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Posts Tagged ‘kit homes’

It’s a Mystery

February 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Take a guess what this item is (shown below).

Plaster

Looks kind of hairy and gross, doesn't it?

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Does this help?

I'll give you a hint. It was found inside a 1920s home.

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This should help you figure it out.

This should help you figure it out.

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This pretty well gives it away.

This pretty well gives it away.

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In fact, its a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall.

In fact, it's a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall to add a new outlet.

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Up until sheetrock became widely accepted, a home’s interior walls were finished with plaster. Today, the word “plaster” is used loosely to describe any gypsum-based wall covering, but in fact, plaster is fairly unusual in post-WW2 homes and quite rare in post-1980s homes.

If you look at an old Sears catalog, you’ll find that while kit houses did not include plaster (due to shipping weight), your 12,000-piece kit house did come with good quality lath. In fact, the “Chelsea” (a 2,000-square-foot foursquare) came with 840 square yards of wooden lath. Sears estimated that a plasterer would charge you $200, which included nailing up all those thin strips of lath and applying three coats of plaster (1916).

Often, people talk about “old-fashioned horse-hair plaster,” but the binding agent in old plaster walls was more commonly cattle hair.

Plastering is fast becoming a lost art, and things have changed a bit in the last many decades. Today, a wire mesh is used in place of wooden lath. And I’m not sure what the contemporary binding agent is, but I seriously doubt it involves shaving dead cattle. However, you can still find good recipes online for making historically appropriate plaster to restore or repair the walls in your old house.

Old plaster walls ahve three coats: The scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat.

The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is scored so that the surface has a rough texture. This rough texture gives the brown coat (which contains a lot of sand) something to grip.

It’s the sand in the brown coat that helps the finish coat (which is about 1/8″) bond tightly to the walls.

According to the smart people, the scratch coat and brown coat are about 3/8″ thick, but the image shown above (from the 1920s house) tells a slightly different story. Making and applying plaster was a little bit like baking a cake: A lot depended on the cook, and his preferences and practices.

Plus, sometimes the “cook” was sober as a judge and sometimes the “cook” was so plastered (perhaps the source of the term?) that he couldn’t walk a straight line. Weather, humidity and quality of ingredients were other variables that affected the final product as well.

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Back

This promotion, which appeared in a 1916 Sears Building Materials catalog, gives a pretty good explanation of how plaster was applied. I can't imagine how long it took to nail up all those lath boards (which were typically 1-inch wide). And the smudge pots were used to keep the temperature and humidity at a certain level while the plaster dried. Making and applying plaster was a slow, arduous process with many variables (1916 Sears Building Materials).

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By 1916,

By 1916, "Sheet Plaster" had already gained a toe-hold in the market, but it wasn't until after WW2 that it really became popular. And yet even in modern custom-built homes, plaster walls are considered an upgrade (and they're mighty expensive, too). My 1962-built ranch has sheetrock walls and plaster ceilings, which seems an odd combination (photo is from 1916 Sears Building Materials).

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Sheet

As shown in this 1916 Building Materials catalog, "Sheet Plaster" was much easier to install.

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To read a *fascinating* article about the benefits of old plaster walls (and how it was made), click here.

Bob Vila drives me to hard liquor, but his writers did put together a nice piece on plaster. You can read it here.

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The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922, seems to be a source of a much misinformation and confusion.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to another purported “Magnolia” in Watseka, IL (719 South Fourth Street). And then a member in our “Sears Homes” Facebook group showcased a quote from author Daniel Reiff (Houses from Books) stating that even though the house in Watseka is not a Sears Magnolia, it may have been an inspiration for the Sears architects.

Built models might have also been an influence [for the Sears Magnolia]. Only one hundred miles from Chicago, in Watseka, IL is an impressive Colonial Revival built in 1903 with many features in common with the Magnolia (Houses from Books, p. 194).

I’d say there are a few other houses that have “many features in common with the Magnolia” - as in thousands.

The Magnolia would be best described as a Colonial Revival, which was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sears was not an innovator in anything, most of all, architectural design. They looked at what was popular and created their housing designs accordingly.

Judging from the photos in Houses from Books, much of Reiff’s research was centered in the Northeast, specifically the New York area. Mr. Reiff should have traveled down to the South, because we’re loaded with examples of what is commonly known as the Colonial Revival.

