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Archive for March, 2018

Pink Bathrooms: Extinction Looms

March 24th, 2018 Sears Homes 11 comments

Remember the very first commandment of old house renovation? Thou shalt not destroy good old work.

That’s it.

More than 35% of the garbage at America’s landfills is construction-related waste. That’s a phenomenal amount of debris. What’s worse is this: The replacement materials promoted at contemporary big box stores (in most cases) has a serviceable life of less than 10 years. So that new light gray bathroom with white accents will probably need replacing, and THOSE construction materials will also end up at the city dump.

We have got to stop destroying “good old work” in older homes in the name of keeping up with the Joneses (and the Kardashians).

You know what makes my blood boil? Ads like this.

NOTE: All the houses shown below are in Portsmouth, Virginia.

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Theres a special extra-toasty place in preservation hell for this bank.

There's a special extra-toasty place in preservation hell for this bank. A very special place. A friend sent me this advertisement. It popped up on her Facebook page. Oh, how I loathe this promotion. It feeds into the insanity promoted by HGTV that "old and lovely" is never good enough. And yet odds are that this same bank will spearhead efforts to promote recycling. Not much sense in saving 21 pounds of plastic and yet promoting the destruction of thousands of pounds of "good old work."

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Classic good looks.

This light-pink bathroom features classic good looks and will provide decades of service. The tile floor (cartwheel pattern) is already more than 60 years old, and is set in about 6 inches of concrete. With minimal care, this floor will endure another several decades. The same is true for the tile walls.

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The pink tile in this Portsmouth home (Virginia) dates to the mid-1950s, and yet - due to good care and maintenance - it is in like-new condition. The materials used in these mid-century bathrooms will last another 50 years. And yet their modern replacements - fiberglass and plastic junk from big-box stores - will not endure.

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When I was a kid growing up in Waterview (a 1920s/30s middle-class neighborhood), I don't remember seeing anyone "remodel" their bathrooms, and yet by the 1960s/70s, these kitchens and baths were quite old. The pink bathroom featured here has its original sink and toilet. As with the others, it will endure for many more years.

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The same bathroom (shown above) from a different angle. It has a tiled shower and separate tub. It's also beautiful, with the white and pink tile.

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Some pink bathrooms are more subdued than others, but these mid-century tile jobs are typically set in several inches of concrete. When experts recommend retreating to a bathroom during a tornado, this is the type of "safe space" they have in mind. The thick-set mortar bed plus copper pipes plus additional wooden framing makes this one sturdy space.

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My favorite pink bathroom is a deep rose with blue accents.

My favorite pink bathroom is a deep rose with blue accents. I tried to purchase this house (in Waterview) late last year, but it got tangled up in a bidding war, and the price went from $210,000 to almost $270,000 within hours. It was probably this bathroom that drove up the price.

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We have got to stop destroying “good old work.” My current home has a green bathroom. Green is my least favorite color, but I have decided to live with it for a time and see how I feel about in 5 years or so. It may grow on me. I do know this: Society needs to learn that “keeping up with the Joneses” is a path to madness, waste and financial foolishness.

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Save the pink bathrooms!

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NOTE: All the houses shown above are in Portsmouth, Virginia.

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What’s My Happy Color?

March 15th, 2018 Sears Homes 15 comments

Six months ago, a new chapter of my life began when I moved into this house in Suffolk, Virginia. In the 12 months prior to that, I’d often tell people, “I want a house that’s quirky and fun, something that’s solid and well-built, but unique. When people walk into the front door, I want them to think - this LOOKS like something Rosemary would buy!”

And I found it.

As someone who studies old houses, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a floorplan like this. I’m not even sure I can identify what style of house this is.

And on a related note, ever since I replaced the old storm door, I’ve been dreaming about a new color for the exterior shutters. Perhaps brown is the best color to complement the earth-toned bricks, but if you can think of a new color, please let me know.

