor overhead and profit of perhaps 12%, architect fees, building permit fees, structural engineering fees, planning review fees, school district permit tax, road impact fees, civil engineering fees, landscape architect fees, Title 24 consultant fees, soils engineering fees, etc.

If you were magically given a vacant lot for free in Palo Alto and wanted to build that house as shown with a basement, it would probably cost you about $2M in construction costs today. Again, that's assuming you got the land for free.

Out of curiosity, any idea if framing requirements are similar nowadays? Id assume the there was more framing now days to help in earthquakes, increasing cost. However this is a guess.

Framing requirements have become far, far stricter. Here's one construction project currently being framed on the SF peninsula: https://goo.gl/photos/hdDmcqWkEuQenvku9

It's a one-story room with a 9' ceiling height. The structural engineer specified two massive Simpson Strong-Walls, side by side. There was barely any room for the window, which had to be askew as a result. A local architect tells me the requirements were far less onerous even a decade ago.

Also foundation requirements have increased as well. You may be on a flat lot with no history of problems based on a soils analysis, but end up having to drill piers anyway. Just in case. Your municipality wants them. Which will likely increase foundation costs by tens of thousands of dollars--so much for affordable SF bay area housing!

I know one fellow building a new home on the SF peninsula who spent $500,000 to pour a roughly 1,000 sq. ft basement. (Small lot, not much outdoor space, so he was determined to have a place for his kids to play in.)

There's more strapping with earthquake straps I imagine.

I was talking to a lady /u/sixup on reddit about her (excellent) Tiny House in Vancouver. She was thinking of getting these blocks of rubber inter-dispersed with thin plates of steel. This would go under her house and hold it upright. Earthquakes wouldn't do anything to such a house, and it's not expensive. So if you're worried about that and can lift your house, I'd do it.

Many of these old houses are balloon framed, which is cheaper and faster to build, but allows fire to spread to the roof in <7 minutes in most cases.

Do you think you could get the materials (including the finished details) for this house for $47k?

Why don't we see $150k new builds with this level of fractal detail and material quality then? Or at $500k?

Yes, wiring costs money, but come on.

> Why don't we see $150k new builds with this level of fractal detail and material quality then? Or at $500k?

I think you're hugely underestimating the impact of labour, land/permits, and house size. People with $500k to spend on a house don't want a 1250 foot 1 bathroom house in an undesirable neighborhood, no matter how much "fractal detail" it may have, but if they did they could build one.

Like...it's not rocket science. The materials are all things which are still being made, and they're not appreciably more expensive now than in 1921. It's not some lost secret of the ancients. It's just not something people do, because it's a moderately expensive way to get a fairly crappy house unless you have pretty unique tastes.

But you totally can do it. That's why places like this exist: https://www.thehousedesigners.com

The house above is 1600-1700 square feet, small by modern standards, and needs two more bathrooms (which are expensive rooms). I think you could safely double the materials cost to get something close to what a modern family would want, larger, with wiring, air, etc: $94k

Labor is typically about the cost of the materials. So double the cost again. $188k

A rule of thumb is the house should cost about 3x what the lot you build on does. Obviously this varies wildly, but let's use it for an example, because it gets us to a nice round number of 250k.

I just don't see new builds in that price range anywhere even approaching the quality and aesthetics of this house. That's not to say that in rust-belt towns you can't buy old homes of a similar era for around that cost (or much less, if the economy has tanked, e.g. detroit) but new builds in that price range are gonna be stucco sh*t boxes.

When I say "fractal detail" I mean that the house has visual interest at different scales: the eaves are interesting up close, at five feet, at fifty feet, etc. It's detailing (often disparaged, and sometimes fairly, as ornament) that requires a level of care and craftsmanship to execute far out of proportion to, say, slapping up a long stucco wall with some flashing.

I suppose I'm not going to convince anyone of much, but I think that many of the excuses for the atrociousness of modern buildings are intellectually lazy.

> A rule of thumb is the house should cost about 3x what the lot you build on does.

You obviously don't live in California.


Or anywhere I can name. Where does this apply?

Looking at local listings about 30 minutes away from Charlotte NC, I see a .40 acre lot for sale in a reasonable neighborhood for $50,000. homes on the same street are selling for between $200,000 to $275,000.

That's not something I can easily imagine. A building cost that low just isn't possible in New Zealand as far as I can tell.

>I think you're hugely underestimating the impact of labour, land/permits, and house size.

Land is the only one of those that has really skyrocketed in price. That was driven by politics.

What do you think homes in trailer parks are? They are the successors to this house: cheap prefab homes that you put in a place where you rent land.

A quick Google search for double-wide housing brings up this guy for $43k: http://www.montysheavybuilthomes.com/index.php?pageID=16284_...

You can't get those materials at that price, if at all.

Agree. I have a 1928 kit house. No bathroom on main floor (as in this house). How many people would do that today?

Totally. Double the cost of the house materials to get bathroom downstairs and a proper master bedroom/bath and make everything bigger. It's still less that $100k. That's a lot of money left over for land, labor, air condition, electricity and all the rest.

You couldn't touch that today, as evidence by the fact that most new builds under $500k aren't even remotely comparable.

With kit homes is you do all the labor yourself. If that is factored in, you can get a bit closer. Menards, which is a home improvement retailer in the midwest, sells kits for homes still. See here: https://www.menards.com/main/building-materials/books-buildi... $70k in materials for a 1700 sq foot home.

And almost all of those fall in the 5-7 range oen the hell-o-meter.

Well, if you skipped the dormers, the Heathwood doesn't seem too terrible.

>new builds under $500k aren't even remotely comparable.

Look beyond crowded cities and $400k will buy you an amazing house. The cost is mainly in the land.

Exactly, the it's the Land, not the structure. If the land is practically worthless, there's a ton of money left over to build on it.

The most telling in the prices you posted is that 758 sq. ft. house for 527k:

> Last sold: Jan 1973 for $25,000

That's $135,939.19 inflation adjusted to 2016 dollars. Where'd the remaining $390k of value come from (assuming house is in same relative shape.)

The "something bad" that happened was that VA home loans became available, and many returning servicemen took advantage of them. However, the maximum amount was small ($2,000 at first).

Whether this was actually "bad" or not depends on whether you think it was better to keep returning veterans in crowded, archaic housing, or whether it was better to let them have a modern house (with modern wiring, plumbing, etc.) that doesn't conform to your personal taste in the year 2016.

Note also that your 1921 Sears house doesn't include electrical wiring, plumbing, or heating.

Well, given the post WW2 built environment... Yeah, I'm gonna call it something bad.

But this is the problem, I suppose. It's obvious that the fractal complexity, materials, beauty and craftsmanship of older buildings is vastly superior to what even rich folks can afford today, but we have to sit around and argue about taste and air conditioning, rather than figure out what the hell happened.

Off-the-rack clothing doesn't match the materials, beauty, and craftsmanship of a bespoke Savile Row English cut suit, either, but neither does it cost $3-5,000 a pop.

I personally like having more than one set of clothes to wear. I also like air conditioning when I'm in a hot climate and central heat in a cold one. Electricity and running water are also nice.

Completely agree. I live in Sacramento, air conditioning is a must.

But this house was sold to average humans, in contrast to Savile Row suits.

I think we need to embrace the healing power of "and" here: the modern amenities and size are great, but we've lost something very significant in the materials and aesthetic quality (regardless of taste, I have seen well done houses in nearly every style save brutalism) far out of proportion to what we pay for housing.

> But this house was sold to average humans, in contrast to Savile Row suits.

I don't think so. From some not-too-reliable numbers I found in Google (if you have better ones, feel free), the median house price in 1925 was $6,000. This Sears house cost almost 60% of that just for materials. No land, labor, mechanical...

If we apply your 4x adjustment, the Sears house cost about $14,000 as built. That's more than twice the median house price of the day.

This was a house for wealthy people.

"just for materials"

And not even all of them: "Price does not include cement, brick, or plaster"

I see you already have a few replies, but as people have mentioned labour is pretty pricey, it also doesn't include:

  insulation (though I live in Canada)
  changing your mind about something after it's already done (charge extra for that)
Also I doubt you'd want cedar shingles on your roof.

On the bright side you can knock off the price of the sash weights, and probably "building paper"

(unless that means they pay the price to have the blueprints signed off by an engineer).

Building paper is that which has largely been replaced with Tyvek house wrap on vertical members and rubber ice dam guard and roofing felt underlayment on the roof. It's still "there" in concept, which is to provide an air barrier and block the wind coming straight though.

Ah right, forgot about Tyvek.

> insulation (though I live in Canada)

Even here in California we have insulation. It's just a lot cheaper than where you are because it doesn't have to be all that good.

Keep in mind that price is less lot, labor, piping, wiring, and things like permitting and surveying costs.

