starter castle


McMansion is a pejorative neologism, coined by NY environmentalist Jay Westervelt, (Westerveld) to describe a particular type of housing that is constructed in an assembly line fashion reminiscent of food production at McDonald's fast food restaurants. The term is one of many McWords. A McMansion often denotes a home with a larger footprint than a median home, an indistinct architectural style similar to others nearby, and is often located in a newer, larger subdivision or replaces an existing, smaller structure in an older neighborhood.

A McMansion is a house with a floor area of between 3000 ft² (280 m²) to 5000 ft² (460 m²) in size, often on small lots (the house itself often covering a larger portion of the land than the yard in a more conventional design), in homogeneous communities that are often produced by a developer. Although they are generally large homes, they are mass produced and are not of the caliber of a mansion. Their cost places them in the purchasing range of the upper middle class segment of the population.

The term McMansion first appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1990; it later appeared in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times in 1998.


Starting in the U.S. stock market boom years of the 1980s, the houses now known as McMansions were a new concept intended to fill a gap between the modest suburban tract home and the upscale custom homes found in gated, waterfront, or golf course communities. Subdivisions comprising McMansions have been developed around such communities, while others are built in pre-existing neighborhoods, either in empty lots or as replacements for torn-down structures.

It has been suggested that their popularity may not be purely based on consumer desires. Adjusted for inflation, in terms of square footage and features, a house in 2006 cost about the same to build as a house in 1970. Therefore, in order to increase profit margins over previous years, builders need to build more expensive houses (more features and square footage) on the same tracts.

Although the term "McMansion" is recent, criticism of American architecture based on the perception that it was oversized and artistically bankrupt reaches at least back to the beginning of the twentieth century. As the social critic H. L. Mencken wrote during the 1920s when examining the architecture of suburban Pittsburgh:

Here was wealth beyond imagination—and here were human habitations so abominable that they would have disgusted a race of alley cats...[Architects] have taken as their model a brick set in end. This they have converted into a thing of dingy clapboards, with a narrow, low-pitched roof. And the whole they have set upon thin, preposterous brick piers. By the hundreds and thousands these abominable houses cover the bare hillsides, like gravestones in some gigantic and decaying cemetery.

In Britain similar concerns bothered every generation since at least the 18th century such as when Romanticist Dorothy Wordsworth in her Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland (1803) lamented Drumlanrig Castle saying. "This mansion is indeed very large; but to us it appeared like a gathering together of little things."


The large tract house phenomenon has spread beyond the United States into other Western countries with large land areas and low population densities, such as Canada and Australia. In Canada, Monster Homes are quickly becoming a trend in suburban areas, where the land is cheaper. Many older, smaller houses are being torn down to accommodate these McMansions. In Australia, McMansions started to appear during the 1990s in outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, often fueled by new freeway projects such as the M2 in the Hills region of Sydney.

The term is less often used to describe houses situated within existing urban areas. Usually, smaller cottage-style houses have been demolished to make way for these homes. They are not usually built as a "development cluster" which is managed by a homeowners association; rather, they are built by their owners as a single dwelling.

Some Middle Eastern nations, particularly those infused with oil wealth, have seen the large-scale importation of many U.S. American concepts, including sprawling, inexpensive pseudo-Mediterranean architecture, usually for hotels/resorts but also for domiciles.


McMansions vary greatly in their appearance and layout. While many of the following features are often found among these types of houses, they are not all required in order for a house to be considered a McMansion.

Common features

The following features are commonly found in many McMansions:

  • Brick or stone veneer façade: A common design element of many a McMansion is a masonry veneer facade located on front side of the house, with the other sides being covered with a less expensive material, often vinyl siding. Presumably, this is done to give the impression to outsiders that the house is a "quality" house built of brick while reducing cost.
  • Multiple roof line façades: As per the previous example, builders eschew multiple roof lines as being too costly and instead add dormers and other decorative roof features that are intended to appear as multiple roof lines, when in fact there are none.
  • Lack of mature trees: Unlike older neighborhoods dominated by large, mature trees, many McMansion developments have only younger, recently planted trees. In many instances it is less expensive for a developer to clear cut the entire subdivision and plant immature trees in strategic locations, while keeping mature trees in place would require the developer to expend more capital when siting the location of each house on each lot.
  • Lack of porches: Housing from prior generations, when air conditioning was less common, often had a large porch to escape the daytime heat. Most McMansions eschew porches as being too costly to add because they increase the lot footprint without adding to the total square footage of the house. Moreover, porches create a transitional space between the private (house) and public (street), generally unwelcome in the privacy-oriented culture of the suburbs.
  • Large, unfinished attics: Many larger McMansions have full height attics that are designed to be converted into living space at a later time. In these cases, the unfinished areas have heat, A/C, electrical and other utilities laid out to allow a quick construction of new living space. The dormers and other roof line additions usually have pre-framed cutouts to allow for the addition of windows with minimal work.
  • Walkways to nowhere. Prior generations of housing had walkways leading from the front door to the sidewalk. Many McMansions now connect the front door only to the driveway, in recognition that modern "car culture" is now the primary mode of transportation for visiting one's neighbors.