If I felt compelled to connect a specific house to the architect’s creation of the Sears Magnolia, I’d put my money on a 1910-built house in Blacksburg, SC (photos below).

The South Carolina “Magnolia” was built in 1910, and based on the home’s interior moldings, mantels, staircase and some other clues, I’d say that the 1910 build-date is pretty accurate. And although this is a wild guess, I suspect that it MAY BE a pattern book house.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia.

When Sears “borrowed” patterns from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets across the front of the Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

Mr. Reiff also identified a Sears Magnolia in Dunkirk, NY.


A second example of a brick Magnolia can be found in Dunkirk NY, Despite the lack of side wings because of the narrow lot, the similarities to the Sears model are still striking, but the house is much narrower than its model. In fact, although the 93 West Fourth Street is the same depth as the Magnolia (36′1 vs. 36), it is a full ten feet narrower (29.10 vs. 40.0)
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All of which are deal killers. Dimensions matter - a lot. However, Mr. Reiff pulls it out of the fire at the end with this:

The plan of the Dunkirk house is considerably different. Instead of the formal central hallway with staircase and rooms on either side, here the plan is far more compact; One enters the living room which runs across the front of the house in the middle of its long side; the stairs are at one end…Here we almost certainly have an instance of a local builder who studied the illustration in the Sears catalog and created his own version of it, without ordering the plans or, in all likelihood, any of the materials from Sears (p. 196).


Besides, if you were going to name a house “The Magnolia,” would your inspiration come from the frozen North?

I think not.

Now, where is that 9th Magnolia?

To see pictures of all eight Sears Magnolias, click here.

To read more about the “fake” Magnolia in SC, click here.

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If I was going to pick a house to have been a model for the Magnolia, Id pick this house in Blacksburg, SC!!

If I were going to pick a house to have been a "model" for the Magnolia, I'd pick this house in Blacksburg, South Carolina After all, this actually looks like a Magnolia!

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog. Some may describe it as a Colonial Revival, but really, it's a foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

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The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

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This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a model for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to cut it down to size for a kit house catalog.

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a "model" for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to "cut it down to size" for inclusion in a kit house catalog. There are 15 small lites over the large windows on the first floor - just like the Magnolia. And, it's in South Carolina, just where you'd expect to find a "Magnolia"!

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The other big difference are the columns.

The other big difference is the columns. The real Magnolia has hollow wooden columns (made of poplar). The house in Blacksburg had columns made of concrete. Try shipping *that* from Chicago!

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The details around the eaves are also a little bit off.

The details around the eaves are also a little bit "off." The eave brackets on the SC house are more ornate (photo on right). The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The Blacksburg house has eight brackets. The Magnolia's dormer has four of these eave brackets. The Blacksburg house has three. These are the kind of details that really do matter. (The house on the left is a Magnolia in Nebraska which has since been torn down. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

But boy oh boy, it's a close one!!

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Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

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Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

However, the interior floorplan was not quite right, and that's a big deal, too.

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Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

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And here are

In June 2012, I traveled to Anderson, SC and found these two Colonial Revivals within a block of each other. In the South, this house style is very popular and can be found in almost every old neighborhood. In fact, these houses might just be real Colonials (as opposed to a post-Civil war "Revival").

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The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, its just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!!  (Not)

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, it's just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!! (Not)

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy or Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the now-deceased Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

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Marguerite’s Beautiful and Beloved #124

February 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last year, Sears homeowner Marguerite Deppert saw my blogs (here and here) on Sears Modern Home #124 and sent me several wonderful photos of her own home, which she had recently purchased in Montvale, NJ.

It’s a real beauty and in gorgeous condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Montvale has many Sears Homes, due in part to the fact that they’re less than 30 miles from Port Newark, where Sears had a large mill. (Sears had but two mills - one in Cairo, IL and one in Newark, NJ.)

Thanks so much to Marguerite Deppert for sharing these photos with me! I’ve been drooling over them all morning!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Number 124 was gone by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. Its certainly distinctive!

Sears Modern Home #124 was gone from the catalogs by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. It's certainly distinctive! (1916)

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Marguerites house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

Marguerite's house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

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Spaciosu floor plan.

Some of the older homes have rather "odd" floorplans, but #124 was quite sensible.

