Updated: Jul 10, 2022
McMansions are a thing of the past, a garish phenomenon of excess. I'm sure there are communities still sprouting misshapen and oversized homes, but it's a trend in decline. But it doesn't mean good, brave architecture has won the day. In my neighborhood, there's a new beast. I'm not sure it has a name. In fact, the aesthetic is nebulous. It's Pottery Barn + Restoration Hardware. Craftsman Barn? Restoration Craftsman? Whatever it is, it's monstrous in scale. Fat Craftsman, perhaps. The aesthetic of Fat Craftsman is complicated. Humongous homes, well-built and not altogether atrocious. What they share with McMansions is bloat. They do not fit on the lots on which they've landed. They are difficult to assess since they lack any true shape or definition. There are examples at the end of my block, but it seems a bit rude and uncouth to post images, so let me just explain...
A Fat Craftsman doesn't know when to stop. It's multifaceted and layered. It's artisan. It's multiple quaint Greene & Greene Craftsman Bungalows squished together, with a dash of Cape Cod Colonial Revival. Deconstructed, one Fat Craftsman might make several fine, sensible homes. But insecurity leads to a stacked jumble. The graceful and confident horizontal lines of a true craftsman are upended by verticality and extra undulations to accommodate another 600 sq. feet here and a dining room-sized breakfast nook there.
A similar hesitancy to put the pencil down and turn the computer off leads to badly designed logos and cars... too much detail and undulations. The shape becomes formless and indecisive.
A Fat Craftsman is well constructed and there are some quite lovely elements (I appreciate a barn door), but the overall disproportion is an amateurish mistake. The fault is probably that of developers. They had a target size and a target aesthetic (or, more precisely, a postmodern lack of one).
Fat Craftsman houses are an argument for modernism. To replace something of modest, genuine charm with a simulacrum of charm is cowardly. Replace it with something bold and new? That's brave. This post would not exist if the new homes in my 'hood looked more Mies Van der Rohe and less Thomas Kinkade.
So what existed on my block before the arrival of the newest Fat Craftsman? Nothing special, just a charming little ranch house with sweet gingerbread details. I suppose a Victorian might suggest the house was a lazy abomination of true gingerbread finesse.
Still, I applauded its scale and subtly. When a For Sale sign appeared, I knew its days were numbered. My neighborhood has a lot of charm, but the original houses are deemed too tiny by today's tastes. It's a shame. They're big enough. Why add stairs? Why add more rooms to dust and heat? Why cast such imposing shadows?
I think the answer is insecurity.
This observation is a small complaint. Irksome, not enraging. Owners should get what they want. I'm not inclined to put up a fight. At most, I've proposed an entirely fictional organization:
The Mill Valley Modesty Preservation Society
What does MVMPS want? Just to confidently remind people that less remains more.
Suggested Listening: The Kinks: "The Village Green Preservation Society"