Space and size

This style of house will usually have two floors, although it is common for some ground floor rooms, particularly foyers and "great rooms", to be two stories tall. These houses can also be one-story, but these usually feature a facade appearing to be 2-story. Simpler versions will have a standard rectangular footprint, while more complex, and usually more expensive, floorplans will have additional wings or projections. Roofs are usually voluminous; they are often constructed with prefabricated truss framing that, while inexpensive, makes the upper interior space unsuitable for attic storage or additional rooms.

The typical square footage is in the range of 3000 ft² (280 m²) to 5000 ft² (460 m²).

Construction and materials

While their general appearances may be quite similar, the quality of construction and use of materials often varies greatly between different developers, and even between different houses built by the same developer. McMansions are most commonly framed with generic materials to facilitate construction, using the same wood-framed stud wall construction as smaller houses, typically with 2×6 (38×112 mm) studs, while also incorporating more expensive surfacing materials such as hardwood, stone, tile, ironwork, and upscale appliances. Architectural features typically include more and larger rooms and extra lifestyle conveniences.

Advances in building technology have provided less costly ways for features to be incorporated. Large rooms, with large ceiling areas, would not have been possible without metal connector plates to unify the wooden struts, which can be nailed by hand. Alternatively, 5-way or larger pre-fabricated wooden trusses can be used. This allows much larger roofs over an unsupported span, without the expense of metal I-beams or concrete spans. The use of trusses also allows substantial flexibility in the partitioning of interior spaces to form rooms and is an advantage to both builders and homeowners. To builders, it eases the production of variations suitable for various family sizes and age ranges, and to homeowners, the lack of interior load-bearing partitions facilitates easy home remodeling.

Exterior style

A common feature is the tendency to incorporate architectural elements from non-native historical styles. The styles most commonly drawn on are classical and neoclassical architecture, or the half-timbered European styles, particularly English, Tudorbethan, Jacobethan, and French chateau styles in what is sometimes termed neoeclectic.

Elements taken from these architectural styles are often decorative, rather than design or construction features. Roof spaces that contain rooms rather than attics offer ample opportunity for dormers and cross-gables. Porches, being the focus of the front elevation, are often columned and pedimented with oculus or "bull's-eye" windows. Windows, particularly in the reception rooms, are very large, and may take the form of French doors or Palladian windows (also known as Venetian and Serlian windows), in which a central arch-headed window is flanked by narrower rectangular windows.


A formal entrance that provides a focus for the front elevation is a common feature. A grandiose porch or portico is common; rarer is a porte-cochere, a kind of very large porch taken from neoclassical architecture that was originally intended to be large enough to allow carriages to drive underneath. Doors for the formal entrance will often be large and ornate.

The formal entrance of the house may be echoed by large gate piers at the driveway entrance, even in the absence of a gate or fence.


Houses may have sweeping driveways and an attached garage for three or more vehicles. Detached garages are typically for 3 or more vehicles and are oversize to accommodate storage and work areas. Garage doors are often oriented perpendicular to the street, and ornamental windows placed facing the street, to avoid the "garage with a house attached" look of much 1970's homebuilding.

Golf course or lakeside developments may have an additional shed for a golf cart or small boat storage. Some developments offer the option of a taller and deeper third garage to accommodate an RV or boat on a trailer.

Interior arrangement

The interior is usually traditional in layout, with reception rooms and kitchen on the ground floor, and sleeping accommodation on the upper floor. The now requisite master bedroom suite is a combination of sleeping area, closets, and private bath. Tertiary rooms, such as studies and game rooms, are usually present. There may be an "in-law" or "en suite" room, consisting of a room with closet and private bath located in the house.

Large spaces

Floor plans frequently include large rooms, often in the form of an atrium-style hall which extends upwards through the height of the house and which features a striking staircase, or alternately a "great room". The great room is often tall as well and may have a "cathedral" ceiling following the pitch of the roof line, a balcony that serves as part of the upstairs hallway, or both. The great room generally takes one of two forms: it is either an open-plan space that incorporates several uses, or a formal drawing room-style reception area. In the latter case, a formal dining room is often found as a complement.