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SA

Years ago, Rebecca Hunter and I toured the inside of the #124 in Crystal Lake, IL and that little bathroom shown above was really tucked away under that sloping roof. Interesting, but almost claustrophobic.

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Nice house, and a darn good price!

Nice house, and a darn good price!

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Oh my, what a house!

Oh my, what a house! Even the detail around the chimneys is a match to the vintage image! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wow.

The rock border on the driveway is a nice complement to the stone columns. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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phoo

A view from the side highlights that beautiful stone work on the chimney. The two chimneys are covered with stone to the roofline, and then above the roofline, they're brick. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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close up

Close up of those unique details on the front porch. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house

What a fine-looking house. What a treasure for Montvale. And I suspect Marguerite is one of the happiest homeowners in America! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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details

Look at those wee tiny second-floor windows tucked up under that porch roof. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

What a beautiful house!

What a beautiful house! Just stunning. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Thanks again to Marguerite for sharing these wonderful photos!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Belfast, Bucksport, and Bad Information

January 6th, 2014 Sears Homes 12 comments

Generally speaking, I’m a lukewarm fan of Wikipedia but when it comes to kit houses, I really have grown weary of this online “encyclopedia.” So much of the information is just not accurate, and yet it’s trusted by too many people as a rock-solid resource.

Frustrating!

One ongoing disappointment Wikipedia is the information on the “neighborhood of Sears Homes” in Bucksport, Maine.  According to this page, “The entire town site of Bucksport consists of Sears Homes in the Belfast Model.”

Oh dear.

I actually feel sorry for the poor soul who penned that. And I wish there was a way to correct such egregious information, but I’ve washed my hands of Wikipedia. Everytime I log in to make corrections to the wiki site, it’s edited away within hours by some “expert” who thinks he/she knows better.

So, scroll on down and take a look for yourself at one of these so-called “Belfast Models” in Bucksport.

Oh, and by the way, the build date for the “Belfasts” in that neighborhood is 1930. Ding, ding, ding: The Belfast was not offered for sale until 1934.

That single fact right there is pretty compelling evidence.

Secondly, the houses in Bucksport look nothing like the Belfast model. But hey - why let facts get in the way of a good story?  :)

How is it that this is such a common mistake? Click here to see the answer.

To read more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

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Darling little house

Darling little house with a good floor plan, too.

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Upstairs, it had three

Upstairs, it had three bedrooms and one teeny tiny bath.

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I love

Maybe this is where that nutty rumor started? A bit of The Belfast was patterend after The Perkins House, built in Costine, Maine in 1769 (second parargraph in text above).

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When comparing houses, the details are vital. I cant stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

When comparing houses, the details are vital. I can't stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

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Heres a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia.

Here's a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia. It's been through some major renovations including new windows, aluminum siding and those pediments added to the top of the door and windows, but the proportions are spot on. I've not been inside this house, but I'd say there's a 98% chance that this is a Sears Belfast.

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This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast.

This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast. The Belfast is a mere 24-feet wide. This house is probably 32-feet wide (or more). The proportions are also way off. And look at the space between the 2nd floor windows and the first floor windows. This house probably has nine or ten foot first floor ceilings. The Belfast has eight foot ceilings. The Sears Belfast and the Bucksport Houses are wildly different from one another.

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To learn more about the many Sears Homes in Elkins, West Virginia, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

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

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Permanent Furniture II: Beautiful Staircases

December 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, we seemed to place more value on the idea that we should surround ourselves with beauty.

The staircases shown in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork Catalog ranged from simple to fancy, and yet they’re all elegant and beautiful.

Too many modern staircases (post-1970) are not just utilitarian; they’re seriously ugly. Looking through several online listings of “new” houses for sale (under $500,000), I didn’t see any staircase pieces and parts that I haven’t seen for sale at Lowes. In other words, the focus of modern staircase building seems to be “fast, cheap and easy.”

What happened to the idea of making a beautiful entry?

As the 1920s text says below, “The staircase is the central feature of the hall or living room and must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling.”

Perhaps that explains why contemporary staircases are so blasé and unappealing.

The pedestrian staircases in modern homes are “in harmony” with their pedestrian surroundings.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing his historic architecture books with me!

Read about bookcase colonnades here!

