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Posts Tagged ‘pre-cut’

The Chesterfield Home: Of English Ancestry

February 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

“The Chesterfield home has an English ancestry which has stood the test of public favor for many centuries…”

The Sears Chesterfield was indeed a nobby tudoresque design, but apparently it didn’t catch on. And it was offered only in the 1926 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I’ve never seen one “in the flesh.”

However, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Andrew Mutch, Wendy Mutch and Melodie Nichols, we now have pictures of a beautiful Chesterfield in Clawson, Michigan.

For those visiting this page for the first time, you might be wondering, what is a Sears Home? These were 12,000-piece kits that were ordered right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.  The homes were offered from 1908 - 1940, and during their 32-years in the kit home business, 370 models were offered.

Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house built and ready for occupancy in 90 days. That could have been a little ambitious. Typically, it took novice homebuilders six months or more to finish these homes.

To learn more about this fascinating topic, click here.

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Text from the catalog page (1925)

In a pinch, you could offer this page to someone as an eye test, and see if they notice that the font gets smaller and smaller near the bottom. On a side note, I have no idea what an "informal massing of the walls" means (near the center of the text). Then again, I have never seen a "formal massing" of walls. Is it like an informal gathering? Are the walls just hanging out together, having one big quiet party? If you were a quiet wall and you didn't participate in these informal gatherings, would you be a wall flower? Or would you just be a wall wall? One has to wonder. (From 1926 catalog.)

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Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

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I dont see any informal massing here.

I don't see any informal massing of the walls here. However, I bet that breakfast room was a chilly place on a balmy Michigan winter morning.

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Where are the informal masses?

I wonder if the "informal masses" are hiding in the spacious closets?

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Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

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What a beauty!

What a beauty! It's been altered a bit but the original lines are still there. And the third floor of this house must be quite spacious. This house is in Clawson, Michigan which (thanks to Andrew, Wendy and Melodie) has been found to be a real hotbed of kit homes! Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the side

A side view of the Chesterfield. Look at that enormous chimney. Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Oh my stars, now we KNOW its a Sears Home! It has an S on the chimney!!

Oh my stars, now we KNOW it's a Sears Home! It has an "S" on the chimney!! Ah, not really. This is one CRAZY myth that is still bouncing around on the internet. That "S" on the chimney is a stylistic feature that has nothing to do with whether or not it's a Sears House. In this case, that "S" is part of the brace that helps keep that oversized chimney stable. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Nice shooting, Melodie! She did a perfect job of photographing the house from the same angle as the original catalog picture.

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To read the next blog (also about kit homes in Michigan), click here.

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The Rembrandt: A Masterpiece!

February 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

At first glance, the Rembrandt looks like a massive Dutch Colonial, but in fact, it was 1,672 square feet. As early 1900s housing goes, this was certainly a spacious home, but not dramatically so.

However…

Building this two-story home from a 12,000-piece kit that arrived via boxcar would certainly have been a challenge! Each piece of lumber was numbered to facilitate construction and the blueprints were written with extra detail and accompanying explanations (to help novices), and the kit came with a 75-page instruction book, however…

This still would have been quite a project to tackle!

Based on my research, about 50% of the people who purchased Sears Kit Homes hired contractors to build their house, and the other half spent a lot of time poring over those detailed blueprints and built the house themselves!

What is a Sears Home? Click here to learn more.

To watch Buster Keaton build a Sears Home, click here.

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The Sears Rembrandt

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For a "big" house, it had a very small kitchen!

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Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction, but still, building the Rembrandt from a kit would have been quite a task!

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Catalog image of the Rembrandt

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house house annapolis

The real deal in Annapolis, MD. And notice it has Buckingham Slate on the roof. Buckingham Slate is the crème de la crème of slate and weighs 1,400 pounds per square. When building a house that will have a slate roof, the roof is specially constructed to accommodate this tremendous amount of weight. Here in the Southeast, I've seen several Sears Homes with this Buckingham Slate roof.

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Sears Rembrandt in West Chicago, Illinois. Where's a chain saw when you need it?

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This Sears Rembrandt is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Comparison of the Rembrandt in Ann Arbor with the original catalog picture.

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Beautiful house but it sure looks chilly!! Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about the Sears Homes that Wendy and Andrew found in Michigan, click here and here.

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Buster Keaton and Sears Homes

April 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Did you know that Buster Keaton did a short film about building a pre-cut kit house?

First released in 1920, the 20-minute film shows happy newlyweds (Buster and Sybil) receiving the gift of a “ready-to-assemble” kit home. Driven by jealousy, an old beau surreptitiously changes the numbers on the pre-cut framing members, thus wreaking havoc on Buster’s ability to build his 12,000-piece kit home.

As the saying goes, “True comedy is timeless.”

This is not only true comedy, but an awesome look back at a time when people built these kit homes. And it’s also interesting to think that - in 1920 - kit homes were such a big part of the American scene that moviegoers were expected to understand about “marked lumber.”

That “joke” would likely be lost on contemporary movie audiences because so little is known about this piece of America’s architectural history.

