A “McMansion Hell” blog

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Kate Wagner, who writes a blog called McMansion Hell, hates McMansions, and so do I. But I revere Kate Wagner’s ability to tell the difference between a McMansion and a mansion. They are different. I sometimes wonder whether the word McMansion was invented to cast aspersions on mansions, not for being big houses built for people who can afford them, but as new houses built in old styles for people who like them – verboten to the modernist mindset.

The blog Hyperallergic has an article, “The Worst McMansion Sins, From Useless Pilasters to Hellish Transom Windows” by Sarah Archer, that understands Kate Wagner to perfection. Archer hits the jackpot when she describes McMansions as “architectural Mad Libs” and as the houses of rich people as imagined by poor people. (She was actually referring to Trump – “a poor person’s idea of a rich person.”) She writes:

Though a quick read can give the impression that the blog is about taste in a general sense, Wagner is at heart an architectural grammar scold: She hates ugly chandeliers, but what really fuels the ire of McMansion Hell is the misuse and decontextualization of elements that are supposed to carry architectural meaning. It’s the flagrant disregard for these visual and structural relationships — like, say, the cavalier application of scotch tape to the back of an overly-long necktie — that drives Wagner to share her personal hell with the internet.

She is equally devastating in her analysis of McMansion interiors. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Wagner’s site is its McMansion Scale, which analyzes current residential architecture from “New Traditional” to “McMansion Hell.” Her chart moves from “zone of forgivable errors” and “very trendy but well executed nonetheless” to “cascading gables” and “two-story entry, PoMo arch.” The chart displays a comprehensive and erudite understanding of contemporary home design, and is rib-splitting funny to boot.

A tip of the hat to Clay Fulkerson, who sent me the article from the blog Hyperallergic, an amazing compendium of quirky stuff, such as “The Octopus: A Motif of Evil in Historical Propaganda Maps,” which I’m going to next.


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to A “McMansion Hell” blog

  1. Rosanna G. Smith says:

    I am an architecture aficionado. I love architecture and it has become a hobby (I can spot a Sears house in a heartbeat). I now know what a McMansion looks like, and they’re all over the place, I couldn’t put a finger on it, but, I did know I did not like American Eclectic. So, my question is, what is a $100k Cape Cod, or Contemporary/jPost Modern house supposed to look like. Is there an internet page I can look at a house that is well designed? Also, I do like “green” homes. Thanks for your time. Looking forward to some nice pictures.

    Sincerely yours,
    Rose Smith
    Atlanta, GA


    • What is this “American Eclectic” that you say you do not like, Rose? Is it that long period in the late 29th and early 20th century during which American architects took inspiration from prior historical periods, mostly European? The period is worthy of veneration, and the idea that one could possibly dislike it is beyond my ken, except if, as an “architecture afficionado” you count modern architecture among the things you do like. I’m not sure what a “contemporary/postmodern” house is. But if you like modernism/contemporary work, I’m not sure I can direct you to examples online that will answer your questions.


  2. I have been dealing with the same issue of ugly houses in scenic rural landscapes for years and have commented on my website about designs taken from web sites under the heading of rural bungalow turn out like one of these you illustrated. See savingsceniclandscapes.com or search saving scenic landscapes from ugly houses.


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