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Staircase

Even the front page for this chapter is a thing of beauty!

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Stiarcase

"The designs...represent harmonious units." The text also adds, "The staircase...must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling." How many builders today stop and think about how much "harmony" is expressed by their creations? (In the text above, K.D. stands for "knocked down.")

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staircase 1

"For the modern American small home, this design is very pleasing and practical."

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staircase 2

Another very simple design, and yet it's quite attractive. This type of staircase is often found in mail-order kit homes, because it's both simple and easy to construct.

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staircase 8

According to the accompanying caption, those doors lead out to an "elevated sunporch." I don't recall ever seeing an elevated sunporch off a landing like this - in real life.

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staricase

Another simple staircase, but with a 90-degree twist.

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staircase 8

"The unusual panel effect is a distinctive feature of this staircase..."

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staircase 7

This staircase is categorized in the original literature as a "Colonial design."

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house house house

Another favorite staircase. Years ago, I looked at a house for sale in South Norfolk (Chesapeake, VA) on Park Avenue and it had this very same design, all with original varnish/shellac. I thought it was the prettiest bit of "permanent furniture" that I'd ever seen. I shudder to think what's become of that house and it's gorgeous interiors. Note the phone niche next to the bench.

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staircase

"This panel buttress staircase is suitable for English or modern American homes. The complete absence of balusters and handrail make it easy to keep clean." While I do love the rope, I'm sure modern codes would not allow it.

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staircase

"The charm of this Colonial stairway is the continuous handrail ending in the graceful turning of a volute." Please raise your hand if you knew that this "round thing" at the end of the banister was known as a "volute." :D

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staircase 38

"Very suitable for the modest home without a reception hall." If a mother could have favorites, this would be one of mine. So pretty and so elegant, and yet, "suitable for a modest home."

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house house

"The attractive arches give it real character."

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house house house

Another beautiful staircase. The window mirrors the pattern on the built-in bookcase.

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staircase

"The large central hall is an attribute of the Colonial home, the main feature of which is the stairway." This is the same stairway we had in our 1925 Colonial Revival on Gosnold Avenue (Norfolk), even down to the tapered spindles and center post. Lone difference is, we had three spindles per tread, where this has two. Nary a soul entered that reception hall without making a nice comment about the beauty of that staircase.

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staircase

"This is one of the simpler lines, very economical in construction."

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staircase

Not my favorite, but it must be a design of enduring appeal, because I've seen it in many post-WW2 houses. Original caption says the "sturdy lines of English architecture are faithfully retained in this beautiful stairway."

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staircase 187

"The unusual feature is the handrail is mitered into the newel cap." Makes sliding down a bannister much easier (and less painful). Although it's a mighty short run.

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staircase 8883

"For real charm and beauty, a winding stairs can not be excelled."

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staircaseieie

"This Colonial stairway is very impressive." I agree. Check out the phone niche.

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In the 1920s, we seemed to have more of an understanding that it was important to surround yourself with beauty. Modern staircases are not just utilitarian; theyre ugly as sin.

The image on the left is from a $500,000 house currently for sale in Hampton Roads. The image on the right was a very simple design offered in the 1927 "Builders' Woodwork" catalog. In the 1920s, we seemed understand that low-priced and simple didn't have to equate with cheap and ugly.

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Stiars

To end on a happy note, I've always loved old houses, and that's due in large part to my mother, an artist, who always felt it was important to surround herself with beauty and light and color. She's shown here, sitting on the beautiful staircase of our Colonial Revival home in Waterview (Portsmouth, Virginia). It was about 1968, and she's holding "Bernard," a mutt she'd recently adopted from the local SPCA.

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To read Permanent Furniture, Part I, click here.

To read one of the most popular blogs at this site (featuring a beautiful staircase), click here.

Ready for a change of pace? Read about a really spooky basement here.

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Oh My Stars, It’s a Stone Ridge!

November 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

Anyone who’s ever ridden in a car with me knows that there’s an ever-present hazard: In the midst of conversation, I may go completely silent, close my eyes for a second or two, and then I utter those eleven words that all my friends dread:

“Can we turn the car around? I think I saw something.”

And my friends know that “I think I saw something” is code for, “I just saw a kit house I have never ever seen before and we have to turn this car around right now or I will be not be able to utter a coherent sentence for the next two hours because all available processing power will go to thinking about that house we just passed.”

