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.