The main character is James Blandings (Grant), a successful advertising executive. He and his wife Muriel (Loy) grow tired of their cramped Manhattan apartment and seek out a country estate in Connecticut. They fall in love with "the old Hackett place", an old farmstead with a dilapidated colonial farmhouse. They initially plan to renovate the house but eventually decide to tear it down and build new. The rest of the story is a series of disasters as they overspend their budget and fight with contractors.
- Ask a Stupid Question...: From the movie, "What in the world are shrunk mills?" "Probably mills that are shrunk."
- Based on a True Story: One reason Hodgins wrote the book in the first place was to recoup some of his losses from building the house, which he had to sell almost as soon as he'd finished it. He did get $200,000 from the film rights, but he wasn't able to buy the house back.
- Big Fancy House: Once it's finished.
- Bland-Name Product: Wham, the tinned ham product James has to market, is a riff on Spam.
- Book-Ends: See Breaking The Fourth Wall below.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The movie opens with narration by Bill Cole, who then addresses the camera directly. At the end, all three leads look at the camera, while James invites the viewer to "come over and see us some time."
- Crazy Jealous Guy: James, stressed out about his impossible advertising job and the cost of the house, starts suspecting that Muriel is still in love with Bill Cole. He even reads her college diary, in which she did say that she loved him, but she points out that she was very young and she thought she was in love with someone different every week. He eventually apologizes for his behavior.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bill Cole.
- Eureka Moment: James finally gets the inspiration for the new WHAM jingle from a phrase his maid says.
- Failed a Spot Check: If either James or Muriel had taken the time to do some proper research before getting started (or checked on paperwork matters like the mortgage of the house), they could have saved a lot of expense later on.
- George Washington Slept Here: One of the selling points of the house is that General Gates supposedly stopped to water his horses there during the Revolutionary War.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Muriel asks for the walls to be painted "a very gay yellow".
- Little Miss Snarker: Betsy and Joan are both pretty free with their opinions. Joan cheerfully informs her father that his job is ruining America, and Betsy offers unsolicited analysis of James and Muriel's arguments.
- Let's Meet the Meat: One of James's prospective slogans for the WHAM campaign:"This little piggy went to market,
As meek and as mild as a lamb.
He smiled in his tracks
When they slipped him the axe;
He knew he'd turn out to be WHAM!"
- Mammy: Gussie the maid has shades of this.
- Mistaken for Cheating: James comes to suspect that Muriel is having an affair with Bill.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Both James and Muriel drive up the costs through offhand decisions or careless mistakes. But Muriel probably wins by having spare flagstones put down in her flower room, which ends up requiring $1200 worth of modifications to the floor.
- Rage Breaking Point: James loses it when Tesander the well-digger turns up over "a matter of twelve dollars and sixty-one cents" and goes on a tear about all the money he's lost before emptying his pockets for Tesander to take. It turns out that Tesander is there to give them the twelve dollars, having found he'd overcharged them.
- Recursive Canon: In the last scene of the movie, James is seen reading Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
- Shady Real Estate Agent: One sells a dilapidated old house to the Blandings. The agent is delighted; James and Muriel have to tear the house down and start over.
- Shockingly Expensive Bill: The costs of construction and repairs gets worse and worse and worse. One highlight is when they find out that Muriel's offhand request for a sewing nook resulted in a bill of over a thousand dollars.
- Technobabble: Mr. Blandings, who's lived in Manhattan apartment buildings his whole life, doesn't understand any of the phrases that the construction workers throw at him when building a house in Connecticut (such as rabbeting the joints). Unfortunately, he's too prideful to ask for clarification.