To be sure. But let us double cost to make the house bigger and double it again for the lot, labor and electric. You are still at $188,340.8.

Let us double it again for Nest thermostats and turret mounted gatling guns and you are still under 400k.

Something happened.

$200k buys a lot of house in the vast majority of American cities in 2016.

That's a reasonable point, California is crazy and perhaps coloring my views.

The median price paid for a new home in Aug 2016 the US is $284,000 and the average is $353,600.


You can totally build a lavish 3000 square foot house for 400k in most of the US.

(the median price of new homes sales is about/under $300,000 https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/uspricemon.pdf )

I already told you what happened. The maximum loan guarantee under the GI Bill was $2,000 (in their dollars)

4x the cost of your Sears house is $13,964 (also in their dollars).

The buyers preferred a house that they could afford to one they couldn't. Simple as that.

The builder gets their profit, too. In expensive housing markets, the price to buy a new house is almost the same as the price to build existing, comparable houses. The small handful of builders that manage to get permits to build a new neighborhood or apartment are making a killing today.

Not unlike the house I live in in terms of scale though a different style. House I'm in was build ca. 1896-1906, about 1550 square feet with 3 bedrooms upstairs (one of which is quite small and my office.)

The material costs are not directly comparable to modern materials of similar quality and the HVAC and electricals (and probably plumbing) would be lacking.

Still, you could build a house like that for probably 65-85k$ in material (including concrete for foundation, excluding real bricks) depending on where you are in the US (or Canada.) I'm in Canada so we need a bit more insulation then you can get away with in some part of the US.

That material cost does not include the cost of the lot, the cost of utility installation, the road, sewers and so on (those are usually included in builder's prices in new subdivisions) and it doesn't include labor.

By which point you're probably looking at 125-250k$ minimum. The two biggest variables being land costs and labor. If the house was factory built for assembly onsite (closer to that sears house) like "modular homes" than labor will be much cheaper but so will be the overall finishing level, something like this: http://www.kenthomes.com/kent-homes-browse-homes-two-storey-...

I've seen urban tax assessments (in Montreal) where the house was practically worthless compared to the land value. My own tax assessment puts the bare lot as over 50% of the value.

Can confirm. I'm living in a sears house right now. A bungalow style built in 1918. I'm regularly surprised by the nice little touches and the way the whole thing really works as a unit.

The only real "problem" is the small size of a bungalow's reduced upper floor. People obviously used to spend less time in their bedrooms and more downstairs together or outside.

Which I guess tells you something.

This design was released ~1910[1]. Average income was around $574/year.[2] This house would've cost 4-5 years income just for the parts to be delivered to the plot of land you didn't own yet. (at the 1916 price of $1663)

You can buy a LOT more house these days relative to annual incomes mostly because comparative incomes across the board have risen substantially, and interest rates are so much lower. That said, the cost of the lot and the labor would've been cheaper to finish the house back then so that's something!

[1]http://www.searshomes.org/index.php/tag/saratoga-sears-house... [2]http://usa.usembassy.de/etexts/his/e_prices1.htm

>Something very bad happened in architecture around world war 2.

That's a very nice looking house, but the reason it's very nice is it has a lot of low-materials high-labor details people don't want to pay for when they're not doing the work.

It does seem like wood is awfully expensive these days, though.

It may just be a supply Vs demand issue with demand rising with the population while supply takes time to increase as you can't pull new timber out of thin air. I suspect environmental protection laws play a part too. These days there are fewer and fewer places where you can just show up somewhere with trees, chop down whatever you like and haul it away.

More demand, more capital and the crazy psychological tricks of subdivisions.

Alot of construction now is driven by builder spec homes. It's too expensive for "working rich" people to have an architect design. So you have design-build from big homebuilders, who spec houses as cheaply as possible, then nickel and dime you for upgrades.

My cousin bought a house that's probably a 8 on this scale, but it had no "options"... everything inside was the cheapest junk. The chandelier in the dining room of this home (which originally sold for $750k in a cheap market) cost $50 at Home Depot.

This is something that bugs me. The house I live in was built by the former owner soon before they put it up for sale (divorce) and it has the cheapest crap you can imagine. The general construction is fine, it's the appliances, lights, cabinetry, etc., and internal details that's so cheap. I feel like they built the biggest house they could and then ran out of money to finish fitting it out.

Sure, it's all stuff we can replace, but it still irks me.

What about the cost of labor and the lot? Those are significant. Does it include things like sinks, tiles, tubs, and cabinetry? Also significant cost.


>from 1890 to through 1980, real home prices actually declined by about 10%.

I suspect that inflation calculators are inaccurate for housing. IIRC, in the '70s, housing was removed from the cost of living index because it raised the value beyond what was 'reasonable'. Further, easily available loan money for mortgages in the '90s and 2000s added to the problem.

That example would be, what, $25/sq ft?

Something bad happened to houses in New Zealand around that time too. The California Bungalow that was given a great local style was replaced by much inferior bungalows with a mass produced, cheap feeling too them. The reasons are pretty obvious but something was definitely lost.

My father was born in a Sears house (a much cheaper one than that), in the Kentucky sticks. I saw it about ten years ago, but it was slated for demolition. Sad, cheap piece of crap for tenant farmers who were doing well enough to get more than a tar paper shack.

> What's crazy is the price: $47,085.20 in todays dollars.

You're not crazy. Houses really were more affordable for your grandparents. The same with mine.

Today for I or you to purchase the same thing would cost many multiples. At lowest I'd say 150k, but most likely 350 and in what the middle class today euphemistically call a "good school distinct" it would be about over a million dollars.

So many educated people in 'modern days' have beliefs about the present and past which are in complete opposition to the facts.

> Something very bad happened in architecture around world war 2.

Thank you for noticing. The answer is literally a conspiracy against traditional building. I won't 'go on'. I'll demonstrate with images.

Here I'll insert a former comment I made related to this subject.


The first thought that struck me when I saw it was "that is a visual expression of Orwellian thought".

Deep down a majority of people prefer to live in houses that look like this:



Do you remember the Shire in the Lord of the Rings? That is a synopsis of what people feel when they think of 'home'. Honest, humble but well crafted dwellings affordable by the average hobbit. As master Bilbo is keen to tell us:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

Brutalism is quite obviously something that came out of Minas Morghul.


It is an architectural anti-thesis.

Mr Wtbob on HN made the most apropos remark that:

There is little more care for the inhabitants inside than there is for the ants, the ivy, the birds, the earthworms which could live on & around a homier structure. A Brutalist building spares no more thought for its inhabitants than does an abbatoir for those who enter its confines: they are a necessary nuisance, but mustn't be permitted to intrude upon the happiness of the architect anymore than absolutely required.

Brutalism is a kind of totalitarianism of architecture, a demand that those who build, those who inhabit and those who maintain must constantly bend their wills to the will of the Great Man (the architect), bend without love, without understanding, without hope, without fear, without joy, just mute, abject obedience to a cold and uncaring plan.

No thanks. Give me ivy, give me bricks, give me marble, give me dirt and grass and trees; give me men and women and children; give me sheep and dogs and horses; give me colours and light and ornament; give me emotion and delight; give me, in short, life.

It's clear to internaut and probably wtbob, that so called modern architecture is actually an attempt to erase the past, which is all the more amazing because all the users want traditional architecture to be built.

When all the end users want one thing, and most of the designers are wanting another thing we have to seriously ask what is doing on.

Of course it's not just architecture, it's in the art world too and the music world.

Nothing remarkable has come out of those for many decades now. The public is unable to name a 'masterwork' from those fields of endeavor.

Just so you know, there are plenty of places around the US with better public school districts than in the hyper-expensive metros where you can get a very decent house for <$350k. My wife & I spent <$200k on a house in NC roughly equivalent to the $1.4m house we bought in the Bay Area, and the NC public schools in our area were FAR superior.

>in what the middle class today euphemistically call a "good school distinct" it would be about over a million dollars.

I thought it would be interesting to see what $1,000,000 buys, and it looks like with that kind of money you just barely squeak over the pauper line...

6,739 sqft -- http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/3209-S-Nicann-Ct-Sioux-Fal...

5,798 sqft (only a 14 acre lot) -- http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/70-Twin-Arrow-Dr-Sandia-Pa...

9,042 sqft (only 8 bathrooms) -- http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/8954-W-51st-St-Tulsa-OK-74...

3,300 sqft (the boat house looks rather small) -- http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/64-Clairvaux-Dr-Scottsboro...

9,748 sqft -- http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2100-Atwood-Dr-Anchorage-A...

3,386 sqft -- (cramped Abraham Lincoln style log home, but at least you get 40 acres) -- http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/31-Willow-Creek-Rd-Cody-WY...

Haha, I didn't get that you were being ironic at first!

I'll just put in a reccomendation here for Metroland https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-Land_(1973_film) , John Betjeman's lovely little film about English suburbia.

