Live Like a Jetson in These Very ’90s Millennium Mansions
Not to be confused with the much-reviled McMansions.
Published Sept. 24, 2020, at 1:45 p.m.
Text by Whet Moser
The ongoing bane of architecture is the McMansion, or as the late historian Virginia McAlester defined it in her classic Field Guide to American Homes, the Millennium Mansion. If you know one when you see it, but can’t articulate what a McMansion is, architecture critic Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell has a thorough McMansions 101 taxonomy that explains what distinguishes them — and why they bother so many people.
But some small mansions built in the Millenium Mansion era are not McMansions. Unlike McMansions, they don’t make the mistake of flailing around to try and capture a hodgepodge of homey traditional styles. They’re proudly of their time, with jutting angles, louche curves, weird Art Deco caricature, and lots of hard white surfaces. They’re cool, even if it’s not a style that’s considered remotely cool now. If you love the ‘90s and want basically the architectural opposite of midcentury modern, there are a handful of these beauties on the market around Chicago.
This five-bedroom, seven-bathroom home commits to its late-’90s optimism throughout: beyond the foyer, there’s plenty more glass block in the basement, where it separates a shower from a sauna and hot tub, and the pool table from the multi-mirrored workout space. If the sauna and hot tub aren’t your taste, the master bath has a skylight over the pedestal whirlpool bath and speakers built into the wall. Or you can go for a dip in the pool, which has its own hot tub. The bedrooms aren’t as zany, but who’s sleeping here?
“A 4-story glass elevator takes you to [the] rooftop terrace,” reads the listing for this four-bed, six-bath property. That glass elevator goes past the glossy black floating main circular staircase, which of course has a glass-paneled steel rail, which of course continues in a semi-oval around a lofted area overlooking the lobby, I mean living room. From there you’re treated to a riveted-metal fireplace that separates the sitting area and den. The kitchen has been fitted out with the most recent high-end appliances, but hasn’t lost a bit of its period charm.
If you want an elevator, rooftop terrace, riveted-metal detailing, and a curvy black main staircase, I’m happy to have a second option in the city-proper for you. (Plus you get five beds and eight baths.) This 1991 Lincoln Park manse has a slightly more reserved interior and a deeply immodest exterior — particularly in the rear of the house, where a facade of every shape you could want overlooks the multi-level back deck. Its kitchen is more minimalist but no less 1990s, with brass accents beneath the black countertops and a triangular window over the kitchen table.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to get a piece of swoopy 1990s oddball glory. This six-"large and unique"-bed, 3.5-bath home is 4,300 square feet and far less than a half million. While it doesn’t have the finishes of the other houses, it’s full of weird pomo touches, like the upside-down railings on the two levels of loft above the living room, framed by light-brick spiral staircases, which are echoed by the semicircular accent windows.
Finally, let’s cross the streams of Millennial Mansion and McMansion. Like a lot of McMansions, its exterior crams storied styles together to get something distinctively suburban, only in this case it’s Art Deco and Bauhaus to get something like Corporate Campus Moderne. Inside there are vast expanses of black tile and glass block, but also a lot of hardwood, autumnal colors, plush window treatments, and a palatial brown-and-cream, circular, symmetrical master bathroom. It’s the final boss of 1990s suburban mansions: five beds, nine bathrooms, and built in 1999, just before the wave broke and rolled back.