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Worst Of McMansions – One Man’s Obsession

Worst Of McMansions – One Man’s Obsession

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HAT TIP GOES OUT TO DRACULYA FOR THIS SUBMISSION

If you love to hate the ugly houses that became ubiquitous before (and after) the bubble burst you’ve come to the right place.

McMansions 101: Eclecticism

What is eclecticism? It’s how you mix sick beats architectural styles together.
Contrary to what some believe, architectural styles can be mixed together, with wonderful results!

Eclecticism has been an element of architecture since the beginning of architecture – every time we mix the old with the new in some way we are practicing eclecticism. For example, the Beaux Arts style (1885-1930) blended many different elements from Classical architecture (e.g. Greek/Roman) and mixed them with the roofing styles of the Italian and French Renaissance styles.

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Here is a link to a quick visual guide for identifying styles of American residential architecture(these styles also translate to other countries, but they may or may not be called something different.) If you are particularly interested in the specific details and histories of these styles, I highly recommend Virginia McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses, which I consider to be the most comprehensive resource on this subject.

Architectural styles are more than just ornamentation – they represent the time period and the geographic origin from which they came Mixing a Queen Anne fish-scale style roof on a Craftsman house is probably a bad idea for this reason- the two styles are so geographically and temporally disparate that they do not blend well. However, a talented designer could probably pull it off. 

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(the cross-hatch muntins are borrowed from the Federal style)

What is important about mixing architectural styles isn’t the styles themselves and their features, but how skillfully they are integrated. A truly talented architect can find ways to integrate various styles, but most building companies totally miss the mark. 

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It’s good to start with some helpful ground rules – these rules are not absolute, but for someone who is in the position of working with a builder to design a house, they are good to keep in mind as a starting point.

Avoiding Eclectic Errors:

1.) Above all, keep scale, balance and proportion in check when combining any architectural style.

2.) When combining or using styles, research them first! Know what is and is not idiomatic to an architectural style. Use elements of an architectural style consistently to create unity.

3.) Mixing elements of similar styles (or subtypes of a dominant style) creates the best architectural unity. Using a consistent color or material scheme across the facade helps blend styles together. Avoid using too many architectural styles.

McMansions, of course butcher all of these rules in the worst possible ways, as is tradition.

Good Eclectic Etiquette No. 1: Keep scale, balance, and proportion in check!

The original McMansions 101 covered this pretty well but I’m going to use this opportunity to address the phenomenon of over and undersized architectural details on houses that borrow from multiple architectural styles that are not scaled to the rest of the house. These over/undersized elements are often interpreted as being cartoonish and out of place

What do I mean by oversize and undersize architectural details? Which details am I referring to?

The most common offenders of this this principle are:
gables & false gables
– pediments & columns
windows (especially projecting windows, like bay windows and oriels)
dormers

As you can see, these individual elements have already been the subjects of their own McMansions 101 – but I’ll do a brief review with some examples just for this post.

Here is an example of two houses that follow these rules:

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Followed of course by some examples of what not to do.

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This house is a combination of Shingle style (shingle cladding, columns) and Dutch Colonial [revival] (multi-level eaves, flared eaves, bay window) – the bay window is oversized and is the focal point of the home, which is otherwise generally unoffensive. A smaller bay window or an alternative window style would remedy the problem.

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Good Eclectic Etiquette No. 2: Know your architectural styles before you mix them!

Know what materials, colors, and other details make up a desired style. Know what makes each style tick before smashing them together with other styles. What makes a tudor a tudor and a craftsman a craftsman as opposed to a Colonial Revival?

In the previous section, we saw two New Traditional houses that utilized their styles very well: a Colonial Revival, and a Shingle. The more complex an architectural style is, the more difficult it is to imitate it. This is most prominent in Tudor houses and other houses with many specific decorative elements.

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Certain architectural details are strongly associated with specific styles and can look out of place when applied without the context of other elements from that style.