Betjeman is also the person responsible for saving the splendid, extravagant Gothic station at St Pancras: http://www.ontheluce.com/2011/12/06/london-st-pancras-statio...

I'm sorry to see you get down voted, but I share your sentiments and agree that it was something that could be reasonably called a conspiracy. Unfortunately it has become part of the intellectual furniture of left-wing ideology, which makes a lot of otherwise perfectly nice people support extremely inhumane building patterns.

Some books on the topic that I have read, if you haven't are:




A funny side story: I realized I was some sort of reactionary my freshman year at Berkeley, when I was standing in the memorial glade, swinging my gaze back and forth between Doe Memorial Library and Evans Hall.

It always makes me feel like one of those "I wish I lived in the past!! The present sucks!" people but IMO arts, architecture, city planning, and aesthetics went downhill after WWII. I'm not sure why or how but that's how I feel.

Honestly, I would rather live in a Brutalist house than a McMansion. At least it might be competent in both architecture and construction, if a bit eccentric.

Most of the examples I can find online of Brutalist homes are actual mansions, however, so it's hard to compare apples to apples.

>Houses really were more affordable for your grandparents. The same with mine.

The average new home size in the 70's (earliest census data) was somewhere around 1500 sq/ft.

Now the average is somewhere around 2,500 square feet with a smaller family size.

Yes, if you buy more house it will be more expensive.

The price per square foot has remained relatively stable.


"From 1890 -- just three decades after the Civil War -- through 2012, home prices adjusted for inflation literally went nowhere. Not a single dime of real growth."


Speak for yourself. When I see the "desirable" houses, all I see is endless painful maintenance, and long travel times. Massive apartments means proximity to work and recreation (possibly even by foot, or at least mass transit) and shared public spaces and parkland instead of teeny isolated gardens.

Despite all of the negative publicity pre-fabricated homes get, you can get a pretty decently constructed home placed on an acceptable plot of land for ~150k all-in (subject to location, of course), as you benefit from the economies of scale Ford model. There's also the added bonus of having major structural components all prepped in a controlled environment, so the quality of work has the potential to be pretty high up there (a CNC can weld joints or plane the warp out of wood with a lot more accuracy then some dead-tired tradesman hoisting up some framing after 7 hours in the rain). I don't own one, but the 10-year-after build quality of the homes I've seen have been effectively on par with McMansions if not better.

RE: Sears - A friend of mine bought a fixer-upper circa 2008 while getting his Pharm.D. in San Diego. He shopped around for the best deal and ultimately settled with king-of-MDF IKEA to redo his whole kitchen. 10 grand later, he had a functional, aesthetically consistent (albeit somewhat bland) remodel complete without having to go through every single supplier/distributor to select 'which faucet will go well with this lighting enclosure'.

Sears re-branded everything they bought. They didn't manufacture any of their tools (though they did stand behind them with a fantastic warranty). I'm sure it's easy for us to say "things were so great back in the day!". Things were a bit better constructed domestically, but they were a lot more expensive too. I've talked to a lot of old-timers because I'm a bit of a history nerd - when they went down to Sears and bought a lathe (which was usually a re-branded Logan) this was a big purchase for them. Tools were expensive both to manufacture and buy, so the extra 10% went into each unit to ensure that lathe was going to turn your stock true.

Now we can go to Home Depot and buy a $50 drill (that Ryobi is just like your proverbial McMansion - built for a specific grade of consumer) because consumers don't really want/have the need to buy an industrial quality Hilti or Fein. (I happily buy beat up pre-TTI Milwaukee NiCad drills off eBay for ~60 which I consider to be prosumer/almost-but-not-quite-contractor-grade equipment, throw new carbon brushes in there, convert them to Li-ion with Sanyo or Panasonic greens and have a tool I know is going to last ~10 years (got 3 years out of this beater so far, we'll have to wait another 7 to see)).

\/\/ RE: On par with McMansions - that was my whole point. Those pre-fabs get a bad rap by the McMansion owners but are constructed just as well if not better. My comment was one on society -- the supply for McMansions would not exist if there wasn't a demand for it. The rampant number of McMansions constructed as a result of consumer demand (and easy credit, but that's a whole different topic) is a reflection of the 'disposable unit' mentality of the consumer on the whole. Much like people will buy a pretty crappy Ryobi $50 because they're not focused on longevity of their unit -- though I'll be the first one to admit that analogy is somewhat flawed because not everyone needs industrial quality tooling.

I'm just saying that Harbor Freight and Walmart stay in business for a reason. Furniture, art, and hell, rugs[1] used to be passed down as heirlooms because guess what, that old-growth oak table was made by a craftsman who charged the equivalent tens of thousands of dollars for it. It's no surprise that your $200 Ikea dining set complete with 4 chairs isn't as stable after you tore it down to move to your new apartment. The holding-torque of a fastener decreases upon re-assembly in material like MDF and particle board? Who knew..

[1] Remember in The Godfather where the guy was like "do you want a rug?" "of course! but who can afford a rug!" Before the era of cheap imports, shipping containers, being able to injection mold plastic widgets for pennies, and mass-production, there was a premium on production per unit, so items had a longer shelf-life that often spanned generations.

>the 10-year-after build quality of the homes I've seen have been effectively on par with McMansions if not better.

"on par with McMansions" is not good. One of the big criticisms of McMansions is the build quality is very poor and the materials used are very, very cheap. For example, from the same site, http://www.mcmansionhell.com/post/149128564511/mclean-virgin...

>Barely ten years old, and this house has already sustained all kinds of damage due to poor construction quality. It’s extremely sad when you think about what could’ve been built in place of this house, which wasn’t even built to last ten more years. A house with a life expectancy under a hundred years is a sad house indeed.

I'm not sold on this. Some of the criticisms levied seem valid, and there's /some/ sensibility to the scale -- but the whole thing smacks of a post-hoc attempt to define why McMansions are in poor taste in non-socioeconomic terms. It's sufficient to just say "McMansions are tremendously wasteful symptoms of American decadence" -- but that might be psychologically hard if you've spent years in architecture school learning how to design status symbols for the upper classes.

I'm not a architect (and I'm not in/from the US) but it seems pretty spot-on to me...

Maybe I'a just a snob, but I have always found it sort of comical that people in the US build houses that are (in my opinion) so terribly ugly imitations/mishmashes of what would otherwise be nice styles..

It is very subjective, but most of the points match up well with what I find ugly.

The author isn't an architect, merely an architecture buff. However, she does explain quite well why the McMansion phenomenon deserves the criticism:



Perhaps my point is better illustrated by this series:

http://www.mcmansionhell.com/post/150926055196/mcmansion-hel... http://www.mcmansionhell.com/post/151254239061/mcmansion-hel... http://www.mcmansionhell.com/post/151565621727/mcmansionhell...

There is some clear sense to these criticisms. Some of the issues raised constitute hard-to-deny aesthetic flaws: they simply look bad. But many more seem to be less about hard aesthetic truths and more about "taste" -- a significantly less defensible concept. It's not that these architectural elements look bad, it's that they don't look the way they're "supposed" to look, where the way that they're "supposed" to look is determined by the way that they've historically looked (and, critically, nothing more).

The author is clearly confused about their own motivations, too: he or she slides regularly into moralizing about the social evil of McMansions and the McMansion lifestyle, while being seemingly entirely unaware that the "good" mansions that these homes so negatively contrast with are symbols of excess and luxury that are just as morally indefensible. The rich have always secluded themselves, they've always wasted their resources in spectacular fashion, they've always wanted to demonstrate their success -- these aren't new phenomena. But the author seems irked simultaneously by conspicuous consumption, classism, and so forth and the same time that he or she rakes McMansion owners over the coals for daring to aspire to the true upper class. It's bizarre -- but that's taste for you.

Architecture has rules of composition like any other craft. McMansions shit all over them. There's nothing post-hoc about calling them shit. A McMansion only look sensible and aesthetically pleasing if you try to imagine one as a well designed house covered in tumors.

The fact that they are an example of American decadence stems from the fact that they are cargo culting opulence.

"McMansions shit all over them."

How is it any of your business?

The people who buy them like them. Their tastes are not yours, and they're the ones paying the bills.

It's my business in the sense that I can have an opinion about how ugly their house is and I do. There's nothing more to it. It's not like I think McMansions should be illegal because they are ugly, although I don't see what's fundamentally unjust about a community not wanting eyesores in their neighborhoods if enough McMansion haters congregated in one place. There are other reasons why they suck that a sibling comment mentioned.

I don't believe just because aesthetics involve personal preferences that we can't discuss them and come to common conclusions regarding the good and the bad. Aesthetics are very important to me as a programmer, for example, and I am an unhappy programmer if I cannot write pretty code for whatever reason. I certainly wouldn't want to be a programmer if I couldn't write pretty code as often as I do. Crunch time hurts me twice: the extra work, but also the resource constraints that mean I have to satisfy beauty in code. If I didn't care about what is beautiful and what is not, I would feel like a very flat person. If that makes me an asshole then, well, I mean I wouldn't disagree.

