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McMansion or not, mostly not

The Austin Chronicle is running a funny Am I McMansion or Not? contest in which readers can submit photos of houses and rate them, hot-or-not style, as to whether they are McMansions.

The surprising thing is that, while there are quite a few mansions in the contest, almost none of them live up to the "Mc" part. A McMansion isn't just a big house, it's a big, ugly, mass-produced house with a 2+ car garage on the front and bling by Wal-Mart -- the house you get when you holler "Supersize me!" at a tract builder's drive-thru window.

Many of the houses being rated at the Chron are old, unique, multi-family, and/or architect-designed. Some are beautiful. And a few look like the kind of dense yet well-designed infill house that Austin most needs right now, quite the opposite of a big-box big box. But the voters are giving better scores to the true McMansions than to most of the ones with nothing "Mc" about them.

McMansion, yes McMansion, no

The comments in the gallery are interesting if contentious. Some commenters claim that the worst houses wouldn't actually be blocked by Austin's proposed McMansion rules while some of the better ones would be.

austin 2006.03.15 link


New houses are seriously awful and cold. I would rather live in an old house any day.

curious george [batgirl00 cxe juno punkto com] • 2006.03.16
Prentiss, I think your remarks point to the crux of the problem with the proposed McMansion regulations. Instead of welcoming infill and greater density in central Austin, the neighborhood associations (in wealthy neighborhoods) seems to be fighting any kind of development, rather than acting in a spirit of civic-mindedness. I'll complain about luxury lofts being built in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the eastside or restaurants on Manor the neighbors can't afford, but people in Hyde Park or Travis Heights complaining about new development reeks of middle-class entitlement. Mike Dahmus has a great post about how some of the McActivists themselves live in jumbo-sized houses. They're not acting to protect the neighborhood character, they're covering their bets. I definitely don't see what's wrong with keeping the street facade the same and expanding a house in the rear, which the proposed ordinance would bar.

McChris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2006.03.16

Thanks for the nice mention. If any of the respondents are like me, they might be answering "backwards" to skew the results. I didn't even notice there was a comments section, of course; guess that's going to be where I head next...

M1EK [mdahmus cxe io punkto com] • 2006.03.16
Atlanta is going through similar battles right now. The mayor had enacted a ban that recently expired on demolitions in a few chi-chi areas in order to stop developers from replacing small with big.

I agree with your measured approach, Prentiss. Bigger is not necessarily better, but nor is it necessarily worse. It all depends on style and context.

Cinque Hicks [cinque cxe influxhouse punkto com] • 2006.03.20
Lovely mansion!!!
The entrance is superb. Must be costly.

Lucky chap to have such a beautiful adobe!!!!!!

emma [emmajoseph cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.03.22
Very interesting comments. Some people seem to think anything new is bad. I like some of the new super-modern houses built in my neighborhood (Bouldin Creek) if they fit into the scale of the lot. They continue our tradition of funky individuality.

What constitutes a McMansion in my mind is the 2-car garage thrusting out in front of the house and the fact that the house is built almost to the lot-lines.

I was surprised that the add-on derided in the comments was the small house is up front and a larger addition hidden in the back. There's a lot of that style being built in around here and I think it's preferable to the upfront big houses because it reflects the proportions of the existing houses on the street. I was also saddened that so many people referred to smaller homes as shacks.

M Sinclair Stevens [msinclairstevens cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.04.18
The thing I've never understood is the 20% add-on limit. I can't stand McMansions (or North-Texas Specials, as I've heard them called), but have always wanted to find a nice 2200 sqft house that started as 1500 and was added onto by the owners.

As we all start working out of the home more, we need more small rooms. The McMansion approach is to expand each room and leave you stuck with a 3/2 whose master bedroom tops 800 sqft.

Can anyone explain the 20% limit rationale?

Ben Brumfield [benwbrum+p cxe convio punkto com] • 2006.04.25
Does working at home necessarily entail more smaller rooms? Right now my office is squeezed into a living/dining room behind a screen, which admittedly doesn't work when the kids are home. But I've thought about a modest house where a second living room is designated as the "library", with workstations and headphones for all and a strict rule about not interrupting.

And I've also thought of relaxing the rule against working where I sleep: a lot of the small-is-beautiful interior design books seem to find ways to put a bed and a desk in the same room without making your workspace visible from your pillow. That would be easier with a slightly oversized master bedroom, which would nevertheless take a lot less square footage than two separate rooms.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.04.25
Oh, ye gods. Mike Dahmus has had a hard-on about the Marburger-McGraw house ever since he started bitching about the ordinance. I rather wonder whether he's ever seen the inside of the house; I rather think not, 'cos he sure doesn't act as though he knows that's both home and home office in one structure--living downstairs, office up.

Marchbanks [pillar2 cxe post punkto com] • 2006.06.20

I think you should be able to build a 2200 square foot house. The original mcmansion rules allows you to build the greatest of three different numbers.

40% of the lot size
20% greater than the current house
2300 square feet

So basically if you have a 8000 square foot lot and a 800 square foot house you can still add on to your house up to having a 3200 square foot house.

The current size would come into effect if you had a 8000 square foot lot and a 3000 square foot house. In this case you could build a 3600 square foot house.

That said last I heard they took out the 20 percent part so now its simply the greater of

.4 of the lot size or
2300 square feet

The 2300 square feet only comes into play on lots that are smaller than legal lot size. So for a lot that is legal lot size it will always be .4 of lot size.

Austin Real Estate Blogger [realestate cxe escapesomewhere punkto com] • 2006.12.11
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