Here are some of the most polarizing examples:

Jerkin-head roofs (also called hip-on-gable) are supposed to be used only when imitating the Tudor and Craftsman styles.
half-timbering is closely associated with the Tudor, Craftsman, French Eclectic (rather rarely) and Prairie styles.
Patterned stickwork is associated with the Stick and Queen Anne styles only.
battered piers (aka Craftsman columns with sloping sides) are only found on Craftsman, Prairie and Mission style houses.
Tudor (flattened Gothic) arches are only found on Gothic Revival and Tudor houses. Pointed arches are only found on Gothic Revival houses.
oriels (second story bay windows, often small) are only found on Gothic Revival, Tudor, Chateauesque and French Revival houses.
– Certain window muntins are reserved for specific styles e.g. Prairie muntins should be used on Prairie and Craftsman styles.

This is not to say that borrowing from some of these styles is inherently wrong, usually the issue is when they are conflicting with additional styles used on the house.

Some Well-Done Examples:

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The extended eaves and American Four Square layout belong to the Prairie style, where the window muntins, elliptical arch over the porch, and traditional (squared Tuscan) columns, and pediment-esque gable are borrowed from the Greek Revival style.

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Although strange, this house is a combination of the Gothic Revival and Shingle styles. The paired, steeply pitched gables, stickwork on the garage dormers, gothic windows and tudor arches are from the Gothic Revival style, and the shingle roof, small windows with shutters, and stickwork in the gables are borrowed from the Shingle style.

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The low-pitched hipped roof, braces beneath the eaves, and paired windows on the right are from the Italian Renaissance style, while the arcade on the left side, the front facing gable, and the balconet on the upper right are borrowed from the Spanish Revival style.

Now for some…incorrect examples:

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In this case, the width of the transom window and the spacing of the muntins are not idiomatic to the cross-hatch style, which is commonly found on Federal and Greek/Colonial Revival houses.

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The pointed arches on this house are a perfect example of “tacked on” architectural stylings that pay little homage to the traditions of the past. Pointed arches were occasionally found in Folk Victorian, Chateauesque, and French Eclectic houses, but were uncommon.

Often, when people don’t research their architectural styles before hand, they imitate them usingincorrect materials, scale (which was covered in the last rule) and placement. 

A common McMansion faux-pas is using stone to imitate half-timbering, which is made out of, you know, timber.

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Important to note: Queen Anne-styled muntins were sometimes used on early transitional Craftsman houses, and brick exteriors were found on Craftsman houses in Northern and Midwestern cities with strict fire codes that prohibited wood siding. This house was built in the 2000s and is in Texas.

Good Eclectic Etiquette No. 3: Use architectural styles that are closely related. Avoid using too many architectural styles.

Flower Mound, TX

This week’s Certified Dank McMansion of the Week™ comes to us from the town of Flower Mound, TX, which is a surprisingly euphemistic name for a small town in a heavily conservative state.

Obviously, the builders took the name of the town to heart when designing this house – and not the “Flower” part either.

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Remember Sunday’s post on roofs? This house just took a huge, steaming dump all over that post.

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This lovely 6,390 sqft 4bd, 4.5ba estate (realtors love that word) built in 1994 is currently selling for$829,900. All of those fun exterior details are actually made in a factory from injected foam, painted, and then glued onto houses like this one. They don’t even attempt looking like real stone, preferring to go with a smooth, blinding white.

As always, our tour begins with the trademark Cathedral of Useless Space™ (aka the Front Entryway):

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The tile grout is a nice touch.

The “Great” Room

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So glad that buying furniture as a set is considered tacky now.

BONUS VIEW:

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It’s like an olympic-sized swimming pool of beige.

Dining Room

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I’ve yet to see a more unremarkable room.

The Study

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Look closely at the door, and you can see how poorly the wood was joined. Also, why is there some sort of cultural association of “dark wood-paneling” with “moody genius”??

The SECOND Living Room

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BUT MCMANSIONHELL!! How do you know HGTV was a Thomasville shill in 2005??? How can you make such bold claims???

The Kitchen

Now at this point, the homeowners were wondering how they could conjure up the tackiest, 2000s-est kitchen possible. Now I can’t say they did a perfect job, but they came pretty damn close

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That stove combo has to win some sort of McMansion Razzie award for “Worst Kitchen Decision” but I don’t want to jump the gun too soon, y’know?

