What is a mansion? Do visions of stately residences with acres of lush landscaping, sweeping staircases, and grand ballrooms dance through your head? Perhaps you think of the most luxurious house in the neighborhood complete with lavish amenities like a koi pond, wine cellar, and four-car garage. Or it could be a sprawling New York City apartment in a landmark pre-war building with Old French masters on the walls and miles of marble.
So what is a mansion anyway? Let’s explore what qualifies a property as a mansion.
If your word definition is based strictly on size, you’ll find that there is no general consensus among experts. According to reference.com, a good rule of thumb is 5,000 square feet.
Charlie Cheever of quora.com writes, “Technically, realtors term mansions as houses that have at least 8,000 square feet of floor space.” Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary definition is less definitive, simply stating that a mansion is “a large and impressive house: the large house of a wealthy person.”
With so many diverse answers to the question out there, we decided to consult luxury real estate expert Jade Mills, a leading agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International, for the final word on “what is a mansion?”
No one knows mansions more than Mills. She recently sold the Playboy mansion, complete with playboy in chief Hugh Hefner in residence, for $100 million. She currently represents the Warner estate, which includes an eight-bedroom, 11-bathroom, 12,254-square-foot manor house, listed for $40 million.
What is a mansion?
According to Mills, real estate agents don’t often use the word “mansion” in listings unless, of course, it’s a part of an iconic house’s title, like the various Wrigley Mansions or Gracie Mansion, the New York City mayor’s residence.
“‘Mansion’ is a very subjective word,” Mills says. “I grew up in a house in Northern California that was about 900 square feet. One year, when we were driving down to Southern California to go to Disneyland, some friends told us they were staying in a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and that we could come visit them. When we got there, I thought it was a mansion and more. But looking back, it was only about 5,000 square feet, and wouldn’t be considered a mansion by today’s standards.”
Mills notes that in the red-hot Los Angeles luxury market, some buyers don’t think of a house of less than 20,000 square feet as a true mansion.
Luxe amenities are a must
Although size and the number of rooms play a part, other features define what a mansion is as well. Almost every resource agrees that in addition to a greater-than-average number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and square feet, a true mansion will have the following features:
- Entertainment facilities: Mansions built in the 20th century weren’t complete without ballrooms, salons, billiard rooms, and lounges. Modern mansion must-haves for entertaining guests include elaborate game rooms, massive great rooms, specialty bars, and often a pool with a pool house or cabana. These houses also include one, two, or three kitchens to cater to guests.
- Leisure space: A century ago, greenhouses, conservatories, or libraries were important for chill time. Today, large spa facilities, home theaters, gyms, and high-tech media rooms—maybe even a high-tech safe room—would be at the top of most mansion dwellers’ lists. And let’s not forget massive closets, some of which have become mini man caves for the rich and well-dressed.
- Lavish grounds: Formal or Zen gardens, sports facilities, water features, motor courts, extensive garages, fire pits, hiking trails, and guesthouses are common in lavish properties today.
- Superlative building materials and finishes: We’re all too familiar with McMansions—those huge but tacky homes that are often built hastily, with an eye to the bottom line. We can definitively say those are not mansions. Mansions must be made of materials that are a cut above: the finest woods and most luxurious stonework and fabrics, all customized, of course. Top-of the-line appliances are expected and, lately, sustainable materials, smart home features, and elaborate security systems make the list of desirable amenities in mansions.
Bottom line: There is neither a legal dictionary definition nor a checklist of characteristics that defines what is a mansion.
“It’s all about the homeowner’s perspective,” says Mills. So if you want to call your charming three-bedroom a mansion, go for it.
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