There's an entire post on how, aesthetics aside, mcmansion-style houses are rife with problems. The tl;dr of it is that they're a very bad investment, massively energy and co2 inefficient, maintenance intensive (due to large size and low-quality materials) and often have badly cut corners. There's also a final point about the size being isolating, but that's a bit more subjective IMHO.


> cargo culting opulence

Well, that's the thing, right? They're a middle-class person's idea of what a rich person's house looks like, built on an upper-middle-class budget. It's basically the American ideology as simulacrum.

The budget can explain the fake materials, but not the bad taste. Keep the same materials, add bit of simplicity (i.e. get rid of some of the monstrosities) and the result would be both better-looking and cheaper. And more classy, compared to these archetypes of American vulgarity.

The budget explains the bad taste because a expert professional designer was not involved in the process.

The budget is allocated mainly towards size. Build quality and design come second (or third).

...expert professional designer was not involved in the process.

Haha they might not be experts but we can be sure that the architects of every one of those got paid.

I'm not convinced that's really the point; some of the non-McMansion houses look pretty expensive to me.

Thanks for sharing this blog.

She is funny, and this is putting words to feelings I've had. That said, what she constitutes as negative, 'McMansion' traits largely seem to be based on how she feels about the house as a whole.


>Mansion vs McMansion

Immediately you'll notice the 'mansion' has a faux balcony, useless pillars and void throwup; all traits she claims to despise.

Scroll down to the example of a New Traditional house (which is a beautiful house) and it's clearly a house that, in her terms, has no concept of mass; it's all roof!

I get what she's saying, but still. She should at least be consistent with the individual traits she dislikes.

Design and architecture aren't matters of opinion – "disliking roofs" isn't a thing and is not her point. Combinations of various features lead to different dynamics, which can be beneficial or harmful to the overall appearance or impression given by the object.

So when she says the house is "all roof," it's not that she dislikes roofs in general; it's that the roof dwarfs the rest of the house, making it look small and insignificant. Imagine wearing too large of a suit, or putting your TV in front a movie theater screen.

The thing with roofs is that if you get substantial snowfall in winter, practicality demands a steep roof pitch, otherwise melted snow will drip through the shingles. A high roof pitch necessary makes the roof more prominent.

From a reverse image search, the two "more roof than house" photos (both in the 8 section) seem to be from Sandy Spring, Maryland and Gaithersburg, Maryland.

In general, the author seems to think that builders should place more value on architectural merit rather than practicality, maintainability and cost. Obviously most homebuyers don't share her priorities.

Living just miles away from one of the places with the heaviest annual snowfall in the world (Cascade mountain range in WA), I don't know if what I'd call a steep pitched roof is what you'd call a steep pitched roof.

There are other considerations to what makes a roof appear large. I'm not an architect, but as a designer I can at least point out that meaningful horizontal rhythm and the creation of positive and negative space through effective use of roof lines, dormers, and chimneys can all help make any practical roof space feel more utilized and be less eye-catching.

A good designer or architect can uphold "good taste" while accommodating real world constraints; it's one of the defining differences between those fields and fine art, and a requirement of anyone performing critique.

I moved to Norway a few years ago. The average roof pitch is more than when I lived in Indiana. However, the roofs generally don't seem that much more prominent than in Indiana. Many are simply proportional - even in the more mass produced housing of the 50's.

Examples: https://www.google.no/search?q=typical+norwegian+house&safe=...

I notice that they're all gable roofs, compared to the hip roofs which the author criticizes. Gable roofs usually look less prominent, since there's less surface area, and it's usually on the sides which you don't see as much as the front of the house. But I think hip roofs are better in harsh environments, partly because they're more stable, and partly because the maximum wall height is shorter, so it takes stronger winds to blow water onto the siding.

Are snowstorms and rainstorms not a big concern in Norway? I looked at some weather data and it sounds like certain parts are quite rainy, but less so in the major cities like Oslo, and with less storms than Maryland. Is that accurate?

I'll give the best account this immigrant can give: The weather does vary depending on where you are at. Norway is long - Nearly like the east coast if you take off Florida and Maine. The span and geography makes for somewhat varied whether. A decent swath is above the arctic circle: Much of Norway is thin save for the southern 1/3, which has a wider land mass and therefore, a chunk that is more inland. Oslo shares similar whether with such places, though it isn't as inland (the fjords can make 'inland' a weird thing). Much of the country is mountainous as well. Due to the large coastline, the country gets rainy along the coast, much like the west coast in the US and Canada.

Storms are a weird thing for me here. I don't consider much here a "storm", but I'm from Indiana where a storm meant possible tornado weather. Storms where I am - Trondheim - have heavy rain or snow and a fair amount of wind. As in, as an adult, wind has pushed me along on ice. Many are remnants of hurricanes, and the truth is they seem fairly mild. Even lightning and thunder are somewhat rare - I kinda get excited because I miss a good thunderstorm.

When I visited Norway this summer I fell in love with the idea of a roof you have to mow. (You don't really, but I loved the green roofs)

I completely understand. I'd love to live in such a place. Those aren't as common in modern buildings, though. The only one I've stayed in was a primitive cabin - no toilet or other running water and no power save for a poorly working older solar panel.

I actually asked about the mowing thing - some folks do go up and remove trees that start to grow, I guess, but no mowing.

No, that is definitely not what the McMansion Hell author thinks. A lot of the criticisms on that site are about ostentatious design details divorced from their functional goals, and on the impact a lot of this design has on energy efficiency.

>which can be beneficial or harmful to the overall appearance

You're going to have a hard time convincing me that this isn't a matter of opinion.

> Immediately you'll notice the 'mansion' has a faux balcony, useless pillars and void throwup; all traits she claims to despise.

I don't see the faux balcony. It has a door and seems to be accessible.

> Scroll down to the example of a New Traditional house (which is a beautiful house) and it's clearly a house that, in her terms, has no concept of mass; it's all roof!

It's not about one criteria, it's the combination of weird choices that make a McMansion what it is. Just a big roof alone doesn't make it a bad house.

There's a long history of this problem. Bletchley Park Manor House[1] meets most of the criteria listed for a 9th or 10th level McMansion. Three or more window styles. Turrets. Bad columns. Faux balcony. Patchwork masonry. Roofline soup. Oversized pediments. Oversized transoms. House is out of scale.

They avoided the two-story entrance. It's not big enough for one.

(I visited before it became a big-time museum, and had a guide who was more into the architecture than the cryptanalysis.)

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Bletchle...

An even older example: Palacio da Pena, Sintra, Portugal


But...that's old.

It's almost inevitable that old buildings evolve in strange ways. According to the wikipedia article, it was a monastery, cathedral, and palace. Parts were hit by lightning and rebuilt; I'm sure others also needed repairs from other disasters, wear-and-tear, and changing usage.

The fact that an old building ends up like that doesn't mean that new buildings should start looking like that. Imagine if someone said "this legacy code is an absolute mess, so this new project can be a spaghetti-coded disaster too!".

It looks like something you would find at an amusement park.

I remember reading that the building of the Disneyland in Europe was more costly than the one in the USA because they had to use real materials and kind-of-real construction processes, for customers are used to real historical stuff everywhere and would be shocked by bad quality replicas; whereas plastic and crude fake construction was okay for Americans, they would not bat an eyelid.

I love this article as social commentary. I grew up in McMansion hell--the DC suburbs. My parents live in a McMansion. The architectural critiques capture not only what I hate about these houses, but about the attitudes of many people here. They have a general air of being better than the rest of the country by virtue of education and an upper middle class income. They're intensely image conscious but don't have exposure to real wealth, so they buy and build houses with features like fake windows. They're bad with money: Median household income in Great Fall VA is about $200k, while the median house price is about $1 million. The owners of most of these McMansions are extremely leveraged.

Did you grow up in the McMansion? Were the schools mostly kids that came from these upper-middle class families? I'm curious because I flip back and forth between wanting a good school district for my kids and wanting to expose them to a little more socioeconomic diversity. Just curious your thoughts on growing up in that type of area, particularly around education and socializing with other kids.

If it is an option for you geographically, look around at college town school districts where maybe there is some remaining socioeconomic diversity (e.g, the whole school district isn't made up of employees of the university).

My kids are in a school where more than half the kids are non-white and around half the kids have low socioeconomic status (SES) based on free/reduced-price lunch numbers despite our district being high-SES compared to other districts in our state. We have a good base of racial diversity although that diversity is mostly Hispanic (dual-language school).

