Contributing Editor

Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 25 years. She most recently served as senior editor of design for Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and is now a contributing editor to those publications as well as the portal Web site HousingZone.com. Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas. You can reach her at susanbady@sbcglobal.net.

Gold Nugget winners take aim at the McMansion

An article that was published in The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about McMansions, which were ubiquitous during the housing bubble. Big and bland, the McMansion became synonymous with middle-class excess, argues author Jordan Weissmann. After the housing-market crash, people came to their senses and home sizes shrank somewhat. Now, says Weissmann, the square footage of new single-family homes is creeping up again—but I don’t think that necessarily means the McMansion is rearing its homely head.

If you use the latest batch of Gold Nugget Award winners as examples, the single-family move-up market has, I believe, shifted from fast food to fine dining. Two of the big prizes went to Fairbrook Estates and Alta Del Mar, both in San Diego. Fairbrook Estates, designed by Woodley Architectural Group and built by Ryland Homes, is an innovative collection of mid-century modern floor plans. Ranging from 3,093 to 3,776 square feet, they were described by the judges as “not too big, not too small.” Guest suites accommodate the multigenerational household, and the floor plans flare open to fit pie-shaped lots. Prices start at around $1 million, which isn’t bad for San Diego.

Alta Del Mar, built by Pardee Homes and designed by Bassenian/Lagoni Architects, offers a slice of the good life in coastal San Diego. Homes range from 4,100 to 6,200 square feet and are priced from $1.85 to $2.4 million. The coastal California architecture is exceptionally well done here. There’s not a front-loaded garage or an ugly elevation in sight, and while the homes are large, they don’t have a lot of wasted space. Living areas are zoned for functionality as well as privacy, and the homes embrace their sites with thoughtfully placed courtyards and porches.

I hesitate to pronounce the McMansion dead without taking into account what is being built in the rest of the country. There will always be a market for bigger houses, and no doubt some of them will be big boxes. But as these two Gold Nugget honorees show, it’s possible to create production homes that are spacious without squandering space. 

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