It happened last week. Milton and I were driving on Granby Street, on our way to Mary Pretlow Public Library (in Ocean View). We were chatting away when an old house caught my attention.

In mid-sentence, I stopped talking and spun my head around to look at the house.

Politely and calmly, Milton asked, “What did you see?”

“A Stone Ridge,” I replied with great excitement. “I can’t believe it. I’ve been looking for this house for years and years, and I’ve been driving right past it all this time.”

We pulled over to the curb while Milton snapped a few quick pictures with his handy-dandy cell phone.

Later that evening, sitting in the blissfully quiet library, I closed my eyes and called up the original catalog image from the recesses of my mind, and then compared it to the house we’d seen on Granby Street. After comparing the two images, I became more confident that the house on Granby was indeed, The Stone Ridge, from Sears.

I’m starting to think Milton is my Good Luck House-Hunting Charm. Last March when we were riding in his truck, I discovered another grand Sears House, The Martha Washington, also in Norfolk!

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The Stone Ridge, from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Stone Ridge, from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Floor plan spacious

The Stone Ridge was a pretty fance house, with plenty of closet space. The house on Granby does not have the optional fireplace. I wonder if it has the optional grand piano?

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Text 1921

"Here is a large comfortable house that will identify its owner as a person of good taste." And what happens if you sell the house? Do you lose your classy identity and become a person of poor tastes?

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1921 house

Beautiful house, and I love the river rock.

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oh baby

Be still my quivering heart! Fortunately, 90 years later, it still retains its original siding, windows, fine lines and elegance. If you could peak behind that tall tree on the right corner, you'd see the small bump-out (for the bedroom). The house on Granby is a spot-on match to the Sears "Stone Ridge" with two iddy-biddy differences. The Norfolk house does not have the dormers or the fireplace chimney. It's possible that the house was built *with* those small dormers, but they may have been removed during a roofing job. Or it's possible the house was built sans dormers.

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What a house

Saturday afternoon, I ran into my friend Bill Inge at the Mary Pretlow Library. He said, "I saw you standing in the middle of Granby Street, taking pictures of that old house." After I thought about it a minute, I asked him, "How did you know it was me?" He said, "Because I realized that you were the only person I knew that'd be standing in the middle of a busy road, snapping photos of an old bungalow."

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Detail

Look at the detail in this front gable. God bless the owners for leaving the house original.

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details

Looks just like it did in 1921!

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compare

The side-by-side comparison of the two images is stunning.

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house

And as a nice bonus, there's a Sears Argyle on the same block! (1919 catalog)

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bonus

And it's a fine-looking home, too!

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Oh

And a final thought, this fine home survived the Hurricane of 1933 which was a horrific storm. Many houses in Ocean View were destroyed by that storm. Let's see if this house will survive the vinyl siding salesman!

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To read more about the Sears Homes in Norfolk, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

William & Mary College and Kit Homes

October 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 12 comments

Recently, I was on the William and Mary College campus doing research on Penniman, Virginia. (You can read more about that here.)

As part of the research, I was reading through the early 1920s college yearbooks and happened upon an interesting photo in the 1922 yearbook, “The Colonial Echo.” It was a picture of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity fellows, seated in front of their fraternity house, an Aladdin Colonial.

How apropos, I thought to myself! What else would you buy for a college campus in a famous colonial town, but THE Colonial?

For first-time visitors to this site, Aladdin was a kit home company that (like Sears), sold entire kit houses through mail order catalogs in the early 20th Century. Each kit came with 10,000-12,000 pieces of house, and included a detailed instruction book, designed for the novice homebuilder.

Update: Andrew Mutch has found the house, but it’s not happy news.

Our Aladdin Colonial, aka “The Clark House” (located on Jamestown Avenue) was demolished in 2004.

A press release put out by the college in 2004 said the house was built in 1911 and had been deemed “physically unsound” ten years prior (1994).

Ding, ding, ding, nice try and thanks for playing.

The Colonial first appeared in the 1915 “Aladdin Houses” catalog for a price of $1,980, but the Colonial on the W&M campus was built in 1920 or 1921 (based on info gleaned from the college yearbooks). This means the 1911 date is quite a boo boo.

As to the “physically unsound” part, I have serious reservations about that, too.