A teacher at our elementary school once said that socializing across SES normally happens only if parents make a point of providing opportunities for that to happen with the kids. Kids have lots of birthday parties at local parks - I've attended several of these gatherings where the kind-hearted bilingual parents switched over to English so that I could be a part of the conversation - while my kids are bilingual, I am a typical American and only speak English.

As both a parent of participants and as a coach in youth sports, I'll say the rec leagues sometimes provide good opportunities for that mixing of different SES kids. It often falls apart though - we have youth sports leagues where the participation and lost opportunity costs due to heavy practice/travel time seem to screen out low-SES kids.

It's kind of funny, but my family basically lives in small-town America but has wound up in a better school district in our state that also has some racial and SES diversity in the population. It's working as both a good school district and opportunity for kids of different SES and race to grow up together. Longer term, problems with affordable housing are probably going to blow some of these opportunities away.

I moved from Vienna (at the time probably middle class rather than upper middle class) to Mclean (solidly upper middle class, with some rich people). Mclean schools were full of upper middle class kids. The high school parking lot had Lexus/BMW. Lot of smart kids and many who went on to be pretty successful, but also a lot of arrogance and disdain for "the south," "the rest of Virginia," and "flyover country." The attitude was such that I didn't even realize Chicago (a huge city not on the coasts) existed until I was in college.

I can't say I noticed any difference in the schools. Mclean had great test scores, but that's because it has managed to zone out almost all the middle and lower-income people and the working class immigrants. My wife and I have been struggling with where to send our daughter to school. I don't think it's worth it pay a big premium to buy in the higher-ranked school districts. Unless the district has an actual gang problem, it's generic "McEducation" almost everywhere. If our daughter shows tendencies of being a creative thinker we'll likely do private for at least high school. If she shows a high tolerance for petty tyranny we'll likely do public somewhere in Anne Arundel (which is close to DC but far enough away where she might meet some blue collar people).

Just for what it's worth, I went to one of the pricier private high schools in Chicago (Ignatius, which is I guess at the top of the second tier of ridiculous schools, just 1 rank below Chicago Waldorf) and I feel like my kids get a much better education at OPRF (public) than I got overall at Ignatius.

What they don't get is good college counseling, which I'm learning to my dismay with the boy getting ready to apply, so maybe a good rationalist/cost-saving approach here is to send your kid to public high school but hire a college counselor. (No idea if that's a thing you can do).

Kids didn't know that Chicago existed? I don't know how to respond

I went to a pretty lower-class high school in Brooklyn, NY (lots of kids from Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, etc. before gentrification). There's a prevailing attitude that if it's not in NYC, it's not worth knowing about. I'm not surprised to hear of a well-off kid in a DC school not knowing about Chicago existing.

> Median household income in Great Fall VA is about $200k

> while the median house price is about $1 million

As someone in Vancouver, Canada this sounds amazing.

As I was reading the first half of this comment I was thinking, I'm going to ask him if he means Great Falls, or Potomac, and then you said Great Falls.

I think your armchair analysis is spot on. Am from Montgomery County myself for reference.

The hate for attached garages.. Doesn't the author realize how incredibly useful, and unsightly, they are at the same time? I have a rented garage a half block away in the city, and a basement full of all my random projects, that I would only dream of being able to stick in a garage next to my house.

There's an entire post on the attached garage:


I think the author is fully aware of what you've just said: "To be completely honest, the garage is a necessity in America, and to be even more honest, it’s very hard to properly incorporate a garage into a smallish house without there being some kind of architectural awkwardness."

I live on a street of houses built no more than 20 years ago where every single attached garage has been converted into an extra room. I guess here in the UK the extra living space is just too valuable. I've ended up building a shed for random projects and the car can sit outside.

We've been looking at buying a house for the last few months and probably have viewed 15 houses or so - only one house (which nobody was living in) had a car in their garage - and that bizarrely was a Lamborghini.

NB This is in the area of Perth/Fife in Scotland.

Yep. My cars move out of the garage in the summer and I have all sorts of sports equipment and in-progress projects there. The cars need to go back in (for plowing reasons) in the winter and stuff gets packed away or winched up. But garages are pretty much essential for a lot of people.

It does not have to be attached though.

Or visible from the street.

While I don't like garages that dominate the front of a house, paving a route around you section is wasteful and potentially dangerous in terms of small kids playing etc. I'd far prefer almost anything to acres of concrete.

The street is where you're typically driving in from though. So, barring a garage at a lower level at the side of the house or something along those lines, moving a garage around to the back (non-streetside) of the house probably involves building more driveway and otherwise dedicating more space to cars.

Useful though in the winter.

I have a detached garage facing the alley behind my house. It's about the best possible arrangement for a garage, imho.

Ditto. A garage to me is a utility building. I'd no more have a garage on display at the front of my house than I would a toolshed.

No necessarily better: if I picture your example correctly, there is a lot of space wasted as road (alley).

Alleys "waste" about five feet at the back of everyone's lot, and they are very useful. In a sense, alleys and sidewalks are what differentiate civilization from everywhere else people choose to live.

I also like attached garages, but I hate when the garage is the main feature of the house. Basically when it is pushed out in front and/or the garage doors are facing the street. Many times this is done because the lots have become so small. Luckily I found a neighborhood where front face garage doors were not allowed and the entire neighborhood looks so much better.

Also the usefulness when living somewhere cold.

When it's -40 out, it's exceptionally nice to know your car will start, and you didn't have to plug in three 1000W heaters 5+ hours beforehand.

I've lived in place where it can be -40°F, and nobody parks his car in the garage. All cars sleep outside during the 4-6 month below 0°F. The cars (engines) are plugged and start without any problem (less problems than in my place where it goes rarely below 15°F). Bringing the car in the garage is a whole set of problem with packed ice melting, re-freezing, re-melting, etc.

I lived in the Yukon for 4 years. It's not just "can be -40F" it's "doesn't go above -35F for 4 months".

-45F is common overnight.

Up there, we have a block heater, battery blanket and oil pan heater - MINIMUM. If you've got a diesel you want at least two oil pan heaters, three if they fit!

These are not typical conditions for human habitation. If you're saying that attached garages in the Yukon are beautiful, who would argue?

...That's precisely what my parent comment says.

Also note there are millions of people living in colder conditions than I.

Fun, but I'd find this information more useful if juxtaposed with an analysis of the livability and practicality of the various McMansion species. After all, a person spends a lot more time inhabiting the home as opposed to looking at it, so ultimately the inside is a lot more important than the outside. As a few people already noted, attached garages may be generally ugly but they're useful. Can one say the same about multistorey windows and entryways, lots of dormers, large columns, random multiple window styles, etc.? Do these things add aesthetic or practical value to the house for the people actually residing in them? Or are they mere eyecandy for tasteless consumers but in the end add nothing to the enjoyment of daily living.

Individual house dissection do go into detail about how the outside is reflected on the inside, to bad effects.

See this one for example: http://www.mcmansionhell.com/post/149128564511/mclean-virgin...

It's even more chaotic on the inside than on the outside. The Homer Simpson car without wheels.

She actually spends at least half of her compliments on the inside of those houses. Reading the blog before commenting might be a good idea.

As a Brit, I'm struck by the size of almost all of those houses; so much money deployed in the service of so little taste. Of course, we're not safe from it either in the UK, but usually on a smaller scale of cheap apartments and faux-Tudor suburbs.

I was thinking the same as someone living in London. What do people do with all this space?

I both understand your sentiment - as I think there is a spot of "This house is too big for my spouse and I" (we live in a fairly small attic apartment even by Norwegian standards), but I also understand what we'd do with space.

We would have an extra room: We might have seperate sleeping quarters because my snoring wakes him. We (well, more he) would have a room for music - We have a couple of electric guitars, a bass, and an electric cello. We (me!) would have an art space. A guest room would be wonderful if family flies from overseas. We'd have a library. That's 5 bedrooms, or alternate uses of a basement or attic in a smaller 2-3 bedroom house.

I think a lot of folks simply have unused space in these, however. My parents lived in a 3600 sq ft, 6 bedroom, multiple bathroom house (build in the 1860's and renovated later on to include a garage and basement finishing) - and if it wasn't for opening their house to family or friends down on luck, it would have gone mostly unused.

Not much, in my experience. Or, it might be more accurate to say the space is used for the detritus of middle-class living.

I own a moderate 4 bedroom home, 3 of which are "vacant". 1 was my son's, but he's an adult and moved out. 1 is the guest room and used sporadically. The other is overflow for the now-too-small master closet. The dining room is used a few times each year for holidays and parties; we could easily do without. The 2-car garage is filled with too many bicycles, kayaks, utility trailer, large toolbox, etc.

We're actively purging with the goal of moving to a more "urban" area sometime before retirement. I put urban in quite because we might find a nice small town instead of a major city, but the goal is a small rowhome or flat in a walkable area. With about 70% less stuff.

