In suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative term for a large "mass-produced" dwelling marketed to the upper middle class mainly in the United States. Virginia Savage McAlester, who also gave a first description of the common features which define this building style, coined the more neutral term Millennium Mansion.
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. Other terms used to describe "McMansions" include "Persian palace", "Garage Mahal", "starter castle", and "Hummer house". Marketing parlance often uses the term "tract mansions" or executive homes.
The term may either refer to houses that are oversized, cheaply-built, and developed at once in a subdivision, or houses that replace smaller homes which seem far too large for their lots (such a house may even lack side windows due to the proximity to the boundaries—another related cliché.).
One real-estate writer explains a successful formula typically found in 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."
These houses also typically have 3,000 square feet (280 m2) or more of floor area, ceilings 9 to 10 feet (2.5 to 3m) high or higher, a two-story portico, a two-story front door hall (often containing a large chandelier), a garage with room for three or more cars, many bedrooms (with some having five or more), many bathrooms, extensive crown molding and related features, and lavish—if superficial—interior features.
As noted above, a McMansion replacing a smaller house in a community of smaller-sized houses will cover a much larger portion of the lot than the previous house; in the other usage, McMansions are built en masse 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 housing and the upscale, often custom, houses found in gated, waterfront, or golf course communities. Such communities were developed as subdivisions, or pre-existing neighborhoods were transformed by building on empty lots or replacing torn-down structures. The larger houses proved popular and demand increased dramatically, particularly in light of new land-management laws that were enacted in the 1980s and 1990s.
Efforts to economize may have led to a decline in quality for many of these new houses, prompting the coinage of the disparaging term. Because these houses emphasize instant gratification, they are almost never designed with energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, maintainability, or longevity in mind.
In a development that runs counter to the previous boom in construction of McMansions, a 2009 report suggested that the Great Recession (2008–2012) has stabilized new house sizes in the United States. However, as the economy recovered, home sizes returned to their upward trend.
Throughout the 2010s, the McMansion style started to fall out of favor, during which the McModern, a newer style of single-family home, began to permeate urban neighborhoods of North America. Unlike McMansions' excessive ornamentation and random architectural style, McModerns emulate modernist architectural styles and are popular with Millennials.
In a city, traditional upscale custom houses are mostly found in the most affluent residential neighbourhoods (commonly regarded as "Millionaires' Mile"), which are typically gated, waterfront, ravine, or golf course communities, all of which have some of the highest residential property taxes in the city. Most of these communities are usually well-established, and the real estate prices tend to be high but stable. The houses themselves feature architectural preferences in general accordance with the neighborhood.
By contrast, McMansions are typically constructed further from the city center than suburban tract housing. In addition, the land that McMansions are built on is often zoned as agricultural or re-zoned to residential from agricultural, and often outside of the city proper limits, as both of these result in lower property taxes. These areas may be in demand by buyers who desire a bigger house than the tract house, but are unwilling to pay for (or lack the means to afford) houses in the city's traditional upscale neighborhoods. Due to this demographic, which is more susceptible to boom and bust economic cycles, prices of McMansions tend to be much more volatile and are often fueled by speculation.
Another reason why McMansions are generally found in outlying suburban areas is that lots in older neighborhoods are often much smaller and not conducive to such residences. McMansions are usually much larger than older houses and constructed among other large houses by a subdivider on speculation; they generally are built en masse by a development company to be marketed as premium real estate, but offer few custom features. 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."
McMansions often haphazardly mix a variety of conflicting architectural styles and elements, combining quoins, steeply sloped roofs, multiple roof lines, complicated massing, and pronounced dormers, to produce an appearance that many[who?] consider unpleasant, jumbled, or messy.
The builder may have attempted 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."
Frequently, priority in McMansion construction is given to the interior layout. It has been claimed that this gives the exterior appearance an "amorphous" or "bloated" quality.
In some neighborhoods, most or all the houses have the same layout and design with minor differences, such as siding or shutter color, and are often called "cookie-cutter" neighborhoods.
From the perspective of a housebuilder, luxury houses of 3,000 square feet (280 m2) or more are more profitable than smaller houses. Many communities have few residential lots available; thus, those builders who acquire them are likely to build a luxury house. In 2014, 32% of the new houses being built had 3,000 square feet (280 m2) or more of floor space, and the average size of new construction had increased to over 2,600 square feet (240 m2).
The widespread disdain for the McMansion stems from perceptions that these houses look and feel inappropriate (either by themselves or for a given neighborhood), are extremely wasteful (due to their inefficient land usage (suburban sprawl) and the large amounts of materials and utilities needed to construct them), and increase commute times significantly. Some go even further, saying that these houses give an impression that their owners lack taste or refinement or are pretentious, or that they show a general discordance in architectural preferences.
In Australia, the main reason McMansions have received a very cold reception is because the archetypal Australian house is generally a single story, red brick house or a bungalow, and because many McMansions use cement render materials perceived as giving an extremely exaggerated appearance. When older and modest houses are often bought as teardowns and McMansions constructed on the vacant land, one observer notes that many instances have occurred where "a poor house stands side by side with a good house."
- Virginia Savage McAlester: A Field Guide to American Houses. The Definite Guide to Identifying and Understanding America's Domestic Architecture. Second Edition, Knopf, New York 2013, ISBN 978-1-4000-4359-0
- McFedries, Paul (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origins. Alpha Books. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-59257-781-1.
- 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". LA 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 (August 27, 1998). "CLOSE TO HOME; Life in a Crater Will Do, For Now". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 10, 2022.
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 mainly refers to such houses in 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. Archived from the original on 2012-01-14. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
- Filter, Alicia (2006-04-20). "McMansions: Super-sized homes cause a super-sized backlash". Illinois Business Law Journal. Archived from the original on 2009-09-29. 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.
- Zelinsky, Wilbur (2011). Not Yet a Placeless Land: Tracking an Evolving American Geography. Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-55849-871-6.
- Stone, Madeline. "Americans could be killing the McMansion for good". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 2019-02-21. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
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- Darlin, Damon (2016-06-03). "Homes Keep Getting Bigger, Even as Families Get Smaller". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2016-06-13. Retrieved 2017-06-22.
- Wagner, Kate (June 30, 2017). "The rise of the McModern". Curbed. Archived from the original on August 13, 2019. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
- Garfield, Leanna (August 7, 2017). "Millennials are ditching the cookie-cutter McMansion for the 'McModern'". Business Insider. Archived from the original on August 13, 2019. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
- 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.
- Chiu, Lisa (2006-06-08). "Big homes on small lots crowd Kirkland neighbors". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 2015-04-08. Retrieved 2008-02-11.
- From Metropolitan Home, Volume 24 (1992): "This is no McMansion. Every door is perfectly placed, every proportion is exactly right."
- "Why do cookie-cutter neighborhoods exist?". HowStuffWorks. 2012-05-02. Archived from the original on 2015-09-16. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
- Kriston Capps (August 3, 2015). "The Recovery Is Super-Sizing Houses". CityLab. The Atlantic. Archived from the original on August 6, 2015. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- Sebag-Montefiore, Clarissa (2014-04-25). "Why China's rich want to live in McMansions and fake châteaux". Financial Times. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
- Steinmetz, Photographs by George (2014-09-19). "Let a Hundred McMansions Bloom". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
- Davison, Graeme. "The Past & Future of the Australian Suburb." Australian Planner (Dec. 1994): 63–69.
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- 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