In Holland, Michigan, there’s a 22,000-square-foot behemoth facing Lake Macatawa. The nautical-themed mansion serves as a summer home for Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration’s Department of Education secretary.
While the custom home was likely expensive, architecture critic Kate Wagner argues that it reeks of bad design. Wagner has written for places like Architectural Digest and Curbed, but is best known for founding the blog “McMansion Hell,” where she publishes memes that poke fun at huge, horribly-designed homes. (Generally, McMansions describe properties that span at least 3,000 square feet and feature a hodgepodge of nonsensical architectural styles. The homes started becoming popular in the 1980s.)
When asked to describe DeVos’ waterfront home in a few words, Wagner replied a “beached whale.”
She explains more below.
DeVos’ summer home in Michigan includes three bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, three kitchens, eight dishwashers, 13 porches, and an elevator. The exact cost is unknown.
Wagner classifies the home as a “mega-McMansion,” due to its sheer size and ostentatious design.
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She notes that it attempts to reference shingle-style architecture, known for its extensive use of shingles as a building material, big interior volume, and three-dimensional forms. But according to Wagner, DeVos’ home largely fails at that, because each wing is visually different.
There are two main characteristics of good architecture, she said. A building should be creative, but its design should portray one cohesive idea. It should also have visual cues that highlight what the architect (or owner) considers to be the most important parts.
The roof line – which randomly slopes down from the turret to the second story at one point – was a weird design choice, Wagner said.
DeVos’ mansion tries to focus on the center turret, but its other parts are nearly as large. The facade has no fewer than 13 window styles and three roof types. And it’s unclear which of the home’s many doors is the front door.
“This house is an example of too many cooks in the kitchen,” Wagner said. “There’s just too much going on at once. It looks like a bunch of mini houses clumsily Velcroed together.”
She compares one living room to a Victoria’s Secret dressing room.
As a McMansion, DeVos’ Michigan home was designed to exude an enormous amount of wealth.
Meanwhile, Wagner notes that there’s a wide disparity between DeVos’ living standard and that of American teachers, who continue to strike across the country for better wages and work conditions.
While DeVos said in April that teachers should be “better compensated,” her department has not addressed the issue with any policy. In late July, DeVos also proposed rolling back loan forgiveness rules for students defrauded by for-profit colleges.
DeVos’ mansion “points to the fact that 1% of people have more wealth of 99% of the country. I don’t think we’ve let that sink in — A sliver of the population owns everything,” Wagner said. “Everything about the home’s design says, ‘Screw you, I got mine.”
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