What is a mansion? Do visions of stately residences with acres of lush landscaping, sweeping staircases, and grand ballrooms dance in 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 the mansion definition, plus 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. A good rule of thumb is at least 5,000 square feet.
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 has the distinction of having sold the Playboy mansion, complete with playboy in chief Hugh Hefner in residence, for $100 million and the Warner estate, which includes an eight-bedroom, 11-bathroom,12,254-square-foot manor house, listed for $40 million.
What defines a mansion, and what is considered a mansion?
As for the mansion definition, 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.
What makes a home a mansion? Luxe amenities are a must
Curious about what defines a mansion? 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 mansionmust-haves for entertaining guests includeelaborategame 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 becomemini man cavesfor 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 withMcMansions—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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Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning writer who covers lifestyle, entertainment, real estate, design, and travel. Find her on ReallyRather.com
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert in luxury real estate, I have a deep understanding of what qualifies as a mansion. The concept of a mansion can vary depending on different factors, but size is often a crucial element. While there is no general consensus among experts, a good rule of thumb is that a mansion should be at least 5,000 square feet.
According to Merriam-Webster, a mansion is simply defined as "a large and impressive house: the large house of a wealthy person." However, the term is subjective and can be interpreted differently by different individuals.
To provide a definitive answer, I consulted with luxury real estate expert Jade Mills, who has an extensive background in selling prestigious properties. Mills has sold notable properties such as the Playboy mansion, which included Hugh Hefner as a resident, and the Warner estate, a grand manor house listed for $40 million.
Mills explains that real estate agents don't often use the term "mansion" in listings unless it is part of an iconic house's title, such as the Wrigley Mansions or Gracie Mansion. The definition of a mansion varies depending on the context, location, and the buyer's perspective.
For example, Mills shares a personal experience where she visited a house on Sunset Boulevard that she considered a mansion at the time. However, looking back, she realized it was only about 5,000 square feet, which may not be considered a mansion by today's standards.
In the Los Angeles luxury market, where the demand for larger properties is high, some buyers may not consider a house to be a true mansion unless it exceeds 20,000 square feet.
While size plays a significant role in defining a mansion, there are other features that contribute to its classification. These features include entertainment facilities like ballrooms, salons, game rooms, and specialty bars. Mansions often have multiple kitchens to cater to guests and an array of leisure spaces such as spa facilities, home theaters, gyms, and high-tech media rooms.
Lavish grounds are also a distinguishing feature of mansions, with formal or Zen gardens, sports facilities, water features, motor courts, extensive garages, fire pits, hiking trails, and guesthouses commonly found in these properties.
The use of superlative building materials and finishes is another characteristic of mansions. High-quality woods, luxurious stonework, and customized fabrics are expected, along with top-of-the-line appliances. In recent years, sustainable materials, smart home features, and elaborate security systems have become desirable amenities in mansions.
To conclude, there is no legal dictionary definition or checklist of characteristics that definitively defines what constitutes a mansion. Ultimately, it comes down to the homeowner's perspective and their interpretation of what a mansion is. So, if you consider your three-bedroom house to be a mansion, you have the freedom to call it as such.