McMansion meanings: why do America's jumbo-sized status homes have useless "formal spaces?"

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When I built my current house I had the living and dining rooms combined and enclosed and turned into a theater. That room is among the most used rooms in my house, and as a result I rarely use the family room (although I do display a lot of my Lego sets there). My previous house had three living rooms, a loft that was used as the theater, and as a result the most used, a formal living room, which was barely used, and the family room next to the kitchen which I used as a pool room. Those formal rooms are just pointless to me.


For example, no stage, curtain, or orchestra pit.


It sounds like your keeping up with a long tradition in many families. My WWII generation Grandmother had a living room that was just for show. As a child when I entered the front door of that house, we had to make our way to the kitchen through the living room, walking on a narrow vinyl strip of plastic that protected the underlying carpeting. Nobody actually sat on the furniture in there, and when she passed, we discovered that the urethane foam in the sofa had hardened like a rock due to never being sat on.



Seriously, while there is some interesting architectural tidbits in her writing, it is mostly “being mean to random people on the internet because it gets you laughs”. The image above is not terrible, but a lot of it is not just making fun of the architecture, but passing moral judgments on the owners or applying condescending, offensive generalizations based on their house. If you read his columns and think “there is a real person that lives in that house, and they might read this column” it just gets gross, unless you completely dehumanize them, which for the record is bad. even if they are rich white families.


Even back in the old days those rooms were rarely used. They were only useful when you had guests over which wasn’t all that often, but status symbols are important to people.


Small porches off of bedrooms. I know it’s a rule that if you have a slider, you need a porch. I’ve had two of those, including my current home. The realtor explains you can have your morning coffee out here. BS, I’m not waking up, going downstairs, make coffee, wiat 10 minutes and then go back up stairs to enjoy my coffee. Besides I have perfectly good patio on the first floor I can sit on.


Kate Wagner is a woman.


The Yusupov family of St. Petersburg knew how to do a home theatre:


You know, I felt the same way, but I was afraid to say it. I am not one of the cool kids.


I’ve never lived in a house big enough to have unused space. We use all ours.


Just the other day I was talking with an aquaintance showing me the sales listing for his status-conscious late father’s 5000+ sqf house. It wasn’t exactly a McMansion but it did have a number of these large formal spaces. I asked if he or any of his siblings (Gen Xers and a late Boomer/Joneser) had considered buying out the others and taking occupancy, to which he replied with a hearty laugh and a “hell, no!” before telling me how 70% of the house went unused and how the utility bills they saw were insane. They can’t unload that white elephant to someone with more money than sense quickly enough.

My sister had the right idea with her more modest mid-century house. When they renovated the kitchen became the largest (and most thoughtfully designed) room in the house, with the master suite taking second place. The rest of the rooms, including the small living room/den and the barely used dining area, remained the same size.

My great grandparents had a similar room, known to everyone as “the good room”. Children and young adults were barred from setting foot in it and most of the family spent visits in the den or kitchen.

Mocking a lack of taste and common sense on the part of the noveau riche is an old and established tradition in this country. When it also decries wastefulness and public eyesores and does so in a funny way I don’t mind it at all.


Why have a slider if you don’t have a porch?

BS, I’m not waking up, going downstairs, make coffee, wiat 10 minutes and then go back up stairs to enjoy my coffee.

We have a porch off our bedroom, and do use it for coffee. The views are better than from the lanai downstairs.


Hey ya’ll. Joe America here. I’ll tell you to yer face why we need these damn rooms. It’s 'cause we can, that’s why! Not a whole lotta folks know, but back in '76 when we told the British where to shove it, we actually had a little hitch on that. Oh yeah, yer damn right we told 'em to fuck off, but we also kept the right to copy their royal asses so each and every damn last one of us to pretend we could live like kings. Even if all you wanna do is look at it and wonder how anyone ever lived without it, you get to have yer extra space in this here country. Now 'scuse me, I gotta run down to the bar in my basement that I use every couple years and find my spittoon!


McMansions have a lot in common with dictators’ homes, in terms of scale as well as questionable taste.

The whole point is that dictators’ homes aren’t for one’s family, friends or private self; they’re not a refuge from the world or the job. Dictators’ homes, in fact, are the job—a place to do business, harangue people and settle scores, all while one’s entourage stays nearby. They are an architectural and artistic means of establishing the power of the occupants, of intimidating and impressing any visitor.


I grew up in a small midcentury modern house in Miami whose living room bled into the dining room and was surrounded on 2 sides by sliding glass doors.

I remember visiting my grandparents house in Delaware and being insanely confused by their “living room” in which no one ever ventured and the only things that were ever touched was either a dish filled with Mary Janes (ugh) and a lidded keepsake dish where my grandmother’s bridge winnings were held.

We spent 50% of our time on the porch and the remaining 50% in the “TV room” where my grandfather’s recliner was.


Came to post this. Even in the 1950s and 60s houses that I grew up in, the “dining room” was only used at Christmas and Easter, and these houses weren’t huge. In terms of trying to impress anyone, size wasn’t the issue so much as presentation.


An amusing comment slightly marred by the use of the word “caveat”.

Caveat? Isn’t that the fish eggs those rich people eat?”


Edited to make it conform to the true Joe America style manual.


Similar. I was really happy when looking for a house to find that my partner had similar values and motivations. I wanted a small house, no pool or similar features, built after 2000, single story. We use the big living room as a dining/entertainment and craft room. We use the giant oversized master bedroom as our game room and office space so that’s where our HTPC is set up and so on. We have a spartan bedroom for sleeping only and a room for music and video editing etc though we haven’t been doing that as much right now because we’re both in a bit of a slump. The ceilings are low and the windows are average. That’s exactly what I wanted, insulation from the weather and lower electricity bills. So many houses have these grand features that definitely make it feel like a disney version of an old manor house… but FFS I can’t clean a window that is 35 feet high and I don’t see the point of paying to cool off huge unused portions of my house.

Man, people waste so much money.