In American suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative for a type of large, new luxury house which is judged to be oversized for the parcel or incongruous for its neighborhood. Alternatively, a McMansion can be a large, new house in a subdivision of similarly large houses, which all seem mass-produced and lacking in distinguishing characteristics, as well as appearing at odds with the traditional local architecture.
The neologism "McMansion" seems to have been coined sometime in the early 1980s. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1990 and the New York Times in 1998. Related terms include "Persian palace", "garage Mahal", "starter castle", and "Hummer house." An example of a McWord, "McMansion" associates the generic quality of these luxury homes with that of mass-produced fast food meals by evoking the McDonald's restaurant chain.
The term "McMansion" is generally used to denote a new, or recent, multi-story house of no clear architectural style, with a notably larger footprint than the existing houses in its neighborhood. It may seem too large for its lot and rarely has windows on the sides due to closely abutting upon the property boundaries, giving the appearance of crowding adjacent homes. A McMansion is either located in a newer, larger subdivision or replaces an existing, smaller structure in an older neighborhood.
- One real-estate writer explains the successful formula for McMansions: symmetrical structures on clear-cut lots with Palladian windows centered over the main entry and brick or stone enhancing the driveway entrance, plus multiple chimneys, dormers, pilasters, and columns—and inside, the master suite with dressing rooms and bath-spa, great rooms, breakfast and dining rooms, showplace kitchen, and extra high and wide garages for multiple cars and SUVs.
Typical attributes also include a floor area of over 3,000 square feet (280 m2), ceilings 9 to 10 feet (3 m) high, a two-story portico, a two-story front door hall with a chandelier hanging from 16 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m), two or more garages, several bedrooms and bathrooms, and lavish interiors. The house often covers a larger portion of the lot than the construction it replaces. McMansions may also be built in homogeneous communities by a single developer.
Beginning in California in the 1980s, the larger home concept was intended to fill a gap between the more modest suburban tract home and the upscale custom homes found in gated, waterfront, or golf course communities. Subdivisions were developed around such communities, as well as in pre-existing neighborhoods, either in empty lots or as replacements for torn-down structures. The larger homes proved popular and demand increased dramatically, particularly in light of new land-management laws that were enacted in the 1980s and '90s. Efforts to economize may have led to a decline in quality for many of these new homes, prompting the coinage of the disparaging term. Because these homes emphasize instant gratification, they are rarely designed with energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, maintainability, and longevity in mind.
In a development that runs counter to the previous boom in construction of McMansions, recent reports suggest that the Great Recession (2008–Present) has caused new house sizes in the United States to stabilize.
The widespread disdain for the McMansion stems from perceptions that these houses look and feel inappropriate for a given neighborhood, are wasteful in terms of space (too much room for too few people) and resources (building materials, electricity, gas), project the pretentiousness (or lack of taste or refinement) of their owners, and a general discordance in architectural preferences.
McMansions often mix a bewildering variety of architectural styles and elements, combining quoins, steeply sloped roofs, multiple roof lines, complicated massing and pronounced dormers, all producing what some consider an unpleasant jumbled appearance.
The builder may have attempted to achieve expensive effects with cheap materials, skimped on details, or hidden defects with cladding:
- Though construction quality may be subpar and materials shoddy (from faux stucco to styrofoam crown molding and travertine compounded from epoxied marble dust), McMansion buyers are eager; the real-estate writer locates them in the generation of my angst-ridden Boston University students: "mostly young, mobile, career-oriented, high-salaried 30- and 40-something individuals" who are too time-squeezed to hire an architect but seek "a luxury home" that they might soon (and easily) sell whenever "it's time to move on."
Another unflattering observation is that some McMansions have been designed from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. Because priority has been given to the interior, a house's exterior appearance suffers, with oddly placed windows and an amorphous or bloated quality.
The construction of what seems to be too large a house on an existing lot will often draw the ire of neighbors and other local residents. In 2006, for example, a recently built house in Kirkland, Washington — an affluent suburb on Seattle's Eastside — stood so close to an adjoining property that, in the words of the chair of the city's Neighborhood Association, "you can read the lettering on the canned vegetables in the house next door." Built as tract "mansions" or executive homes in marketing parlance, they generally are found in outlying suburban areas because lot sizes in older neighborhoods generally are not conducive to residences of this large scale. These homes usually are constructed among other large homes by a subdivider on speculation; they generally are built en-masse by a development company to be marketed as premium real estate, but do not feature custom features.
In popular culture
- The family of the mob boss featured in the celebrated television series The Sopranos (1999–2007) lives in a North Caldwell, New Jersey house bearing many of the hallmarks of the typical McMansion.
- The Bluth family of the television series Arrested Development is in the business of building opulent-looking sub-quality housing.
- In the 13th season of the animated television series King of the Hill — in the episode entitled "Square-Footed Monster" (2008) — a McMansion is built in the local neighborhood to the dismay of the show's protagonist, Hank Hill. The structure has to be destroyed during a strong windstorm as it had been cheaply built and posed a risk to the local community.