Thanks in advance for any and all comments.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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One of this homes most appealing features was that it had been beautifully maintained by its first (and only) owners. And yet, the storm door was a little tired and quite drafty. After it was replaced with the new full-view door but that has inspired me to re-think the shutter color.

One of this home's most appealing features was that it had been beautifully maintained by its first (and only) owners. And yet, the storm door was a little tired and a bit drafty. After it was replaced with the new full-view door (right side) , that inspired me to re-think the shutter color.

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If anyone has any guesses as to the year of manufacture for this door, Id love to know. The house was built in 1976, but surely the door isnt 40 years old - or is it?

If anyone has any guesses as to the year of manufacture for this door, I'd love to know. The house was built in 1976, but surely the door isn't 40 years old - or is it?

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The new storm door was under $200 at Lowes and does a fine job of highlighting that beautiful 1950s-ish looking front door.

The new storm door was under $200 at Lowes and does a fine job of highlighting that beautiful 1950s-ish looking front door. And Teddy the Dog loves it too.

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That front door looks more like something youd find on a 1950s ranch, and its one of my favorite features on this 40-year-old custom-built brick ranch.

That front door looks more like something you'd find on a 1950s ranch, and it's one of my favorite features on this 40-year-old custom-built house.

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As I mentioned above, Ive never seen a floorplan such as Ive seen in this house.

As I mentioned above, I've never seen a floorplan such as I've seen in this house. On the other side of that full-view storm door is this massive chimney, rising up from the floor to the ceiling. It provides privacy, so that you can't peak in the front door and see the living room.

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The living room (and the wood stove insert) is on the other side.

The living room (and fireplace with wood stove insert) is on the other side of that large brick chimney. You can see a bit of the front door behind that fireplace (with the old storm door). The space on the right is the stairwell that leads to the basement garage.

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Its a mighty narrow stairwell that leads to the basement/garage, and its built with concrete block walls. I have not been able to figure out why a staircase would need to be built like a bomb shelter.

It's a mighty narrow stairwell that leads to the basement/garage, and it's built with concrete block walls. I have not been able to figure out why a staircase would need to be built like a bomb shelter.

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Within that front foyer are two steps which lead to the living space. I spend my life thinking about houses and I cant even come up with a name for this particular style.

Within that front foyer are two steps which lead to the living space. I spend my life thinking about houses and I can't even come up with a name for this particular style. I suppose it's a brick ranch, but this sunken foyer is quite unique!

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Back to the question at hand - what color shutters do I want?

Back to the question at hand - what color shutters do I want? Or is brown simply the best choice? The roof is also brown. However, the brown storm door is gone!

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Shutter

Things were a lot more green when I bought the house in early October 2017. I'm looking forward to seeing that pretty green color again!

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Thanks in advance for any and all comments.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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Boardwalk Empire and Sears Kit Homes

March 13th, 2018 Sears Homes 7 comments

The last few weeks, I’ve been watching Boardwalk Empire (HBO), set in 1920s Atlantic City. It’s centered around the real life story of prohibition-era gangster Enoch Johnson, who’s known as Enoch (”Nucky”) Thompson on the show.

From the start, one of my favorite characters has been Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). Beginning with the second season, there’s a running story line about Van Alden (and his wife Sigrid) purchasing a kit home in 1923.

Of course, that piqued my interest!

Nonetheless, as is often the case with period dramas, there’s so much wrong with the facts behind this particular story line. I tried hard to ignore the many errors but ultimately decided to write a blog instead. :)

The story line suggests it’s a house from Bennett Homes, but the dialogue between Nelson and Sigrid makes it clear that this house came from Sears & Roebuck. It seems that the writers used those company names interchangeably.

Check out the pictures below (and their captions) to get the real story.

Thanks to Rachel for help identifying a few of these images!

Read about a large number of Sears kit homes in Atlantic City.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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Boardwalk

Nelson Van Alden (played by the inimitable Michael Shannon) is shown at his desk studying the pages of a 1922 Bennett Homes Catalog. When I first glimpsed this, I let out a little "oh my goodness" happy noise.