The Master Bedroom

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On a side note, where can I get that tiny chair bc it would be perfect for my spoiled cat

Master Bathroom (warning: dankness ahead)

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h͛͋҉̪e̵̘͇͚͕̊̌̾̐l̶̴͓̘̥̬͍̞̳ͧͩ̄͒͞p͈͔͎͑̍͋͊͂͊̄͘͜ ̧̞̰̈́ͥͤt̐͛ͥ̓ͩ̋͒̚҉̷̯̠̩̟̞̘̫̯͢h̥͔̭͓͛̽̎̆͂̽̏͐i̪͕̘̇̈̽̅͢͠s̵̴̝͖̤̋̀̃̚͘ ̶̢͇͇̭̪̙̫̎̽̓̎̂͗ͪ̒̆b͔͔ͯ͆̾ͥ̽͗̉̆͟͝ͅă̧̭̜̳̪̦̱̘̰͐̂̕t̰͓̣̩̗͎̏̽̑ͥ̕h̨̡̥̘̥͔̤̺̘̄͞r̨̩̼͉̹̖̪̤̊̓̑̏̉͗̚͢͝o̧̡̢̫͍̹͖̞̞̠̲͂̽ͬ͊ͮô͓̜͎̪̬͇̥̆̒ͮ̽͋͞m̡͇̥̳̞̹̖̻̞͗̎̔͗̿͊͠
̧̖̘̋ͫͧ͜b̡̘̫̗͕̂͊̿͗͋̄̿ͅa̸͖͇̰̜̱̓̌ͧ̈͒̿ͦ͜͞d̴̶͔̣̟͓̮̱͖̣ͤ̅̌̃̊͒̊ͣ ̯̝̫̩ͯͥ̀c̣͙̜̫̳͉͕̉ͫͫ͊̈͠͡u͕̗̲͇ͯ͗ͥ̍͒̌ͫͬr͖̩̥̰͖̓ͪ̍͛̈́̑͋͌̀s̗͆͊ͦ͛ͥ͑̒ͥ̇͜͡e̱̪͓̞͒̍͑ͭ̑̽̾ͪ̀͞͡
ͤ͌̾ͯ҉̷̮̲̭̠̩̻̝͢r̸̼̝̮͋͑͒̓͘ų͈̟̘͖͐͛͛͜n̛̫̞̘͓̳͐̉̌́ ̨̦̣͎̯̐͂̋a͙̲̐͘w͙̳ͭ͋̌̾́a̵̗̦̞͔̤̣̪ͨͧ̇̾̆͢ͅy̫̘͎̱̘ͧ̓͋͌͐̄̚͡

Children’s Room?

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Should I be concerned? Is there a hotline for this??

Bedroom No. 2

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The empty frame was for the diploma Amy would’ve earned if she weren’t a total disappointment.

That’s enough beige for me. I’m starting to lose my ability to see color.

Alas, our tour has come to a close, but not before we view what is arguably the worst part of every McMansion: The rear elevation.

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Well, that does it for this week’s Certified Dank McMansion™! Stick around for Sunday’s post- McMansions 101: Eclecticism!

McMansions 101: Dormers

No, a dormer is not someone who lives in a dorm. Basically, a dormer is a structure that projects from the roof mass and has its own roof, windows, and sometimes walls.

Dormers can be placed into three structural categories: roof dormer, wall dormer, and insetdormer.

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The walls of a dormer are often referred to as “cheek” walls by builders. The windows in a dormer are commonly referred to as “glazing.” Dormers have the same roofing styles and variety as regular roofs:

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A wall dormer always has a “cheek” wall. This is what distinguishes it from a cross gable, which never has a “cheek” wall.

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You’d think that dormers would be pretty simple, right? Wrong. Everybody fouls them up miserably each time. In fact, it was so difficult for me to find “good” examples from the last 36 years, that most of the “good” examples are New Traditional Colonial Revival or Georgian houses because they are probably the hardest to foul up.

The guidelines for dormer dos and don’ts are so simple, but apparently not simple enough:

Dormer Dos:

1.) Dormers should always be proportional to the mass of the roof and the masses of the facade walls.
2.) Dormers should be vertically aligned to the windows on the front elevation.
3.) Multiple dormers should be spaced evenly. Too many dormers results in a cluttered roofline,too few makes them look like an afterthought.
4.) Dormers should be the same architectural style and should use the same materials as the rest of the elevation.

Without further ado, let’s begin:

Dormer Do #1: Dormers should always be proportional to the mass of the roof and the mass of the facade.