It’s a good thing they got rid of that early 20th Century kit home with all that first-growth southern yellow pine from virgin forests, and those oily old cypress clapboards.

Not.

This was an egregious waste of America’s irreplaceable and most-precious resources. Approximately 30% of all waste found in landfills is construction debris. Doesn’t make much sense to fill a campus with recycling receptacles for paper, plastic and aluminum if you’re going to send 350,000 pounds of architectural history to the landfill.

Images of the 1922 William and Mary “Echo” came from www.archive.org.  If you have several hours to kill, I highly recommend their site!

And - again - many thanks to Rachel for finding these high-resolution images at archive.org!

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Words

While looking through the 1922 "Colonial Echo," I found a most interesting picture!

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Words

The full page from the 1922 "Echo" shows the Theta Delta Chi gang, seated in front of their freshly built Aladdin Colonial! Wouldn't it be interesting to know if these fellows assembled that Aladdin kit house on their own!

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What a beautiful

What a beautiful house! The Colonial was first offered in 1915. The image above is from the 1922 "Colonial Echo," so it's possible that the house was newly built (which may be why it merited its own photograph). I wonder how long it was used as the house for Theta Delta Chi?

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The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

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Heres an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

Here's an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

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Rachel

Rachel Shoemaker, researcher extraordinaire, found this picture (also at archive.org) of the Theta Delta Chi boys gathered around the front porch of their newly built Aladdin Colonial in 1921 (from "The Colonial Echo" 1921). In prior years, the frat boys were photographed in front of a different (older) house. I would love to know - did these guys BUILD this house? What a pity that W&M saw fit to destroy this house in 2004. An aside, with 15 minutes of searching the yearbooks, Rachel figured out that this house was built in 1920 or 1921.

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In addition to the

In addition to the Aladdin Colonial shown above, Williamsburg also has a Sears kit home, "The Oak Park" (shown above). (Vintage image is from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)

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And just down the street is this Wardway Mayflower. How appropos!

And just down the street is this Wardway "Mayflower." How apropos!

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To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Rachel Shoemaker was looking through a Sears Modern Homes catalog (1930) when she discovered a testimonial for a Sears Elmhurst built in Flushing, New York. She then did some extra digging and was able to glean the home’s current address.

In fact, Rachel wrote a blog on her wonderful discovery (click here to see it).

Now, we need someone near Flushing to snap a few photos of this grand and elegant home in Flushing. If you’re near the area, please leave a comment below and I’ll contact you toote suite!

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Testimoniaal

Here's the testimonial that Rachel found in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Zvonecs loved their house

I have a feeling that the Zvanovec's are no longer extending an open invitation to visit their home. Nonetheless, it sounds like they really did love their home, and were very proud of it.

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As Rachel points out in her blog, this must have been one of the first Elmhursts built, because it appeared in the 1929

Close-up of this beautiful Sears Elmhurst in Flushing, NY. Look at the beautiful stone work on the front porch.

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And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

And here's the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

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An Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter).

Here's an Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter). Notice this house has the decorative blocks under the faux half timbering on that front gable. These blocks are missing from the Elmhurst in St. Louis and Flushing, NY. This Elmhurst and the one in Flushing are both brick veneer, whereas the one in St. Louis is solid brick. As mentioned in the prior blog, solid brick is very unusual on a Sears kit home.

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Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think its likely but Im not certain. This house is in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin.

Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think it's likely but I'm not certain. It's in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin. It's not a spot-on match but it's darn close! This is such an unusual house, I'd be inclined to say it probably is an Elmhurst. Probably. Notice, those decorative blocks are in place under the front gable.

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The Elmhurst was featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread.

The Elmhurst was "featured" in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread, including this colorized image. Notice, the blocks are shown in the catalog image.

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Are you near Flushing? Would you be willing to get some good, high-resolution photos for us?

If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about the kit homes I found in Rocky Mount, click here.

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.

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house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.

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Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).

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house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.

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house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.

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house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.

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house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.

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Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.

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Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.

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house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.

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house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.

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house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.

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house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.

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house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.

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house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.

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front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.

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comparison

Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.

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Wall

From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.

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kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.

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kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.

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Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.

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house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.

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house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.

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house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.

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business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.

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pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.

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house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.

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gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.

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Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.

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house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.

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And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)

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Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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