Andy Stone: The mini-mansions loom, like six fat guys stuffed in a Volkswagen |

Andy Stone: The mini-mansions loom, like six fat guys stuffed in a Volkswagen

My brother-in-law came back from a walk through the neighborhood and announced, “We went to look at those new mansions they’re building.”

I was puzzled. I couldn’t think of any “mansions” that were under construction anywhere within walking distance. I was tempted to question his judgment and perception – after all, he is my brother-in-law – but he was visiting from Manhattan, where he now lives after having spent most of his career based in Washington, D.C. The man ought to know mansions when he sees them.

A few days later, I took the same walk he had been on. It’s actually a route I follow several times a week when I walk the dog – up the hill out of our little subdivision and down the road past the new development. This time, I looked at the new buildings through fresh eyes and I had to admit, they actually were mansions.

I guess I’m the one whose judgment and perceptions are off-kilter. I’ve spent too many years gazing at the hulks on Red Mountain and along Owl Creek. Those are the buildings I think of when I hear “mansions” – 20,000 square feet, maybe $10 million. You know, mansions.

The houses they’re building near us are all 5,000 or 6,000 square feet and as soon as they’re finished, they go on the market for about $1.5 million.

In most places, I guess that does qualify them as, at least, mini-mansions.

So I stopped and I looked a little harder, and I realized something else about these houses that I now recognize as mansions: They look kind of silly, perched up there in the open rolling meadows of Missouri Heights.

They loom against the skyline – and I guess maybe if there was just one of them, standing in lonely splendor, it would be quite something. But there isn’t just one, there’s a bunch. You might say they look like a pride of lions, ready to pounce on their prey – but we don’t have a lot of antelopes up on Missouri Heights. We’re more bunny rabbit and skunk territory, so those lions are going to wind up going hungry and smelling bad.

Anyway, I don’t think lions are the right image. This cluster of mansions looks more like a bunch of fat guys in tuxedos crowded into a Volkswagen.

OK, I’m being nasty. In fact, these houses aren’t really offensive at all. Indeed, aside from needing a little more elbow room, they are kind of impressive – but maybe that’s exactly my point. Who are they trying to impress?

Why do they go to the trouble of looming against the skyline? Why the two-story entryways framed by massive logs? Why the acres of glass?

I walked back home, checking out the houses in my subdivision. They are certainly different from those new mansions. Maybe I wouldn’t say they’re more “modest” (a couple of them have recently sold for more than a million dollars), but I would certainly say they’re less “aggressive.”

It’s the difference between houses that are built to be lived in and houses that are built to be sold.

Every house in our subdivision was originally built by the people who were going to live in it.

Each one was built to be a home – not a “product.”

When you are building a home for yourself, you want it to be nice to look at, of course, but more than that, you want it to be wonderful to live in. You spend your time and attention – and money – on the details that will make your house a great place to live.

But the mini-mansions up the road were built by developers as spec homes. They were built to be sold.

And so the time, attention and money went into details that will catch a buyer’s eye. The builders were concerned with packaging. It’s like bright colors on a cereal box, like tail fins on a Cadillac. They want the house to look like a million bucks. (Actually, more like a million and a half.)

That’s why you get those two-story entryways, those massive log trusses, those acres of glass.

I confess, I don’t spend much time in gigantic spec homes, but I have visited a few of them – and now, I admit, I’m talking about those 20,000-square-foot mega-mansions – and, every time, my reaction is the same. I’m impressed, but I’m also repelled. The spaces, like the prices, are vast, but for me the houses are as unlivable as they are unaffordable.

So I smiled as I walked back to our little house, by far the smallest in the neighborhood, with a scattering of junked cars out front.

It doesn’t look like a million bucks. It looks like home.

[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times His e-mail address is]

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