The 90′s McMansion

The Vancouver Special was primarily an infill house for the east side of Vancouver.  In 1987 Vancouver city planners moved to stop construction of Vancouver Specials.  The houses were crowded together, with minimal side setbacks, on the narrow 33 ft lots and the length of the house from front to back on the lot left little space for a yard.  Crowding created a fire hazard.

Unfortunately, the infill house of the 90′s, on both the east and west side, was the new “McMansion”.  On the west side of Vancouver the houses were primarily built for Taiwanese and Hong Kongese new immigrant buyers. But because they maximised the building space of the lot, and were easy and quick to build, they were soon popping up all over the city.

A McMansion  is readily identifiable as a big pinkish-tan, square, stucco box with  an etched glass window centered above large double doors.  Exteriorly, the house has minimal overhang, typical of the 80′s post-modern influence on the building style.  Architect designed versions, such as those by Kingsley Lo or James Cheng, may be ornamented with a centrally placed flat gable, impressive wood or copper clad doors, and a mix of complimentary round and square features such as a curved glass brick column buttressed against one side of the house, or a round faux tower placed in the centre of the roof behind the gable. The windows of McMansions are usually surrounded by minimal moldings and may appear small in comparison to the size of the home.  Glass brick walls and windows placed at strategic points of both the exterior  and interior surfaces of the house are prominent features.

On the inside, a grand foyer opens to a large, curved staircase leading to a second floor rotunda.  The foyer is  graced by a huge modern, waterfall style chandelier hanging from the upper level.  The upstairs bedrooms open off the large rotunda that surrounds the space of the grand foyer.  The houses generally have very functional layouts with a cross hall living room and den, a dining room behind the den on the side opposite the living room, and a large kitchen and family room running across the back. Sliding glass, or double french, doors open off the family room onto a rear deck or patio.  McMansions were  the first modern houses in Vancouver to make use of a large dugout to create a  walk-out basement entrance. This is achieved by digging an extra large window well big enough for a small patio  entrance into the basement recreation room.  Sliding glass doors onto the patio add light to the room, and make it possible to build a nice in-law suite or rental suite in the basement.

One problem with the McMansion style is its flatness.  On the interior, the windows appear slashed into the walls like the cutout windows of a cardboard play house because they are surrounded by minimal, or no moldings, ledges, or sashes.  The windows are small for the size of the rooms and too highly placed on the wall.  The lack of moldings in the large, square rooms make them seem boxy, cold, and unfriendly.  Other features of the McMansion, which appear unfavorably dated in 2012,  are the expansive use of brass and glass fixtures, the unusual use of rose pink arborite over melamine built in cabinetry throughout the house, the widespread use of mirrored closet doors, wall to wall beige carpets in the principal rooms and on the stairs, and white marble tiling of all the remaining rooms.

The stucco box McMansion fell into decline in the mid-90′s because it was so ugly.  On the west side McMansions were eyesore infills on streets largely lined with turn of the century Georgian, Edwardian, or Tudor style mansions.  Residents of Shaughnessy and Kerrisdale initiated a revolt against the glaring style disconnect.  This led to the development  of the  Shaughnessy Style Guidelines.  These guidelines dictate that a new house must match the character, setbacks, roofline, color, and landscaping style of the houses already present on the street.

Thus, the birth of the 2000′s era twin peak stucco box, and it’s more modern variation, the twin peak stucco box with a shingled front.