McMansions; or, Big, Ugly Boxes on the Hillside

I’m a delivery boy!

First and foremost, I apologize for the lack of new content here. Adjusting to the new job has been tiring. I’ve also been getting back into editing and other old pursuits, so my time management has been, to say the very least, shit.

Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s chat, shall we?

You heard correctly; I’ve been in a new job for the past six weeks, and I’ve been really enjoying it. I’m currently in logistics (kind of). To put it more accurately, I’m like Philip J. Fry with a college degree and no space ship, which is infinitely lamer than the other way around. Regardless, I get to drive a lot, and I soak up considerable amounts of vitamin E while getting lots of fresh air and exercise.

I’m sure I heard some of you just say, “ew,” and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. Nor is sitting around in an office staring at a computer or teaching in a classroom or building houses. We all have our niches we tolerate enjoy enough to do it for forty or more hours a week for decades. Different strokes for different folks.

Bottom line is this: I actually, mostly, enjoy it. My vehicle is state-of-the-art and a true joy to drive. The routes are fairly decent (except for the country routes, but that’s another can of worms in itself worthy of its own post). The people are friendly. And the architecture is…interesting.

Our company runs nearly two dozen routes each day, but each driver has been confined to a more general area of operation to help facilitate efficiency through locational familiarity. (Are those actual industry terms? I haven’t a clue, but they sound good, don’t they?)

My area is one that has been traditionally a country town. For most of my thirty-four years here, it has been exactly that. However, as is the case with many rural towns in proximity to larger metropolitan areas (I can think of at least five in my area alone), developers have noticed the desire for cheap, available land within decent proximity of the big city where people work, and they have taken full advantage.

Not a day passes when I think of two terms: “Little Boxes” and “McMansions”. Some of you may already know where I’m going with this. I’m talking about not merely subdivisions, but of subdivisions of cheaply made homes and even “mansions”. I say “mansions” with parentheses because they are an insult to proper mansions.

Agrestic is such a great, awful name for a subdivision. It’s perfect.

Developers refer to these as “custom homes”, though I can’t imagine the customization options are all that varied as they all look EXACTLY THE BLOODY SAME. That’s where “Little Boxes” comes in. Some of you may refer to the Showtime series Weeds, a dramedy that follows the antics of a suburban widow living and selling drugs in one of these such custom home communities. (If you haven’t seen it, the first three seasons are fantastic, while the rest are lesser, though still enjoyable. I’d suggest giving it a watch.) The theme song, “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, talks about this very thing:

“Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same,

There’s a pink one and a green one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.”

And it’s so true! You pull into one of these subdivisions, whose entrance is always marked with a pair of stoneworks straddling the street and the name of the subdivision, which is always something pleasant yet boring, carved into it, and you instantly know you’re entering somewhere devoid of soul or interest.

What defines them most is the continuity, and that’s not a compliment. Each house resembles the one next to it, which is, of course, by design. It’s precisely the point. I don’t know what the hell that point is or what it accomplishes, but that’s the way it is. Each of them has many of the same architectural features and building styles as its neighbor to the extent of tedium. Yes, we get it, you like brick arches with poorly fitted concrete keystones. Move on with it.

The majority of these subdivisions are average sized custom homes (basically anything under 3,000 square feet and at most a two-car garage), but there are many that are much larger homes, which Kate Wagner has wonderfully dubbed “McMansions.” They’re essentially custom homes on a much larger scale, attempting (poorly) to emulate older, properly designed and constructed mansions, but with terrible architecture and cheap materials. I cannot do justice to what an abomination to the landscape these homes are, so please, check out her website: It is nothing short of glorious. I suggest beginning with the “McMansion 101” section for a proper education on why these fail so spectacularly.

But that’s what I do every day: I drive around, delivering to all of these custom homes, as I marvel at the extreme architectural monotony and wonder why the hell anyone would ever consider such a thing desirable.

Oh well. Not my circus or monkeys. It’s their world. I just deliver in it. Anyway, until next time, comrades. Be good to one another.

-The Retail Explorer

20 thoughts on “McMansions; or, Big, Ugly Boxes on the Hillside

  1. I have a gripe with McMansions, to begin with. They are just so unnecessary. Why does anyone need a closet the size of an apartment or a separate screened-in porch with a sunroom? It’s all about excess and consumerism while forgetting about the environment, and the homeless, I think that it became a peeve for me with the show, House Hunters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I’m reading this I’m desperately trying to remember the name of a novel I read a while back. It was about a family that lived in a model home of a subdivision, that never really got built (no, not Arrested Development!). It’s going to drive me crazy now, because I think you’d really like it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nothing frustrates me more than a subdivision that has the audacity to declare itself with the name “estates”. Don’t you, the property developer, know anything about the definitions of the most basic terms in property? A 1/3 acre lot sandwiched between two other 1/3 acre lots does not in any way, shape, or form constitute as an estate.

    Why does it bug me so much? I don’t know. Maybe because there is something to respect in an estate? Some long lost dream of childhood past? Whatever it is, they are liar liars pants on fire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh they absolutely are. All of it is an illusion of grandeur. I’ll tell you what bugs me most about those custom home monstrosities is the use of keystones. They all look stupid, they stick out like sore thumbs, and they are completely nonfunctional. But it’s all a part of that “I think I’m fancier than I really am” illusion they’re projecting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We were looking at homes here in Florida and came across a home that was huge at the front. The entire curb appeal was grandeur. But the interior it was empty, basic, and left you wanting.
        “Looks like a Dallas home, all about the appearance” we said.

        Later the agent said, “ya the family to build this home were from Texas… somewhere.”

        We answered in unison. “Dallas.”

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember singing this song in elementary school. Coming from New England, while we have sub-divisions, they are not the size of what I see down here in Orlando. When I was growing up, those sub-divisions included a ranch, a raised ranch, and a Cape Cod house, followed by another ranch, raised ranch, and Cape Cod and sometimes a split-level was thrown in for variety. But in the ’90s, all those sub-divisions became Colonials. All. Sometimes they put the garage on the left and sometimes on the right. But you knew if you walked into one house, then you walked into all of the houses. Because all had the exact same floor plan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know exactly what you mean. I would honestly find that a little more appealing than these. At least those all have a specific style in mind from the start. These are always just a hodgepodge of whatever shit elements the customer found interesting at the time. It just always makes me laugh and shake my head.


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