Monday, November 16, 2009

McMansion Blues

One of the Dude's friends is a successful contractor in the toniest neighborhoods of Silicon Valley. A 12,000 SF, $14 million home he built was recently featured in the WSJ. Not that he likes McMansions, but that's what his clients want: the bigger, the more expensive, the better. Does it make them happier? No, he says, proceeding to list the many components of what he calls the McMansion Blues. Snippets:

These homes are so huge that family members have to communicate by cell phone: trying to find each other would take too long. Bedrooms come with motel-like "morning kitchens" because the actual, factory-size kitchen is too far to grab a snack or a cup of coffee. Home gyms come with en-suite bathrooms because regular bathrooms are too far away. Home theaters are rarely used because the luxury theater-type seating is not compatible with normal family life. In fact, nothing in those behemoths is conducive to family life: it's like living in an in-home suburbia. Getting to one area of the house to the other means switching at least 4 lights, and walking 150-200 feet minimum. And the luxury finishes pushed by designers are so fragile that all the money sunk to satisfy owners' vanity gets trashed within a few weeks of wear and tear.

"Less is more," our friend concludes -- happy about his bottom line but hungover by such exuberant consumerism. He knows it cannot last. As The City Fix writes in an excellent essay on The End of the American Exurbs and the Death of Sprawl, McTrends are rapidly becoming a white elephant of the past: "Developers will construct more affordable housing options: European-scale layouts with smaller kitchens and bathrooms (no more whirlpools). More frugal Americans realize they don’t need all that space, especially if it saves on energy and taxes." They may also realize that reconnecting with reality brings more joy and meaning to their lives.

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