There is perhaps no other place on earth where the McMansion feels at home more than Atlanta, Georgia. Just a quick swing through the Buckhead area makes the epidemic seem like part of the community plan; every third house is a brand-spanking-new Italianate incarnate. On one street the stucco is so pervasive it even beats out the innate grandness of the original Plantation-style details tucked between the teardowns. As part of our recent tour of duty in Atlanta, we embarked on the Peachtree Battle Home and Garden Tour, where we got to step inside four very different homes. One was the very first green McMansion.
Towering over the block like the local castle, nothing about a quick glance at the EcoManor says “green,” “responsible,” or “restraint.” This is as big, ostentatious and ignorant of historical relevance as they come, only this one happens to have LEED certification. Inside, dozens of placards point out the many green features, from photovoltaic solar panels to environmentally-friendly paint, including floors made from fallen trees on Ted Turner‘s Florida plantation. Yes, this is the home of Ted Turner’s daugher Laura Turner Seydel and her husband Rutherford (although it’s Jane Fonda who shows up in most of the family photos around the house). Seydel is there during the tour, smiling in her kitchen as she fiddles with the smart system that controls the house’s energy consumption. She’s praised by every Southern-accented woman that passes by.
There’s no doubting the home has brought a wave of eco-awareness to this upscale Atlanta audience, but Seydel’s quote in a CNN article (ahh, the irony) reveals their true motives: They wanted to change the perception of a green home. “Everybody has in their head a picture of an environmental home–usually some Space Age design,” says homeowner Laura Turner Seydel, who moves into EcoManor in March. “We wanted to prove that it doesn’t have to look odd.” Trouble is, with a roof nearly twice the height of the one next door, it still does look plenty odd. The excessive square footage and mansion-like details just don’t seem to fit the mentality that comes with building a green home.
No one lives here yet, but the Seydels claim they are planning to move their family of five in full time (apparently, the path through the backyard leads to their other house, a ginormous Tudor). Maybe then they can turn their attention to some of the more obvious ways the EcoManor could set a better example for the neighborhood; like composting the more than a dozen bags of leaves and lawn cuttings that graced the curb during the tour.