The Ten-Minute House

The movement of the "atrium concept" home layout from popularity to ubiquity in modern American architecture stems largely from the "Ten Minute House" theory that has been espoused by real estate developers, realtors, and home builders. Consequently, houses change owners more frequently and thus must be designed to be marketable and appealing to as many people as possible, with less emphasis placed on the specific needs of the house's initial buyer. Most realtors agree that a client will like or dislike a house within ten minutes of entering. Combining a home's foyer with a two-story "great-room" leaves secondary rooms more visible, making it easier for agents to show the house—and hopefully win the client over—in ten minutes or less.

Smaller reception rooms

Smaller reception rooms may provide alternatives to the great room, in order to preserve its formal character. A family room is quite common, as are additional rooms to serve as informal living rooms, libraries, or home offices.

Family rooms provide space for family entertainment such as casual television watching or playing video games; a higher-end McMansion may also feature a theater room, complete with raised seating and a rear projector with screen. The family room is typically either adjacent to the kitchen or incorporated into an open-plan space that includes the kitchen and an everyday dining area.

Houses with no formal dining room are becoming increasingly common. American families, particularly dual-income middle and upper-middle class families, tend to dine out more and do less formal entertaining at home, making a formal dining room superfluous for many home buyers.

Technical features

A number of modern, high-tech features are frequently included. Often, these houses will have as many bathrooms as bedrooms, and the master bath will usually include additional spa-like features, such as dual sinks, a whirlpool tub, a separate shower, or a sauna.

Lighting systems may be complex, with large banks of switches or computerized controls. Television, telephone, cable, and Ethernet wiring will often be included throughout much of the house. Some homes also contain centralized audio, with independent volume controls for each room of the house.

Kitchens are generously sized and contain high-tech appliances and features, such as built-in refrigerators with panels that match the kitchen cabinets, multi-burner (5+) professional style ranges, granite counter tops, multiple ovens, or specialized wine-storage refrigerators.

Other characterizations

Implicit in the term "McMansion" is that many people choose to live in them. The trend gives middle and upper-middle class households greater access to desired luxury housing options that were previously only available to much wealthier homeowners. While this may be perceived as a general indicator of the increasing wealth of the middle class (previously the middle class was generally only able to afford much smaller homes with fewer amenities), the reality is that people are taking on increasing per capita debt.

Developers that sell such homes generally reject the pejorative use of the term "McMansion". They counter criticism by pointing out that they build what people want, they sell quickly, and that they use less land for these dwellings, conserving expensive building lots. "We call them luxury move-up homes," says Rob Parahus, a developer.



Even in affluent locations which already have a ready assortment of large houses, 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, WA (an affluent suburb on Seattle's Eastside) stood four feet (1.2 m) away from the neighboring home. In other nations citing Australian suburban developments, homes could be built on the fence line, where in many cases no gap between neighboring homes is left; in some developments, split-occupancy housing has come into fashion.

While the average American family has shrunk in size, the average American home has grown. In 1974, the average American single-family home was 1,695 square feet (157 m²); in 2004 it had increased to 2,349 square feet (218 m²). The average family size, on the other hand, has fallen from 3.1 people in 1974 to 2.6 people in 2004.

The larger amount of space in a McMansion means that much of the home's volume is not used as much or as efficiently as the space in a smaller house. Rooms often go infrequently used; this is particularly the case with great rooms and formal dining rooms.

A substantial amount of a typical McMansion's square footage goes toward large hallways, aiding the maximum visibility required for the "Ten Minute House" concept. The individual rooms in a McMansion, particularly secondary bedrooms, are often no bigger than in earlier housing.

The large, numerous windows that are sometimes used in the great room can result in buildings that are much more expensive to cool and heat, especially if the house has been designed without consideration for its orientation relative to seasonal sun paths or without proper insulation. Large rooms, especially those with high ceilings, are frequently more expensive to heat.

Despite common criticisms of McMansions for their small lot size, especially compared to the size of the house, other critics claim that McMansions contribute to urban sprawl and increase commuting or traveling time in developed communities because of their size and low population density. This has been a source of criticism for writers such as James Howard Kunstler, who also attacks what he sees as the shoddy construction of many new homes.

The extra space in a McMansion allows for new and unique uses for rooms in the home. One anomalous report describes a room solely for the family dog, with a special dog shower. The large number of rooms, along with their vastness, sometimes leads critics to complain of conspicuous consumption in furnishing them.

