The 1970s called and they want their proto-McMansions back!

Originally published at:


My uncle owns a house like this, though seemingly a bit further along the timeline. Built in the late 70’s by a major developer in the region, a guy who later pioneered full on McMansions and cul de sac developments in the DelMarVa area.

House is bizarre. 3 front doors, the heating and AC used uninsulated gaps in the walls instead of ducts and vented into the uninsulated attic. Purportedly to create a radiant heating effect. There are balconies everywhere, some of them completely inaccessible, the ground floor has like 3 or 4 different levels requiring one to two steps down or up. And there are multiple “grand” entryways with big staircases and ceilings that stretch multiple floors. Oddly enough only one of them is associated with one of the front doors.

From the street it looks like a fairly typical, consistent; if large and quirky house of the area and era. The inside is pure madness.


I lived most of the 80’s in a large house built in the 70’s. Never again.

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I had to look 3 times just to make sure it’s not my uncle and aunt’s old place. Reaching back into 30 year old memories is slow sometimes. This sort of ranch w/ columns was popular enough in its day.

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Maybe the developer was hedging his bets. If the huge house didn’t sell he could turn it into a duplex/triplex by just sealing off a couple of doorways.


That’s the thing. This is the house he built for himself. Lived there 40 years, think my uncle bought it off his estate. Might have been one owner in between. The floor plan wouldn’t really work for that without totally gutting it too.

Plus multiple front doors is a mysterious thing with McMansions, including additional faux entryways. The 2 or 3 houses of this type from the same time that I’ve been to all have at least 2 front doors distributed seemingly at random. I don’t think anyone knows why.

It’s one of several things we just can’t figure out. If it was just another McMansion sure OK those are weird and made of spit and glue.

But the house is this bizarre mix of cut corners you wouldn’t expect a corner cutter to subject themselves to, outdated but at the time high end stuff, and things that are somehow more expensive but also much worse than doing it right.

Like the HVAC thing was apparently the super high end, cutting edge way to do AC for 2 years in the 70’s. Right around when the house was built. And there are sweet 70’s intercoms in every room, even the bathrooms. But then all of the wiring was done in a dangerously sub par fashion.

And the house had a big drainage problem. According to my brother who does that sort of thing for a living, some parts of the drainage system look like common, out dated methods for adding drainage after the fact. But they’re all done in ways that bear no relation to the way they’re actually supposed to work. And there’s this bizarre system of underground dams, pipes and storm drains in the middle of the yard that appear to do nothing.

It would have been more expensive than just accounting for drainage when they dug the foundation. But it was all put in when they dug the foundation? It seems to be set up to deliberately flood one section of the yard, which it does. But since it’s done so wrong it also causes everything to back flow into the foundation.

Personally I suspect it’s a situation where a guy thinks he knows better than everyone else. And he may have been using his own house as a sorta test bed.


I’d love to see her come over to Europe and write about some of the houses here that ‘inspired’ some of these designs.
In some stately homes you get a similarly bonkers mix of styles, because the same family of posh cnuts has been living there for hundreds of years, all making changes and additions, and they all thought they knew better than their architects.

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Or simply couldn’t afford to repair things in exactly the same style. If you click through to the article, she makes fun of a triple window where one of the panes has a lattice on it and the others do not; I suspect that was a matter of needing to replace broken windows and not being able to find matching replacements.

Many years ago I bought a flat in England which was part of a Victorian townhouse that had been badly subdivided. I did quite a bit of work on it, but there was little I could do on my budget to offset some of the structural mismatches, and I shudder to think how it would have fared on this blog.

In the US people tend to buy houses at (or beyond) the limit of what they can afford, and that almost surely means design mismatches as they repair and renovate with strict financial limits.

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Yes, but you also get the opposite. Builders here in the US use what they call “builder grade”, so you get decent but pretty cheap tile or carpet because they’re buying enough for all your neighbors homes too. When you renovate you get to put in what you really want so it may end up being much nicer. Like when I renovate my bathroom, I’m going to completely gut it at put in some decent stuff (because I hate the Jacuzzi!)

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Of course, even putting in better products can result in a mismatch unless you do a major overhaul.

I thought “builder grade” was code for “absolute cheapest material available in bulk”. Quality isn’t really a concern, just price.

Builder grade generally just means readily available without need for ordering and lead times. The quality can still be comparable to commercial products, but if you’re not coordinating your project schedule you aren’t coordinating the installation either and that’s where the problem really comes in. If properly installed stuff from Home Depot can perform just as well, but without proper installation nothing works well.

It CAN mean that, sometimes the quality is fine it’s just that they used the most plain (white and beige) thing possible to make it palatable for everyone. Sometimes it isn’t so much a quality issue it’s just boring. Depends if you’re fixing cosmetic things or functional things I suppose.

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Does anyone ever use any of the front doors in these types of homes? Don’t they just enter the house through the garage?

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Actually, you’ll notice that she mistakenly jokes about a possible art piece resting against the wall next to those windows: it’s the other two lattices, offset by a few inches from each other. This was a common thing at the time, to have a removable lattice in each window so that you could more easily wash them. Also, cheaper than real lattice windows, of course, especially when it comes to replacing broken glass.


Excellent catch! I totally missed that (as obviously did she).

I often find the McMansion blog frustrating because of stuff like this; while I share her distaste for design mismatch and ginormous tat, she doesn’t seem to have any sympathy for why things are the way they are.

I also shudder at what she would say about my own house, which has more roof angles than the cabinet of Dr. Caligari.


I thought they were only accessible by climbing the mismatched siding to get to the 3rd balcony on the left. Which for some reason opens into a storage area.

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