Having explored several Overcooked Homes of Witchcraft Heights, a subcategory of McMansions, time to venture on to to the master category itself, the elusive McMansion of Witchcraft Heights.
The American McMansion has a popular web site dedicated to their silliness and offensiveness: McMansion Hell. Go there to learn more – you won’t regret leaving this page. Daunting is the competition with that blog, the author Kate Wagner having become an internationally famed architectural critic while still in school. McMansions in Salem are few and far between, Salem having come late to the late 20th century suburban Big Bang of sprawl. What few there are are almost exclusively in … wait for it … Witchcraft Heights.
A McMansion is not just a big house, and should not be confused with the elegant and classic Mansions common and beloved in Salem. A McMansion is distinguished from an ordinary Mansion by poor design and craftsmanship (“built big and … built cheap“), by a mish-mosh of architectural styles pasted together (“… a chaotic mix of individual styles”), and by failure to engage with the streetscape or landscape (“dominates rather than accentuates the environment”).
Of those three factors today’s example really only violates the third. But there’s a bonus – this house was just listed for sale (only $700K and 3,200 sqft , certifiably McMansion price and size territory) and so exterior and interior staged photos galore of the already vacant house are online for public consumption.
The street view shows that balance and symmetry are maintained. The garage massing on the right balances the great room massing on the left, the central front entryway is symmetrically placed in the front facade.
A closer street view, a lovely sunset (possibly photographer enhanced) accentuating the frame, shows that the Style is nothing special, possibly “contemporary colonial”, sans shutters. The suspicious Dormer Turret over the door is not the cap to a dreaded two-story “Lawyer Foyer“. Surrounding the front entryway with too much stone and concrete is all too characteristic of McMansions. C’mon a little shrubbery would break up the uninviting massing. The small garden spot by the garage containing nothing but a boulder (!) does not help.
A backyard view shows nothing but an huge expanse of grass (color touched green by the photographer to hide winter brown), a single lonely shrub in the corner, outstanding example of the McMansion Landscaping Aesthetic It stands poles apart from ostentatiously landscaped and hardscaped front yard. Not even a patio or deck, nowhere to place the immense BBQ grill requisite of suburbia. The enclosed extension contains only for an extravagantly oversized hot tub, verging on swimming pool dimensions.
The interior foyer view shows indeed that there is no Lawyer Foyer so characteristic of McMansions, although there is minimal realtor staging (a single potted plant!).
The garage view. In transit-accessible Salem are four garages, two off the main house and two in a detached carriage house, absolutely essential? Goodness, there is a bus stop to Boston or to downtown Salem just steps away. Ostentatiousness has no bounds.
So far gets this McMansion gets middling but positive marks on design and style. Where it really passes into McMansion Hell territory is on engagement with its surroundings. First it is set way back on the heights, refusing to engage with its street, bristling with antipathy towards its neighbors. But nohow is the lack of engagement more evident than in this streetview with its neighbor. On one side is a vintage early 20th century side-porched Dutch colonial, engaged with the sidewalk and passersbys, exuberant garden commanding attention; on the other side, a distant emotionless McMansion. Nowhere is the difference more stark between “New” Witchcraft Heights vs. “Old” Gallows Hill.
Reasons for McMansion designation: 1) no engagement with street or neighborhood; 2) Sea of turf grass + single tree in back yard; 3) whopping two 2-car garages; 4) front access almost entirely pavement.
Close with an appropriate quote:
“…the McMansion is the ultimate form of the type of house-fussery. They are designed to impress others, to serve as material, architectural signifiers of the American aesthetic ideal of financial security and social success. They … create isolation (every space is demarcated and communal spaces are for once-a-year “entertainment” rather than day-to-day familial existence), anti-social sentiments (distance from city/town centers/neighbors, gated communities, hostile HOAs), and waste (the power bill, suburban sprawl, interior space wasted on empty architectural gestures, e.g. the great room or the lawyer foyer).” — Kate Wagner, McMansion Hell.