Have lots of kids and hobbies. An entertainment room, a room for the kids, 5bd/5br, a massive garage for bikes, water skis, snow skis, jet skis... These things take up space. When I was buying a house I was advised that I'd never regret having too much space. That wound up being false but I did find that I had no problem filling up said space with junk. (Largely explaining the overwhelming success of Amazon.)

i spend way more time at home than at 'communal properties' (bar/coworking space/office/etc) I got my gym, office, simple but good enough patio, smoker and grill, workshop - all under one roof. This saves tremendous amount of time to commute and deal with people, waiting for gym equipment to become available. And all of that stems from the fact - I can afford all of that to own vs rent..

I am also kind of person who in general prefer to own vs rent. I.e. i opt for dedicated server vs aws (if i could justify collocating server in datacenter nearby - i would,) owning cheap car vs paying lease for fancy new one, owning simple house vs paying rent for condo, etc.

And I bet I am not alone in wanting to "own" vs "rent".

> What do people do with all this space?

Media/theater rooms, library/study/office, formal dining room (probably a complete waste of space 90+% of the time, admittedly—I turned ours into the library/study), dedicated play room so the kids' shit doesn't take over the rest of the house (in smaller houses this may just be a second, less-public den/living-room area, probably mixed with the media room concept). Separate bedroom for each kid plus a spare bedroom if you can manage it—spare room, if present, may double as an office if space doesn't allow a dedicated room for that. Big bathrooms and closets that allow one's morning routine to be conducted entirely outside the bedroom proper (handy if partners don't wake up at the same time, plus makes tidying easier) and feature things like large tubs and big two-person showers. Entertaining spaces/bars, usually separated from the bedrooms as much as possible, probably mixed in with the media room/theater concept if space doesn't allow them to be separate. Exercise rooms. Those last two are often in a finished basement. Workshops. "In-law" suites (basically a 1-bedroom apartment), often in the basement. Usually several, but not all, of these things are present in a (by today's standards) mid-size or larger suburban house. Bigger houses may have all or almost all of them.

I've seen wine cellars (climate controlled, not legit caves) and steam/sauna rooms in houses that were large but not zomgwtf large, so those might be present in the middle-upper range of McMansions depending on the preferences of the owners.

Real monster houses that go beyond those may have mansionesque crap like ballrooms, elevators, indoor pools, et c., but then you're approaching or exceeding 7 figures even if the house is in the middle of no-where, so that's actually rich people with poor taste (or maybe they really do have large dance parties on the regular? Who knows. And indoor pool—I mean, if I could easily afford that, yeah, of course I'd like it) not middle-class people trying to imitate the rich.

Plus, remember, these giant houses usually have 3+ car attached garages (you'll have trouble selling a newly-constructed house with fewer than 2 garage bays in the US 'burbs these days—older houses sometimes have only one, or none, though) and maybe another bay around back if the basement is walk-out. Those make them look bigger than they are, as far as living space goes.

Not advocating/defending any of this, just providing an answer to the question :-)

The US is a big, big place. Between the coasts there's plenty of cheap space that to this day remains unused. People have become used to being able to buy larger and larger houses for decades. It's just American culture.

I can't answer what people "do" with all the space... but friends of mine lived in houses like these and it's not like there was an unused room or ignore backyard. Everything was used.

Oh, I'd certainly have no problem finding something to do with the space, it's just the million pounds required to have that much space that's the problem.

(Or the distance! https://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/7-private-islands-that-co... )

I live in a 1200 square-foot house - man, I would love to have a couple more rooms. Especially once we start having kids.

Store their stuff.

It is rarer in the UK, true, but take a stroll down the Bishop's Avenue (N2) and there are some fine examples of more money than taste.

She does count cheapness of building materials against the houses, meaning that one aspect of McMansions is actually applying minimal money in the pursuit of maximal poor taste. No matter how much a McMansion costs, it seems to maximize its size at that price point.

I'd like to see a similar blog for the terrible "modern" homes currently being built.

Count the exterior materials! Cinder blocks, fake artisanal barnwood, neon-green door, neon-orange corrugated metal, exposed concrete, yellow windows, reclaimed shipping container...

In particular anybody who reclaims a shipping container has not done the math. It's an idea that sounds good or affordable but it takes a lot of money and expertise to make that work properly even if the container was free. It would make considerably more sense to acquire a large cardboard box.

Never mind making it work properly, just slap them together as per http://www.examiner.com.au/story/380795/one-mans-container-i...

If you are not concerned with the difficulty of running plumbing/electric, you still have thermal bridging through steel at 400 times the conductivity of wood. The people who use steel framing often thermally isolate thin strips of metal, not the entire wall. The insulation job the guy says he hasn't done yet, he's going to find out he'll need to insert a cavity air gap. If he chooses to stick it with a gap as external sheathing to save space he'll still need to contend with condensation on this very conductive surface. If he goes for passive house level air tightness and internal smart vapour barrier he could be fine but somehow I think he's just winging it which means water vapour will condense inside his house and not be able to dry out. Hello mildew and everything he owns will rot. You can build with shipping containers, but you've got to really know what you're doing.

tldr; A guy spent 50k+ to put his house inside a heatsink. This looks environmentally friendly but with the probable dehumidifier requirements it is probably much worse than regular building.

Indeed! I kinda meant "just slap them together and to hell with the consequences", probably should have written that.

I recently bought a house, built in 1964 needs some maintenance but generally okay. Has a heat pump. The idea of buying land a little way out of town and constructing my own dwelling using reclaimed materials crossed my mind a lot. Fortunately I work in the structural steel fabrication industry, so I've got enough building experience to be dangerous, but the wisdom to know better.

We're at 41 degrees south, old mate in the article I linked is a bit closer to the bottom of the mountains, so probably cops a bit more of the cold air drifting down the snow caps. When it's been -4 degrees every morning for a week in the middle of winter going to work with cold steel is finger-snapping. I wonder how they make it through the winters. Probably crawl up inside their refrigerator where it's warmer.

> Indeed! I kinda meant "just slap them together and to hell with the consequences"

I think he proceeded with that plan, I looked up some other photos of that build. He nailed some tarp with the containers into a kind of gable roof. I try to be as positive and constructive as possible with people's projects but sometimes it is very clear there exists a species of person who never had the thought "huh, maybe I should google that" or "this must have been done before, I wonder what best practice is". I suppose there's something to be said for being fearless.

> The idea of buying land a little way out of town and constructing my own dwelling using reclaimed materials crossed my mind a lot.

I've said before that you can theoretically reclaim an entire house if you have enough time and employ your own labour. That is commendable, especially if you're stuck with few opportunities to work for money, but it is not the easiest path. You'll need a place to store large items secure from thieves and rain/sun.

> When it's been -4 degrees every morning for a week in the middle of winter going to work with cold steel is finger-snapping. I wonder how they make it through the winters. Probably crawl up inside their refrigerator where it's warmer.

I've been soaked to the skin with water in winter so I know how that feels. They'll just spend a fortune on electricity. In their place I might have buried the containers to alleviate the temperature change. There is also a nice new/old technology called PCM - phase change material which would allow you to average out the temperature shifts from night to day by storing thermal energy like a battery. It releases heat from the walls when the temp drops and basically acts as artificial thin thermal mass. I think it's an Ozzie company too that does it.

Neon-green door!

When I first saw these I thought they hadn't got around to painting the door, then I started to see these bright yellow window trims and guttering. It was then I began to suspect the Teletubbies had got new jobs as exterior design consultants.

A lot of this McMansion stuff has trickled down into smaller homes, in the 2000-3000 square foot range. I think the term is neo-eclectic. Multiple roof lines, no two windows looking the same, lacking symmetry, front-facing three car garages, three or four different types of materials on the outside (siding, shake shingle, brick, etc.). These houses also suffer the same fate as many McMansions, where the house takes up a massive amount of the lot and you get houses stacked on top of each other with very small backyards[1].

Almost all of the new houses I see being built are using this style. I'm looking into building a house and in my area and it's impossible to find a builder advertising their plans online who don't use this style. So if you want to deviate from this style of house, you have to start working with an architect to draw something up or try and find your own house plans. I'm not saying this is a terrible burden, just that it's hard to get something more traditional "off the shelf", so to speak, and many people building a house don't want to go through that much of a process.

I'm looking to build my house a rural lot in the 5-10 acre range, so fitting into neighborhood aesthetics isn't that crucial to me, but many places people build, it's going to look ridiculous to place a traditional cape cod amongst all the neo-eclectic stuff.

[1] Small backyards and closely built houses work well in city neighborhoods but seem to be in conflict with why many people move to the suburbs -- to have more space. I'm not sure the desire to live in such compact lots. Certainly the developers like the small lots because they can squeeze more houses onto the acres their developing on. However, I'm probably an exception because people build these types houses on these types of lots in troves.