Literally 90% of dormer fails involve size. The dormers should never obfuscate the roof, nor overpower the lower stories. Your eye shouldn’t immediately go straight to the dormers. It should (arguably) go to the front entrance.

Here are some examples of well-proportioned dormers:

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When this rule is broken, it’s broken in one of two ways: the dormers are too big or too tall for the roof/house, or they are too small or short.

Dormer Don’t #1: Dormers are too big

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The dormers in this photo completely dominate this house. Aside from the bay window, they are the tallest windows on the entire elevation. Your eye goes WHAM! TO THE DORMERS! (right in the kisser)

Dormer Don’t #2: Dormers are too tall

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This house is a total National Travesty™ because it was so damn close to being a lovely New Traditional. Those dormers are obnoxiously tall – they’re taller than the 2nd story wall itself! This house, with it’s low-pitched roof really shouldn’t have dormers at all, and yet, here we are.

Dormer Don’t #3: Dormers are too small

Often, when dormers are too small, they can be removed from the facade and the house will not suffer an great architectural loss. This is not always the case, but dormers are more likely to be too large than they are too small.

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Like, that dormer really doesn’t need to be there. It adds nothing and only draws attention to that monstrous roofline. Though, on the more nihilistic side, this McMansion is already bad enough, what’s one more mistake?

Dormer Don’t #4: Dormers are too short

This is probably the rarest of the rule one rulebreakers, but it does exist. Dormers that appear too short are usually hipped or shed dormers, and changing their roofline to a gabled form often remedies the problem.

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Also is it just me or does this house look like a pissed off frog?

Dormer Do #2: Dormers should be vertically aligned to windows on the lower stories

McMansions 101: Roofs

Most people think of roofs as simply being expensive hats for houses. Not so! The aesthetic purpose of a roof is to tie together all of the individual pieces of a house making it one unit. Seems simple, right? Not so!

Most people when they hear the word roof think “gable” – however there many other different roof shapes than the mere pointy triangle one. Essentially, roofs come in 6 basic shapes:

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There are other shapes too – but those are more often than not associated with a specific region or time period. Let’s just stick with the 6 for now.

Aside from shape, there is also roof pitch which describes how high or tall a roof is. Roof pitch is often determined by factors like climate – for example, homes built in places that get a lot of snow will have steeper pitches than those built in Miami, FL because the snow has to fall of the roof rather than pile on top of it, which can lead to total catastrophic failure. Another factor affecting roof pitch is architectural style – some styles, such as the Gothic Revival, are identified by their steep roofs.

The roof is probably the NUMBER ONE way to tell a normal house from a McMansion. 

Here are how McMansions totally foul up a roof:

1.) McMansions use more than 2 roof shapes on the front elevation
2.) McMansion roofs are way too steep or large for their facades
3.) McMansions have insanely complex roofs with several different pitches.

Roof Rule No 1: 2 shapes, and 2 shapes only (on the front elevation)

Literally 90% of house roofs are either gabled or hipped. Like seriously, go out for a walk and look at the roofs. Gables and hips, y’all, gables and hips.

Before we bring in the offenders, let’s look at some happy houses:

Here is a happy house with one roof shape: cross-gabled. (A house with a side facing gable intersecting with a front-facing gable is called a cross-gabled house.)

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Here is a happy house with two roof shapes:

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The use of similar roof shapes in the house above unifies the facade and establishes architectural rhythm.

But y’all aren’t on McMansionHell for the little happy houses. Let’s be honest: we’re all here for fugly house comedy hour.

This is what it looks like when you use more than two roof shapes: 

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Look at what a hot mess this house is. It’s totally visually confusing. Your eye is immediately drawn to the roof rather than the ground floor, or the front door. There is absolutely no vertical nor horizontal balance whatsoever.

Here’s another example:

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Also, why tf is the roof on this house nicer looking than literally the rest of the house. I mean it makes sense I guess, if your house is all roof and no house.

Also: no, you’re not allowed to laugh at the term “jerkin head.” Architecture is serious business®

Roof Rule No. 2: THE ROOF IS NOT THE HOUSE

Roseville, CA

Nothing in this world is a better metaphor for what politicians and marketers like to call “The American Dream” than the Californian tract house. Imagine – you too, could have your own sloppily put together plot of land on a nice street lined with other sloppily put together plots of land.

