A Walking Tour of McMansion Hell

By Jacob Becker

Just like you, hopefully, recently I’ve been spending the majority of my day inside my house. For me, after a spring break visit turned into a semester-long stay, that means staying at my parents’ house in New Jersey.  I don’t want to give the Garden State a bad name—it’s full of natural beauty and wonderful bagels, with a competent governor who made the decision to close state parks to the public. But, because of those park closures, my outdoor recreation can only happen in two places: my neighborhood and Animal Crossing. 

In Animal Crossing, a mask can still be a good idea.

After my college roommate came to visit one summer, I learned my neighborhood is officially considered an exurb, which is a suburb, but somehow even less convenient to get to work from. There are no sidewalks, probably because there is nowhere worth walking within the town borders. This lack of sidewalks means that most of my walks are around the same culs-de-sac where traffic is lightest. It’s surrounded by some nice forests, so birds, squirrels, deer and foxes are frequent sights, but they are welcome sights after spending most of the day inside. The houses I see almost every day are not.

The first sign of a McMansion: columns.

This walk is filled with some of the ugliest houses I have ever seen. You might say that’s a harsh judgment, that architecture and aesthetics are subjective—but I feel qualified to judge this, as What Makes McMansions Bad is one of three concrete skills I have learned in my planning graduate experience thus far (the other two being telling a computer to make maps and how to have imposter syndrome). Also, just look at them. My opinions owe much to McMansion Hell, which, unsurprisingly, has many examples from my county of Bergen.  

This isn’t the worst house, because I’m saving that one for last, but it’s terrible.

The color of this house doesn’t pop in this picture like it would on a sunny day, and you should be thankful for that. It’s somewhere between beige, light olive and mustard yellow, all of which make this list of the ugliest colors in the world, and we will be referring to this color trifecta as yeige. But the architect didn’t stop there. They also added a stone tiling to emphasize the oversized, out of place window over the door which only exists to let neighbors know they have a chandelier. My editor told me to refer to this window as central, but I would argue this house is far too unbalanced to have anything resembling a “center”. Speaking of the windows, the left side of the house has a selection of differently sized, randomly placed windows on an otherwise featureless void of yeige. Beyond that, there is no physical center to the house, instead different features and shapes are haphazardly pushed in and out of it. The overall appearance can only be described as lumpy. 

Somehow, still not the worst one.

Here, yeige stucco makes a comeback, but instead of stone, tiled brick is added to—well I don’t really know what the purpose of adding it is other than to amuse me. This house is also far too large for anything resembling a single family, and I heard a rumor from my dad that it’s only used on Thanksgiving.

I couldn’t fit the entire house in one shot, even with panorama mode.

There are many contenders for the worst house on my regular route, but this one showcases my favorite New Jersey McMansion feature—an abundance of unnecessary columns. Under the light, there are 6 pure white columns perched on top of piled up stone bases that serve no discernible purpose. The house would be better off without the two random triangles they are pretending to hold up. The only way I can imagine this house was built is that either a couple both owned exceptionally ugly houses and decided to attach them to each other when they moved in together, or the architect wanted to prove that he could make a monstrous McMansion with only one story. This one could eat three houses the size of my parents’ and still have room for the 5 cars these people undoubtedly own.

In my life I doubt I’ll ever own my own house, and I certainly won’t be able to pay off a raccoon to build my own McMansion and fill it with dinosaur bones that I refuse to donate to the museum like I can in Animal Crossing. You might think that the one benefit of homes this large is an easier time social distancing, exploring the rooms you never even knew were there, but from my walks that doesn’t seem to be the case. I feel like the curmudgeon I’ll eventually become every time I see people not practicing social distancing around my neighborhood. Maybe these homes have seven cars, but the kids I see longboarding together can’t all be siblings! 

All image credits: Jacob Becker

About the Author: Jacob Becker is a second-year master’s candidate pursuing a dual masters in City and Regional Planning and Environmental Sciences and Engineering. His research interests include mapping air pollution, climate change adaptation and transitioning to clean energy sources. For fun, Jacob takes his mind off the slow heat death of the planet by hiking around it and indulging in improv and sketch comedy. Jacob received his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Chicago.