> I'm not sure the desire to live in such compact lots.

I do understand the small lots to an extent - adults don't actually use their yards very often especially in climates with cold weather half the year. Yards are a lot of work if you live in a place where you have to care for it. Inside space = usable space for many folks.

I'm truly no different in this respect. I'm a low yard-use person and despise things such as grass mowing. I might go outside with a laptop or a book occasionally, if the space is private.

Which to me, is truly the most horrible thing about these neighborhoods. Some of them merely have walking space between the houses, and it cuts down on privacy. To me, that is the main reason to have a yard - a buffer zone between me and my neighbors. I'd be quite happy with the rural lot you describe, but I don't think the folks moving to the suburbs view it as such.

>A lot of this McMansion stuff has trickled down into smaller homes, in the 2000-3000 square foot range.

Oh, god, yes. My well off but not rich (high 5 figures, low six figures) friends are buying these. They are pouring a ton of their wealth/income into these pseudo-prestigious things. It's strange to watch.

I wonder what the resale value on these houses will be. In the areas these are built around me, housing prices aren't skyrocketing, so if you built and had to sell within a few years, you're probably going to take a loss unless the market changes substantially. However, these places likely have a 20-25 year lifespan for the original owners as kids are born, raised, go off to college, and then start their own lives.

There's going to be a glut of these things out there that someone needs to buy. Everyone wants new things, so why would people in 20-30 years have demands for a house that was "stylish" 20-30 years ago? I'm only in my 30's, so maybe I'm just ignorant of housing construction cycles, but it my social group, I see a lot of these things being built.

That's another reason why I want to build something more traditional -- to hopefully stand out from the pack when I eventually go to sell.

This is architectural trollery unleashed on the innocent masses, the kind of information that just makes homeowners feel bad about their property but does little to change things. The mcmansionshell crusade is analogous to developers publically complaining (trolling) about perfectly functional, stable source code that isn't as idiomatic as it could be. Unlike real property, source code is a hell of a lot easier and more likely to be improved when the criticism is compelling. Homeowners, on the other hand, won't upgrade. They literally have to just "live with it".

So then why even have aesthetic guidelines about architecture? Why don't we all just live and work in cuboid structures with perfectly square windows spaced at uniform intervals?

I think you missed where she points out non-aestetical flaws of those McMansions, like cheap materials, water damage, covered-up measuring mistakes, wasted space.

yes I did

Perhaps this is a good thread to ask: Does anyone have book recommendations about how and why houses are built? For example, this blog talks about siding (EIFS, vinyl, stucco), but I'd like to learn how these are made, relative costs, how they respond to different climates, how they're actually constructed etc. I'd like to learn about all different aspects of houses, for example, why are foundations just poured concrete, vs using stone? What are the advantages of brick vs stone, etc.

http://diy.stackexchange.com/ might be a good place for those questions.

Stone is expensive, hard to transport, and difficult to shape. Concrete is stone you can pour, although you need to keep water away from the embedded steel reinforcement.

UK houses tend to be brick and US wood due to relative costs in those countries.

/r/homeimprovement on reddit can have some bright spots too.

As a general note, house construction varies a lot throughout the US due to the climate variances.

E.g. someone moving to the bay area from the midwest is going to find the insulation in houses there comical. Here in Colorado we have almost no vinyl siding (because of the increased UV exposure, I presume), and mold is less of a concern than elsewhere. Full basements are the norm in the midwest, but rare in Texas and nearly impossible in Florida.

Any valid critiques the author may have are completely lost in the contempt and pretentiousness of her writing style.

Additionally, I am incredibly skeptical of her ability to judge the quality of a house's construction based on a single exterior photo.

Come on. It's entertainment. Like http://www.peopleofwalmart.com it's a lighthearted laugh at people with zero taste.

Or, to put it in terms HN will get: Do a code review of really bad unnecessarily-complicated code. It's hard to NOT think things like: "Jeez, this person doesn't know what they're doing." and "This code is confusing and ugly, but the writer probably thinks it's elegant." McMansion design is like someone throwing every design pattern that exists into their code because someone told them once that design patterns are good.

Wow, never heard of POWM before but that's one hateful piece of "entertainment" if I've ever seen one.

The entire entertainment value seems to be based on publicly shaming people. I have no idea how you can consider this "lighthearted". That's 4chan level misanthropy right there.

There's been a shift in American humor, and others have noted, due to the class division probably; we used to laugh with each other, or maybe laugh together at the authorities, but now we are laughing at each other, or better put, we are laughing at them.

Here's a recent illustrative Saturday Night Live sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WytdYtzyZg

POWM is a bad example... it mocks people with really shitty lives.

Basically, the Daily WTF, but for houses.

Funny, I thought the author is mostly correct, and also chucked quite a few times at the silly writing.

To each her own.

I basically agree with her while cringing at a lot of the academic jargon around design language. I do believe that consistency of style in architecture is a thing while recognizing that homes are in service of how people use their interiors.

Presumably the people who actually buy the "McMansions" don't think they look all that bad. Otherwise they'd buy something else, right?

Sometimes (often? usually?) it's just that by the time you narrow it down to 1) houses that will let all my kids have their own bedroom, in 2) a school district where I won't have panic attacks about what a horrible experience I'm putting my kids through, and 3) in my budget... all that's left are McMansions, or smaller houses that similarly maximize space and ease of construction over quality of materials or nicer design.

[edit] in fact I'd bet that, in my city at least, the overwhelming majority of mid-sized to large family houses that would sit on the lower half of the author's scale are in bad school districts, and many are neglected and deteriorating in outright slums.

You only need to look at 70s/80s fashions to know that "don't think they look all that bad" isn't the same thing as "not bad", though.

Yeah, fashions change. So?

Edit: yes, 70s and 80s fashions have now been decreed "bad" by those who claim to have superior taste.

20 years from now they'll be "good" again. Wait and see.

Those have already been good again, and bad again, several times over.

Or they buy what they can afford.

That too, in which case sneering at them is plain ol' snobbery.

No one is making McMansion haters buy one or live in one.

Me, I can't imagine why anyone would willingly live in San Francisco or New York City, but people obviously do. I just don't feel the need to write snobby articles criticizing them for their lifestyle choices.

The biggest objection seems to be from the urban sprawl they (help) create and the externalities that causes everyone else.

So even phrasing it as some sort of taste, quality or architectural design issue doesn't make sense to me.

> The biggest objection seems to be from the urban sprawl they (help) create and the externalities that causes everyone else.

Now that is an article I would want to read!

Good design doesn't have to be expensive. And surely the larger of these badly designed houses (which seem to be the worst) can't be that cheap?

When you are in it, you don't have to look at it.

I find it to be one of the funniest tumblrs around. I frequently burst into laughter from the photo captions.

Interestingly the higher the number the more I like the house.

The low number ones are boring and plain. The high number ones are interesting to live in.

I hear there's an ancient Chinese curse about living in interesting-something-or-other. I don't think it was houses, but I bet they'd have adjusted it if they'd seen these.

Can you generalize what exactly it is you like? How many small pointy roofs and different kinds of windows do you like? Is there an upper limit on how disney it can look, if we expanded the McMansion scale to 20 in photoshop?

Can you appreciate a reduced style in other things, say, the original Google.com or the first iPod?

The lower number houses are basically boxes with a bit of extra.

The higher number ones have all sorts of nooks and areas. It just makes it more interesting.

I can acknowledge that the lower number ones are more practical space/land use wise, (with the exception of an attached garage, which is useful but occurs in the higher numbers).

But when you live there having all sorts of small or unusual areas is nice. For example a small nook could be great for reading a book, or a dormer for watching the snow, etc.

> Can you appreciate a reduced style in other things, say, the original Google.com or the first iPod?

That conflates style with usage. Style changes with no use I don't like - for example I'm not a fan of the fake porch above the entryway. But add a door so I can use it, and I'll like it.

Fair enough. Can't argue over style.

(Btw. this is officially the best house on the planet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnsworth_House)

We have very different styles. That house looks like a great downstairs, but it's completely missing the "upstairs" rooms (i.e. bedroom, quiet reading area, small corners, private areas where you can be separate from other people in the house).

It looks like half a house.

I can't believe it won accolades. It looks like a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

From the exterior, the modernist in the #1 block was my favorite, and the Suburban Craftsman in the #2 block my second... most of the rest I find less appealing. I also tend to like more Colonial and Victorian era looks as well.

That's just me though, that said it doesn't have to be a particular style to be good looking... it's about balance, scale and style. It's too easy to go over the top in very bad ways. I've also seen some nicer garage integrations, usually with the garage entry to the side, which allows for a better balance... If the house is too small, then a separate garage or different integration can work.

Me, too!