But you, of course, want your sloppily put together plot of land to be different from the sloppily put together plots of land of your peers. Now, your houses may have been built at the same time with the same plan by the same builder, but damn are you not determined to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Finally, after the nth hour of HGTV, it dawns on you: the windows.

You start looking at your peers’ windows, noticing their soulless, contemporary, division-less forms. You make one of your tri-weekly pilgrimages to Home Depot and notice the one type of window that none of your neighbors have managed to use yet: the prairie window.

Now, there is a reason your peers have not used the prairie (sometimes called the ribbon) window. Your peers seem to be aware of the fact that they are currently living in California and not the Midwest. They may also, perhaps unintentionally, be aware of the fact that Prairie-style windows do not belong on their Pseudo-Mediterranean Tract Houses®, as there are no prairies in the Mediterranean.

However this, of course, does not deter you, and alas, here we are.

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I firmly believe that this 4 bed/5.5 bath house, built in 1999 and currently on the market for$1,695,000 would be, although ugly, completely forgettable if it weren’t for those stupid, stupid prairie windows. Because of those windows, this house now personally offends me. Seriously, I searched through pages of real estate listings, eyes glazed over, and this house literally made me say out loud in the real world: “Aw HELL naw.” 

So, without further ado, let’s start our lovely tour with:

The (obligatory 2-story) Entryway

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My favorite thing about this entryway is that the wall of the arch has so much stairway closet potential, and yet…

The Living Room

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The crown moulding keystones are particularly egregious. Also, where did they manage to find the world’s only burgundy piano?

The Dining Room

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“We’re having a liquidity crisis!!!”
“Um, sir, that’s not what you call spilling wine on the floor.”

The Kitchen

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That kitchen made me forget that we were in California and not Texas for a second.

Living Room No. 2

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One of these days I’m going to write an essay titled “Antiqued Bronze and the Pre-Recession Illusion of Family″

On a more positive note, I rather like Thomas Kinkade – especially his early work; you know, before his Glade® Scented Candles Phase really took off.

The Game Room

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I didn’t meantion the wall color, because c’mon, that’s just low-hanging fruit, y’all.

The Master Bedroom

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AKA where mommy fantasizes about Thomas Kinkade.

The Master Bath

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If this doesn’t say ‘tract home bathroom’ I don’t know what does.

Bedroom No. 2

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I feel so sorry for this kid. (P.S. Do you like how I kept the high-school crush gender neutral??)

Bathroom No. 2

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Alright, now let’s take a look at the back, always the most entertaining part of our weekly tours…

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McMansions 101: Windows

Howdy, folks! Today’s McMansions 101 is allll about windows, and not the kind owned by a huge multi-national corporation based in Redmond, WA. I’m talking about the holes we use to put light and fresh air in our houses.

Let’s start out by talking about how people talk about windows. Most of us just know terms like “window sill” and “window pane” but it turns out there are a TON of window words. Like the columns post, I’m gonna start this one by posting a picture explaining this obscure and sometimes ridiculous jargon:

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A window doesn’t have to have a lintel over the top of it, many windows have no decoration at all. Some windows are pedimented:

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Now that we’re finished with the terminology, let’s move on to the fun stuff:

Good Window Principles:

Well-designed houses tend to follow these guidelines regarding windows and their ornamentation. Like all rules, these too are flexible:

1.) The same window styles are used across the entirety of the elevation, creating/maintaining continuity and visual order.

2.) To avoid visual clutter, only two or fewer window shapes are used across the entire facade. (The exception is if one is imitating a historical style that commonly features multiple window styles, such as Chateauesque)

3.) Windows that are located one above the other are aligned vertically. Windows (of differing sizes) are aligned horizontally by their heads and not by their bases.

4.) Windows on the 2nd story are never larger than those on the ground level – breaking this rule results in an imbalanced and top-heavy facade.

Good Window Ornamentation Principles

Shutters: 
– should fit over the window (e.g. if you were to close the shutters they would actually cover the window as intended)
– should NOT be placed outside or set back from the window casing/trim
– should compliment the color/style schemes of the elevation.

