- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

The makings of a behemoth house loom on the newly treeless lot, promising four stories and space for three cars. It’s a monster, all right, with a kitchen the size of a bowling alley and what looks like a rocket launching pad in the basement.

By day, the house is covered with artisans, masons and men who saw things. Trucks roar in, trucks roar out. Night falls, and it’s a different story.

At sundown, the neighbors gather, like villagers waiting for Frankenstein, holding their dogs in check and peering balefully at the spot that once held a gracious little Tudor.

“Makes an awful big footprint,” says one of the patriarchs, and the group sighs in agreement as the neighbors mourn the loss of the neighborhood but privately wonder if the arrival of brash McMansions on the quiet old streets might one day translate into money in their own pockets.

Ah, McMansions. Garage-mahals, plywood palazzos, starter castles. Behold the House that Ate Chicago, and maybe even Chevy Chase.

Keep in mind that in 1950, the average house covered a whopping 963 square feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders — equal in size, perhaps, to the powder room of the nearest Beltway baronial.

These days, the average home is 2,434 square feet. The operative term, though, is “average.” McMansions often are three times that size, and then some.

Oddly enough, when moving day comes and the old neighbors eye the mysterious new neighbors arriving to assume residence in their nouveau expanse of manse, they invariably see a shy family of four toting a yap-yap dog and a playpen.

Will the shy family be able to furnish such a place? Giant houses require giant furniture. Surely Ethan Allen has a Paul Bunyan Collection somewhere, or maybe a Colossus of Rhodes dining suite big enough to host Mr. Bunyan — or Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes and all the little Rhodeses, as the case may be.

For all its space, the giant house presents its own set of intimidating factors.

Should the old neighbors slyly peer in the windows of the McMansion, chances are they would see the new neighbors huddled around the TV watching “Seinfeld” on a single sofa, stark walls of newness closing in on them. That’s a sure signal to go home, make a nice coffeecake and return the next day with paper plates, good cheer and the June Cleaver touch.

At least Donald Trump isn’t moving into the neighborhood. He owns the most expensive monster house in America, according to Forbes magazine, and it’s for sale.

Weighing in at $125 million, the 80,000-square-foot Palm Beach abode boasts 18 bedrooms and 22 bathrooms, along with an eight-car garage, 100-foot pool, ballroom, marble everything, a conservatory and a carriage house, presumably for all Mr. Trump’s carriages.

“It’s the biggest site,” Mr. Trump told the magazine last month.

Yeah, well. We all must make a pact right now and promise not to tell Mr. Trump about the 175,000-square-foot Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, which was built in 1895, is more than twice as big and has 34 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. That is the nation’s biggest house.

Still, the concept of giant houses often causes owners of smaller houses to lapse into a form of manic depression known to many therapists as itty-bitty house syndrome. The owner of the itty-bitty house becomes obsessed with the giant house’s space, repeating “the closets, the closets, the closets” in a low monotone. Then the aforementioned itty-bitty goes berserk about luxuries, both real and imaginary.

“Yikes, an onyx Sherle Wagner toilet seat. Wowsers, a platinum door jamb. Gee whiz, a Jack Benny moat, with alligators. Yee-cats, a dog pantry.”

(At this juncture, we’ll note that there is a McMansion in Massachusetts where the family Labrador has its own room, complete with tasteful kibble-colored dog wallpaper and curtains, floor-to-ceiling dog toy shelves and a custom, step-in dog shower — this according to the Boston Globe.)

The mind reels.

Sooner or later, the owner of the itty-bitty house will realize that the giant house also comes with giant cleaning requirements and giant utility bills. And those little things that go bump in the night? They go boom in the giant house. In the meantime, the New York Times has proclaimed that the McMansion era is waning because the houses are too unwieldy, too expensive and “Americans have simply attained all the space they need.”

Those who still pine to live large can take heart, though. The 19th-century Norman-style 20-room Berkeley Castle in West Virginia is up for sale — with eight bedrooms, six baths and a dungeon among other things — priced at $1.8 million.

Oh, and a message to Mr. Trump: Solomon Castle is available right there in Florida, with a moat and 60-foot replica of a Spanish galleon … for a mere $2.5 million.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and moats for The Washington Times national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or [email protected] times.com.

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