As an european who has never visited the US, I'm totally unfamiliar with this kind of buildings, other than seeing them in TV Shows like Family Matters or Full House. Also, almost every single american woodworking YouTube channel is recorded in a garage of one this kind of houses. I find them huge, yet their popularity makes me think they're pretty common, maybe even affordable?

As a fellow European I think it's worth pointing out that the norm in Europe is still to build houses to last (you expect your kids to inherit them or to be some kind of investment).

In the US they are more often built for the shorter term. This comes down to building materials and other (from a European POV) questionable decisions that save money or make them easier to produce or just don't seem as important with the short term in mind.

This doesn't hold true universally of course. Some people in the US place value in building things to last and some Europeans are starting to see houses as something they will replace when the kids move out or whatever, but it seems to be reflective of a general cultural difference.

Also, there's just a lot more space in the US and mass-produced suburbian housing is a thing.

They are common in some suburban neighborhoods but not most. Not affordable to most. These homes are $1million+.

There are lots of different style home and each part of the US has styles that are unique. My personal favorite American style is the brownstone https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownstone

Check out this https://www.thisoldhouse.com/ideas/american-house-styles

In suburbs of most US big cities (Chicago, Dallas, Raleigh, Atlanta etc) you can get a decent 4 bedroom 3000 sqft detached house in a good school district for under $500k

BTB, I am a immigrant and i like these Mcmansions compared to the cramped houses i grew-up in india. Also i think US has one of the cheapest real estate in the world relative to income.

60% of US housing is detached single family homes.


They aren't all huge and architecturally peculiar though.

I wonder how are the houses in some places in Germany, for example? They also love their cars and have real winters...

The average German lives in an apartment or multi-family house.

On the country side there are still a lot of fully detached houses but they're either mostly "old" (i.e. built or fully renovated after the war) or built to a different standard (Germans generally consider drywall a cheap substitute). But of course that is also changing.

Also, building your own house is not as affordable as it seems to be in the US. Germans have a stronger aversion to taking out loans and banks often want a significant down payment.

From what I've seen few home owners actually park their cars in garages though. Recently carports (basically sunroofs) have become pretty popular but most people seem to park their cars in the driveway as far as I can tell. We just clean them more often, I guess.

what kind of multi-family house? Side by Side duplex? Up down duplex? Quadplex? Something else?

I don't know what the averages are, but I'd say in towns the most typical are terraced houses with four or five floors - sometimes that's one apartment on each floor, sometimes two.

In my experience it varies. In the bigger cities they're typically four to five storey apartment buildings with between one and four apartments on each floor. But across Germany you probably see the entire gamut from fully detached single-family to residential skyscrapers depending on where you go.

There is a great podcast released a few days ago by 99% invisible interviewing the creator of the site: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/mcmansion-hell-devil-d...

Incidentally, I find TFA to exemplify a "McWebsite". The interesting primary content is totally dominated by the massive "More You Might Like" footer with four more entire McMansion articles sandwiched in together, including all original images and graphics. Meanwhile Chrome is pegging at 500k for this one page. Lose the four-car garage please!

The author rightfully hates on pre-lawsuit EIFS, but I know it's improved quite a bit.

Does anyone know how good EIFS is these days? As far as a quick Google tells me, post-lawsuit EIFS is a magical building material from the gods that can quite literally withstand hurricanes and missiles [0] but I imagine reality is a bit more nuanced than that.

[0] http://www.architectmagazine.com/technology/products/revisit...

I'm not surprised to see the higher end of the scale feature lots of oversized eave returns. I am surprised TFA doesn't mention this everyday horror of ostentatious suburban living. A classical eave return is only appropriate when of classical dimensions.


Does the author feel better after writing generating all of this negativity? I don't feel better reading it.

I live in the opposite of a McMansion, but if I had a choice, I would prefer to live in a large house where I can have some space that is my own. I wouldn't give two shits about what someone thinks about the appearance of the house.

There are those who view success as a large house, nice car, a nice lawn, with kids running around in the back yard. There are people who view success as living in the city, childless, dining out, paying ever increasing rent as your badge of honor. The old American Dream concluded with you seeing the fruits of your labor in your possessions and the successes of your progeny. It was full of traps and the ways to fail were many, but there was some sort of blueprint to having something at the end of it all. The new American Dream is really just like a dream. You wake up and you have nothing to show for it and you barely remember it. You ate good food, drank good drinks, hung out with friends, went to that awesome show. All these great experiences. But you paid for them, in high rent, untold thousands on cabs home, expensive meals, artisanal trinkets, the right clothes, concert tickets. And the next day, they are memories. And then at some point, you are old, you age out of the lifestyle, and then out of your job and suddenly you have nothing left. Which of these American Dreams is better?

This is an extremely bizarre comment.

Research suggests that spending money on experiences brings lasting happiness and spending money on material objects does not. Not wanting to own a huge house doesn't mean being childless or childfree. Most Americans have children sometime in their lives and even many who can't have children would like to have had them.

Consumerism is still alive and well in America.

Does one really age out of enjoying eating, drinking, and companionship? Does hitting a certain age mean you suddenly want to sit around the house alone eating bland food and staring at your accumulation of stuff?

Enjoying going out and doing things at the expense of a long commute, two SUVs, and huge house doesn't mean you spend 100% of your money and have no budget. I enjoy all those things (too much) and still save half our income and we max out our 401(k)s and IRAs. If I had a smaller income I'd adjust my spending, I certainly did when I was a student and also when I was very poor. If I wanted to buy a McMansion once I age out of companionship and having fun I certainly can afford to do so at that time.

Personally, material possessions bring me a lot of anxiety and I'd like to own as little as possible to reduce my anxiety level. I don't want to "[see] the fruits of [my] labor in [my] possessions."

What's bizarre about my comment?

I was positing that perhaps the American Dream has changed. The previous generation bought into the dream of owning a house and the car and the bigger the better. The motivation to buy a McMansion is a cultural response, but so is the new vision of living the way you live. I live more like you than like the people buying McMansions, except that I own the apartment I live in. Living in the NYC area, I see a lot of people who are chasing the urban dweller lifestyle at the expense of their future needs. They don't save, instead choosing to live paycheck to paycheck to afford their lifestyle.

In terms of aging out, I think that there is a limit to that type of lifestyle and it comes with having kids or other responsibilities, aging parents, illness, etc. I don't want to make it about you specifically anymore than I want to make it about me specifically. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. I am sure that the majority of the audience of HN who work are able to live well and save well. We aren't the majority in society.

Every time this site come up on yc, I I always have the same impression... I like what the guy is trying to do to improve architecture, but it just seems so mean spirited in execution.

Reminds me of Yelp reviews that slam a restaurant for its decor and don't mention the quality of the food.

She does talk about quality of materials in other posts in addition to the failure to use / design / construct with those cheaper materials.

She's a hysterical writer. Highly recommend poking around her site for a bit. She's changed the way I look at real estate.

That would only be true if these were architectural reviews that praised the food prepared in the McMansion's kitchen but didn't address the architecture.

Most people buy homes to live in, not to look at and show off to other people. The majority of your interactions with your own home will be inside of it. None of these articles even acknowledge the fact that these might have nice interiors that offer more conveniences than a 1000 sq ft home built in 1932.

It's not about "showing off." It's about whether the structures are inviting or alienating. It's about whether they contribute to the aesthetic of the neighborhood. It's about whether their exteriors sacrifice form for a cheap veneer of ostentation. The elements of McMansions are borrowed, ineptly, from better classes of buildings and then mangled and jumbled together.

They make a vague visual promise of quality, and their intent is to be sold. Buildings should, instead, function inside and out to support the life and activities of their residents and those residents neighbors and visitors. The visual function of architecture is not decoration; Architecture uses a visual language that conveys the uses of structures to the community at large, as well as the residents (in a home) or patrons (in a business or public space), so that society can function.

And, to say that these homes are not bought to be looked at nor shown off is incredibly naive. The point of them is aesthetics, and that's part and parcel of why they're such travesties. It's why they are degenerate. They're the kind of thing that can only pass to someone who is uprooted from their own culture and history, cannot even rely on even a folk understanding as a guide to what works or does not work architecturally. These are degenerate homes, sold to the degenerate mass of déclassé and rootless consumers.

McMansions are actually made for showing off to other people as well as living in. The whole point of a McMansion is a pseudo-status symbol.

If you actually read her blog she actually does critiques the interiors as well.

If those are not made for showing off, I don't know what they are made for.

So tiny houses and large mansions are the same on this scale? What does the author think mansion means?

The scale is supposed to be a scale of the quality of the design.

Neither tiny houses or well-designed mansions qualify as 'McMansions'.

The quality is only the "Mc" part of "McMansion" though. and Mansion implies large house.


> Neither tiny houses or well-designed mansions qualify as 'McMansions'.

Yet they're on the McMansion scale.

It establishes a baseline as a frame of reference.

Yes, at the bottom of it.

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