Headers and Lintels:
    – lintels are always horizontal. Curved decoration above windows are headers or arches.
– are structural elements used to support the weight above a window. They should be composed of sturdy materials like wood, stone, or steel.
– should be integrated into the wall, otherwise they risk taking on a “tacked on” appearance.
– Keystones should only be applied to curved headers, as they function as structural support for an arch. (NOTE: THIS RULE IS BENT A LOT AND IS GENERALLY A MINOR OFFENSE)

Generally speaking, McMansions are really, really bad at windows. Some McMansions look like they were built by someone who’s never even seen a building in real life before.

Without further ado, let’s start with Window Wisdom #1

Window Win #1: Use the same window and trim styles across the entire elevation.

Ok, this is SUCH an easy rule to follow, but still every friggin time, McMansions foul this up in the worst way. Like, following this rule can make a generally ugly house look pretty ok:

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In the case of this house, the muntin spacing is the same for all windows, forming a cohesive style, even if there are slight variances in window groupings. (I’m choosing to be more liberal with my interpretation of shape)

 If an all-EIFS tract house can do their windows right, YOU TOO can do your windows right.

Rules 1 and 2 often go hand in hand – houses with two or more different shapes usually have different styles as well – but sometimes a house with two basic shapes (and their variations in size and groupings) can have vastly different styles:

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Seriously, it can’t get any worse than that house so let’s move on:

Window Win #2: Use no more than two different window shapes across the entire elevation.

This rule is way more flexible than the style rule, in my opinion, especially if you’re counting clerestory windows and transoms/sidelights individually.

Still, a house with one consistent style and a couple of shapes is pretty much timeless:

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But man, does shape make a difference; I mean, check this out. This house in (of course) New Jersey has one “style” of window, but the shapes are all over the place:

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Bonus points for the BS half-timbering.

Here are two examples (courtesy of Houston, TX) of houses that blatantly break both Rule No. 1 AND Rule No. 2:

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Of course, the first two rules can totally be bent. Here’s a house built in 2000 that breaks them, but is still A-OK in my book. The materials used to build this house are extremely fine. Does it have cascading gables? yeah, ok. But that is REAL stone, not a veneer. Look at how it’s not consistently the same pattern, and how interesting the texture is. Combined with the genuine stucco and the slate roof, this house is proof that a house can break some rules and still be well-done.

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Seriously, though – if you pass Rules 1 and 2 you’re most likely going to be ok.

Window Win #3: Align your windows vertically. Align your windows horizontally via the top of the window, not the bottom.

Kinda self-explanatory:

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99% of people follow this rule, because it makes so much damn sense. However, there is always that special 1% (the same 1% that owns all the wealth and none of the taste)

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Yeah.

Window Win #4: The second story windows should always be the same size or smaller than the ground floor windows.

Why? Because it implies a more stable ground. Some styles of houses, like the raised ranch or the split-level Colonial Revival popular in the 50s, despite being top-heavy styles, STILL FOLLOW THIS RULE. Seriously, implying that your house is structurally unsound should be left to the Modernists.

Again, this is a rule followed by literally 99% of people, including most McMansions. But, again, there is always that special few:

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Common Window Mistakes No. 1: Shutters

Ok, ignoring all shutter/shudder puns, seriously people are apparently unable to do their shutters properly. Either the shutters are the wrong size or they’re the wrong shape for the windows they’re attached to.

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Common Window Mistakes No. 2: Headers

Headers are supposed to be part of the structure of the window/wall because before the days of decorative veneers that hide their ugliness, they were literally the only thing keeping the weight of the heavy-ass wall from crushing the living hell out of the cute little glass and wood thing.

Headers and lintels (and I keep wanting to spell it as lentils, which I am allergic to) that are tacked on (not embedded in the wall) are a common feature of the McMansion.

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Common Window Mistakes No. 3: Transoms

A transom should never overwhelm the door or window it’s sitting above.

Here’s an example of how to transom:

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And how to…not:

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source

 

4 replies on “Worst Of McMansions – One Man’s Obsession”

I read a report that said these houses have proved be atrocious Investments

Interesting. And tragic. I’ve often wondered what will become of places like these in the future.

So this content is just straight up stolen from Katie Wagner’s blog, McMansion Hell? That’s pretty weak . I thought maybe it wasn’t theft, but she’s not credited and it claims to be the work of “one man.”

There is a source a the bottom of the page right under the last picture. Maybe it’s your observation skills that are weak.

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