Exterior lighting is often profuse and varied, usually designed more for dramatic effect (such as aesthetic lighting for trees and gardens) than practicality or security. Critics sometimes assert it is both wasteful of energy and contributes to a growing light pollution problem.

Because McMansions are generally at least two stories in height, when built as in-fill or to replace older structures they may be taller than the neighboring homes, creating a disagreeable contrast. In an effort to prevent this and to maintain architectural consistency within neighborhoods, many jurisdictions have written "height ordinances" or zoning to prevent construction of such tall houses. Some builders have attempted to dodge such requirements by elevating the foundations on an artificial mound of earth so that the measured height from the soil is reduced. Such homes then become the subject of disagreements and possible litigation.

In some jurisdictions, in order to combat perceived urban sprawl from nearby metropolitan areas, local counties have designated a minimum lot size. The lot size is often a matter of great local political debate between housing developers, local officials, and residents. Developers will typically seek a variance to allow larger houses to be built on smaller properties, often with the promise of using some of the land for parks or open space. When a variance is not granted, plot sizes end up being "too small to farm, too large to mow," and are sometimes criticized as a poor use of land resources which ultimately contributes to further sprawl, rather than preventing it.

In other jurisdictions, there may be a minimum area requirement for the house, designed to promote a consistently upscale neighborhood but with the (possibly intentional) effect of keeping out lower-income residents by forcing the houses to be larger and thus more expensive. This can stratify economic groups by neighborhood, and some worry that this stratification will lead to a more broadly inegalitarian society (e.g., by causing de facto economic segregation in neighborhood schools).


One common aesthetic complaint is that McMansions are overly ostentatious; for example, the front façade may boast multiple gables, in addition to blind dormers, porticos, and a staggered garage that has been placed forward from the body of the house, facing the street. Other aesthetic issues could encompass traditionally functional elements, like shutters, now used as a non-functional ornament, or more generally a poor choice of ornamental elements for that particular construction and site.

The specific styles of architecture used are also sometimes criticized because they are not native to the local area, and because features from various different architectural styles are randomly mixed. Defenders of the McMansion style of architecture claim that builders respond to what their customers want and that today's architecture is at least more interesting, albeit more ersatz, than that of the Levittown tract houses of the last century.


Many synonyms used to describe McMansions, their associated features and communities are pejorative in their nature.

  • Antiseptic Community
  • Beltway Baronial: (Washington, D.C. region)
  • Big Foot House: referring to the relatively large footprint of the building. Also can refer to the large size of the property on which the McMansion is located.
  • Big Hair House (Texas)
  • Bubba the Builder: Term used to describe to builders of cookie cutter style McMansions. Can also refer to developers that often use press board, liquid nails, particle board, and other low cost building materials in the construction of their properties. Derived from the TV program Bob the Builder.
  • Carpet Bomb Housing: structures built in great numbers in a relatively short period of time.
  • Faux chateau: describes a structure that utilizes French-style facades and features.
  • Frankenhouse
  • Gable-opolis: a reference to the multiple roof lines used to emphasize the mass of the building.
  • Garage Mahal: large, custom-built garages; or, garages renovated in to a home.
  • Herman House: A house that is too large for the overall scale of a neighborhood. Derived from the TV character Herman Munster who was so large as compared to normal sized surroundings that he often ended up destroying everything around himself, although inadvertently.
  • Hummer House
  • Jumbo Abode
  • Lawyer Foyer: Also refers to the two-story entry space typically found on many McMansions which is meant to be visually overwhelming but which contributes little to the useful space of the house.
  • Mini-Taj Mahals
  • Monster Mansions
  • Monster Homes (Canada)
  • Muscle House: refers to the hefty, strongman look of the structure, reminiscent of the muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
  • Northtowns Neo-Mediterranean: a variety of McMansion often associated with upper middle class Italian-Americans in north suburban Buffalo, New York.
  • Parachute home: refers to the alleged disregard for regional and immediate site considerations, i.e. the home had just been dropped from the sky.
  • Plywood Palazzo
  • Pocket Mansion: draws a comparison to the Deutschland-class cruiser of the early 1930s. These were called "pocket battleships" by the British because they featured heavy firepower in a relatively small vessel.
  • Persian Palace: a variety of McMansion stereotypically associated with wealthy Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles, sometimes incorporating elements of Iranian architecture.
  • Romanian house: largest house volume for a given budget. Usually three storey houses with minimal finishes, built to impress by size
  • Starter Castle
  • Texas Tuscan
  • Toorak Wedding Cake
  • Tract Mansions
  • Vulgaria: A neighborhood of McMansions, especially where older homes with smaller footprints were demolished and replaced.


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