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Nelson

It's actually a Hollywood mock-up and not a real catalog. The front cover was probably pulled from an online source, and the rear cover is (apparently) from a reprint of the Bennett catalog. The storyline says that Nelson and Sigrid are living in Cicero, and yet they're buying a house from Bennett Homes from Towanda, New York? Cicero is just outside of Chicago, Illinois (home of Sears and Roebuck). Further, this cover is altered. Bennett Homes were *not* prefabricated. More on the cover below. NOTE: I'm not savvy enough to figure out how to remove close captions without taking a course at a local community college.

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1922 cover

Here's the cover of the 1922 Bennett Homes catalog that Nelson is examining above. It's quite different than the image shown above. And you'll note that the word "pre-fabricated" does not appear anywhere on the cover. Neither do the children or the man (shown in the screen shot with Nelson).

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Rear cover

Shown here is the true rear cover for the catalog that Nelson is examining in the first image. You'll note that it is color - not black and white (as seen on "Boardwalk Empire").

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stripped

This is a shot of the "Sears & Roebuck House" (as it's described in the show). If you look closely at this house, you'll discover that it's a brick house that has been covered in diagonal planks, to replicate the look of a partially finished house. Notice the window frames, and the bracketing under the stoop. They're disappearing under the many layers of siding. Those are the clues that tell me - this house was dressed up with that fresh lumber to create the look they sought. The style of this house doesn't match ANY of the models offered by Sears, Gordon Van Tine, Bennett or any of the kit home companies with which I am familiar. Odds are good it's just a bungalow somewhere from the 1920s.

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Rear

This gives a better picture of the brackets on the stoop. Notice also that the windows are 2/2 (two lites - or panes - over two panes). Sears didn't offer 2/2 windows - ever. In fact, if I am trying to identify a potential kit house, I look at the windows first, and if they're 2/2, I discount it.

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next one

This shows the neighbor's brick bungalow, and notice, there's a billboard at the end of the street.

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Perfection in a box

"Perfection from a Box" is a lovely thought. So while the dialogue says that this is a Sears & Roebuck house, the imagery suggests it's a Bennett house. I suspect that the writers were using those terms (Sears - Bennett) interchangeably.

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Long view

Here's another view of those solid brick (not brick veneer) bungalows. And notice that the other houses are 6/6 windows, which would have been more typical in 1923. When Bennett (or Sears or Gordon Van Tine or the other companies) did an entire community of kit homes, they did NOT use the same model again and again. Nelson and Sigrid allegedly live in Cicero, Illinois. It would be interesting to know where these brick bungalows are located.

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copper

And there's this. I'm not sure what's happening under this kitchen sink, but I do know that copper plumbing was not in wide-spread use until the late 1940s or early 1950s. In 1923, it would have been galvanized supply lines and lead pipes for drains - typically. And those gate valves? Definitely not from the 1920s. Then again, neither is the plywood panel behind Nelson Van Alden.

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A native Norwegian, Sigrid struggles with her English. Another recurring them in this story line is that the house has many deficiencies, which is also not accurate. Sigrid asks Nelson repeatedly if he's contacted "The Sears Roebuck" to get these deficiencies addressed. In fact, customer satisfaction with these 12,000-piece kits was very high.

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Lots of dialogue on inferior

Through several episodes, Sigrid complains bitterly about problems with the house. This is a great line where Nelson explains that he has been in contact with Mr. Roebuck. In real life, Alvah Curtis Roebuck was no longer involved with the company in the 1920s, but was in Florida, making many very poor investments in land. He was bankrupted later, and in the 1930s, took a job at Sears & Roebuck cutting ribbons for the opening of new retail stores.

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images

When Bennett or Sears or the other kit home companies built entire neighborhoods, they mixed it up a bit as shown in the catalog page above (1923).

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Cicero is within 3 miles of Homan an Arthington Street (the home of Sears & Roebuck in the 1920s).

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Nelson is one dapper fellow.

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Read about a large number of Sears kit homes in Atlantic City.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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