Are Big Houses Back In Lamorinda?

They went away for a while as we concentrated on "building smarter" and keeping our footprints small. But are McMansions poised for a comeback?

Is big back?

The massive trophy homes of the go-go-go Dot Com years seemed to all go away there for awhile - indoor volleyball courts and media rooms giving way to smaller "smart" homes the hip new "green" architects promised would prolong the life of the human species.

But as the financial sectors rebound a little and vast sums made during the boom years come out of shoe-boxes and bank vaults across the land, The Blessed Among Us know a devastated construction sector is eager for work and ready to build.

There's one going in at the end of quiet little cul de sac in Moraga and it's a Big 'un, the contractor apparently going to some lengths to stabilize a hillside behind the home. Nary a peep from the neighbors, whose own 60's-era ranchers are dwarfed and sheepish next to their magnificent new neighbor.

An architect friend calls the trend "Vulgaria," a build-it-to-the-property-lines mentality possibly meant to capture something of an owner's summer holiday to the Rhine or Tuscany, and built to impress.

Morley Safer and 60 Minutes examined the syndrome recently, traveling to Texas - the land of purse dogs, Ferraris, and the New American Palaces - to find out exactly why a family of three needs 40,000 square feet to live in.

An extremely nice Texas lady, purse dog in hand, showed Morley her bathroom - a three-story water closet that looked more like the bell tower for a Franciscan seminary than a West Texas pissoir.

Morley was agog (most journalists are happy if they have indoor plumbing), and he had to speak with the man of the house, a nice guy who said he patterned his abode after "that Versailles, that Versailles home."

"You mean, the Palace of Versailles," Morley pressed.

"Yes, that's right," said Texas' answer to Baron Philip De Rothschild.

People who build homes like this tend to cast naysayers as "envious" little people who would build one if they could, but I don't know. My dream is to have a nice parcel of land with a nice but manageable home built in the middle of it - a comfortable place where the land is appreciated and not the height of my ceilings.

But that's just me. What do you think, is big really better?

Lafayette Curmudgeon June 17, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Chris, I'm surprised at you here. Design review for design (not for set back or zoning) is offensive to the First Amendment. If naked dancing is protected speech (and it is), architecture certainly is. As long as it's not above broadly applicable size and setbacks, it should be no matter whatsoever whether a person builds a Tudor or a Craftsman or an Eichler or a shotgun shack or a Yurok longhouse.
Chris Nicholson June 17, 2011 at 06:12 AM
Speech conduct, I guess. I don't know if it is an implied reciprocal negative covenant or some other theory, but I think it is reasonable to prevent people from building outlandish homes in residential areas that are intended to be somewhat consistent.
CJ June 17, 2011 at 03:02 PM
I believe any size discussion is determined by the city's code that specifically spells out the allowed building footprint and SF /vs O/A property SF. Maybe the lot is sized in such a way that it allows a much larger SF even though much of the site SF is not obvious as it is on a slope or not being developed. In order to get approval for obvious violations of these codes, you would need variances that create quite a stir(i.e. public hearings). That said the house is certainly shocking in it's placement. I certainly would have wanted a more private setting for something so audacious. If just for security considerations.
Zoe Claire June 19, 2011 at 05:16 PM
I don't think it was mentioned here but some people seem to think having one of these monsters in your neighborhood is actually GOOD for property values. Uh, no. I was surprised to see the house pictured in the Patch as I had heard about it for some time. Do a little digging and you'll see that a neighbor who tried to sell as it was being built TOOK A BATH when potential buyers realized what was going in next door.
Chris Nicholson June 19, 2011 at 06:01 PM
I assume most of this was due to construction hassles and NOT simply being in a neighborhood with large/huge homes. In this buyer's market, who would want to buy a house knowing that you are signing up for a few years of noise/dust/sketchy workers? Thereafter, other than the next-door neighbor (whose house might be mistaken as a guard's shack if it is a 50's original), I think property values would go up as people build newer/bigger/pricier homes in your neighborhood. I say "bring it on." I do wish construction could be faster, however.


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