The Rise of the Mcmansion

by : Kevin And Gretchen Koitz

Even the nation's finest luxury neighborhoods have a category for homes that look cheaply made: McMansions. Home owners in wealthy areas like Bethesda and Chevy Chase, Maryland live in fear of having their homes classified thusly, but occasionally one gets nailed. New neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable because their homes tend to be more modern and less classical - they're also often accused of being more hastily built, although this is rarely the case. For buyers and investors thinking of entering a luxury market, taking a little time to understand exactly what makes a McMansion can help secure a much more solid investment, and make things easier when it's time to sell.

The word McMansion was first widely used during the 1980s, following a stock market boom and a period of national prosperity in the U.S., when many home owners bought and built larger homes. McMansions were also commonly seen during the peak years of the dot-com boom in the 1990s, when millions of software developers and entrepreneurs got rich and built their dream homes on the west coast. During both periods, well-established luxury areas like Montgomery County, Maryland also saw a rise in high-end home construction, and not all of it was well-received. "McMansions" quickly came to refer to large homes that were lacking in character, and often built in uniform rows through large stretches of newly deforested and developed land - this was high-end tract housing for the late 20th century.

McMansions are defined according to a subjective, yet generally consistent set of standards. Perhaps unfairly, the phrase is often applied to new large homes that aren't built in a specific architectural style, or deviate from other local styles. For example, a Queen Anne style large home built in a Phoenix suburb might be labeled a McMansion if most other homes built in this area feature Sonoran or distinctly southwest designs. Many new large homes built in classical or half-timbered European styles are labeled McMansions, although the term can certainly also be used to describe new home styles originating in other traditions.

The quality of construction materials is also often called into question with McMansions. While it's true that many of these homes are built hastily, advances in technology have also made it easier to build homes large homes more cheaply, without compromising construction quality. Pre-fabricated trusses have made it easier to build large rooms without as many walls supporting the roof, and to build flatter roofs. These designs are every bit as sound as older more complex building forms, although they look less traditional.

Other popular slang phrases to denote a McMansion include "Garage Mahal," "Beltway Baronial," "Starter Castle," and "Faux Chateau." It's hard to argue against humor like that, especially since most of it seems spot on. But it's also important to remember that many so-called McMansions are simply large homes not intended to be seen in the same light as classically styled mansions - critics may just be picking on them because they're big.