- In a scene during True Blood's third season, the vampire antagonist Russell Edgington, after first murdering a fictional news anchor on live television in front of the broadcast's American audience, mocks mankind for what he sees as a multitude of actions. During this rant, Russell expresses disdain for many different types of behavior performed by a people that he sees as lesser beings than himself and his kind, at one point expresses hate for their "garish McMansions."
- In The Cleveland Show episode "There Goes El Neighborhood", Donna mentions to Cleveland that if he had not spent so much money on their Super Bowl party he could afford to buy her a McMansion.
- The hit television show MTV Cribs rose to prominence by presenting guided tours of what most would consider to be McMansions belonging to entertainers, professional athletes and other celebrities. Many of those houses may be observed as being in direct contrast to the display of some of the more informed or more tastefully executed residences presented by Robin Leach on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
- In the song Jesusland by Ben Folds, he sings about "beautiful McMansions on a hill that overlook a highway."
- In episode 2 of House of Cards, the main character Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) distinguishes money from power by saying, "He chose money over power—in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries."
- An example from Braces, gym suits, and early-morning seminary: a youthquake survival manual (1985) by Joni Winn [Hilton]: "The McMansion, by the way, is really just the largest house in the neighborhood"
- Book Review: Search for Environmental View of Design, Review of 'Out of Place: Restoring Identity to the Regional Landscape', by Michael Hough Yale University Press. Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1990. "What character their history and ecology might offer is being strip-mined to make way for anonymous residential projects, monolithic office towers, climate-controlled retail complexes of questionable design and awkward transportation systems—all in the abused name of progress. We are talking here of the march of mini-malls and 'McMansions.' "
- Interiors; Getting Smart About Art of Living Small. Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1998. The size of the average new single-family home has gone from 1,520 square feet (141 m2) in 1971 to 2,120 square feet (197 m2) in 1996, according to "1998 Housing Facts, Figures and Trends," published by the National Assn. of Home Builders. "But not everyone is living in a McMansion or aspires to it," said Gale Steves, editor of Home Magazine. "Every time we do a small house in the magazine, there is lots of mail."
- Cheever, Benjamin - Close to home; Life in a Crater Will Do, For Now. New York Times, August 27, 1998. Twenty mansions were planned for the development, each designed to look like the biggest house in town. The McMansion we thought of as ours had an enormous kitchen, more than two stories high.
- The term Persian palace is specific to Los Angeles and West Hollywood and refers to houses built by Iranian immigrants, not to Iranian architecture. Goldin, Greg (2006-06-17). "In Defense of the Persian Palace". LA Times. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
- Filter, Alicia (2006-04-20). "McMansions: Super-sized homes cause a super-sized backlash". Illinois Business Law Journal. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
- Stephen A. Mouzon, Susan M. Henderson. Traditional Construction Patterns. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2004. "(1) Victorian door and side lights on vaguely classical McMansion, (2) Victorian door and side lights on vaguely Georgian McMansion, (3) possibly an Oriental moon gate door on a vaguely classical house..." Pages 144 and 190.
- Cecelia Techi. Exposés and excess: muckraking in America, 1900-2000. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pages 33-34.
- Not including the basement. Used as a working definition by the Environmental Design Research Association in a 2006 report. This represents a floorspace "30 percent larger than the average new house and larger than 80 percent of houses" according to the 2000 Census. EDRA37: beyond conflict : proceedings of the 37th Annual Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association, May 3–7, 2006, Atlanta, Georgia. Page 254.
- Fletcher, June (2009-06-29). "McMansions Out of Favor, for Now". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
- Miles Jaffe. The Hamptons Dictionary: The Essential Guide to Class Warfare. Constellation, 2008. Page 82.
- Fiona Allon. Renovation nation: our obsession with home. UNSW Press, 2008. Page 151.
- From Metropolitan Home, Volume 24 (1992): "This is no McMansion. Every door is perfectly placed, every proportion is exactly right."
- Chiu, Lisa (2006-06-08). "Big homes on small lots crowd Kirkland neighbors". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-02-11.
- Remnick, David (June 2007). "Family Guy". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
- ""King of the Hill" Square-Footed Monster". IMBD. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- Russell Edgington's TV speech on True Blood - YouTube
- Bernstein, Fred A. "Are McMansions Going out of Style?" The New York Times, October 2, 2005.
- Fletcher, June. "The McMansion Glut". The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2006.
- Leinberger, Christopher B. "The Next Slum?" The Atlantic Monthly, March 2008.
- Rybczynski, Witold. "How McMansions Go Wrong" Slate.com, January 4, 2006
- Long, Joshua. 2010. Weird City: Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press.
- On architecture: collected reflections on a century of change, By Ada Louise Huxtable, Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2008
- Photographs of a McMansion's interior, including the tall hallway with chandelier, Boston.com.