I first discovered “One Week” in Spring 2004, when my dear daughter highlighted this piece in a senior project. I was honored and touched that my daughter was drawn to an old movie about pre-cut kit homes - because of her mother’s career! :)

Click here to see Buster Keaton’s “One Week” on Youtube.

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Buster Keatons pre-cut kit house had a few minor problems.

Buster Keaton's pre-cut kit house had a few minor problems.

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It should have looked a little more like this.

It should have looked a little more like this. (Sears Whitehall under construction in Carlinville, IL - about 1919.)

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Sears kit homes did come with instruction books (as shown above).

Sears kit homes did come with instruction books (as shown above).

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The houses were ordered out of catalogs, such as this (1921).

The houses were ordered out of catalogs, such as this (1921).

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Framing members were marked (as shown) to help facilitate construction.

Framing members were marked (as shown) to help facilitate construction.

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To learn more about Sears Kit Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s latest book, click here.

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Sears Homes in Alabama

September 10th, 2010 Sears Homes 7 comments

On a prior post (Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama), I talked about photographing a Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. What I did not talk about was the trip. I traveled from Norfolk, Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia and met up with my friend Nancy (who lives in Acworth), and then we rode together to Piedmont to photograph this house. I love Sears Homes. I love looking at them and I love photographing them and I love posting their portraits at my website.

That being said, I was mighty disappointed that I didn’t find any more Sears Homes between here and Atlanta. I’ve been searching for Sears Homes for a long, long time and I like to think I’m pretty good at this but this trip has not yielded many “finds.”

And then today, I found a note in my inbox from a nice fellow in Mobile (Alabama) telling me about an ecnclave of purported Sears Homes in Mobile. If anyone has any more information about these houses, I’d love to hear about it. I’d love to see some photos of these houses. It’s been my experience that 95% of the time, these “neighborhoods” of Sears Homes are not Sears Homes or even kit homes from another company. They’re usually wild goose chases.

Please - someone from Mobile - write to me (thorntonrose@hotmail.com) and prove me wrong.

One of the best finds in Alabama: A sunflower field!

Sunflowers in Alabama

Sunflowers in Alabama

More sunflowers

More sunflowers

Another Sears Magnolia - in Alabama!

September 9th, 2010 Sears Homes 3 comments

This (picture below) is the third Sears Magnolia I have visited in person. There were purportedly six built (but the validity of the fact is in question). Rebecca Hunter discovered that there’d been a Sears Magnolia in Nebraska (1) which had burned down many years ago. and Houses by Mail identified a Magnolia in South Bend (#2). In 2003, I appeared  on PBS History Detectives and the show featured a Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio (#3).  A few months after the show aired, someone in Pennsylvania contacted me with information about their Sears Magnolia - made of brick!

In March 2010, a “Friend of Sears Homes” emailed me and told me about a “Sears Home” in Benson, NC (#5). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Sears Home was the fifth Sears Magnolia!

This Magnolia (see below) is in Alabama. This would be the 6th known Sears Magnolia.

In my opinion, there are a few more out there. I suspect there are more than six Sears Magnolias in the world.

Sears Magnolia in Alabama

Sears Magnolia in Alabama. Notice how the dormer on this house is different from the catalog picture (below) and from the other Sears Magnolias (see links above).

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Beautiful Sears Alhambra in Atlanta, Georgia

September 8th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

What a beauty! And it’s dressed in yellow brick!

We found this Alhambra on a quiet little street, sitting high on a hill, and in a hoity-toity part of Atlanta. Wonder if the owners know it’s a Sears House?

Sears Home in Atlanta

Sears Home in Atlanta

Original image from a 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original image from a 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

The Babies Came Home on Friday

September 7th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Friday afternoon, my newest book (co-authored with Dale Wolicki) came home. This is my seventh book but it’s always so exciting to see a long-awaited dream come to fruition. Dale and I toiled over this book for five years. Hopefully, we’ll sell out that first printing within 90 days or so. It’s a beautiful book (347 pages!), filled with photos, vintage pictures, facts and details on the kit homes offered by Montgomery Ward.

To buy a copy, click here.

To read more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Teddy stands guard over the new books in my hallway

Teddy stands guard over the new books in my hallway

She was especially interested in the chapter on Neo-Tudor homes

She was especially interested in the chapter on Neo-Tudor homes

The Wardway Newport caught her eye.

The Wardway Newport caught her eye.

The cover of our new book.

The cover of our new book.

Schadenfreude and Mudita

September 3rd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Ever hear of schadenfreude?  For years, I’d always called it, “The Crab Theory.”

Schadenfreude is a German word that means delighting in the misfortune of others. I had never heard of this word until I was doing some research for my book The Ugly Woman’s Guide to Internet Dating: What I Learned From 70 First Dates.

Put one crab in a five-gallon bucket and Mr. Crab will do everything in his power to scale its smooth wall and crawl out of that bucket. Put two or more crabs in a bucket and when one starts to climb up, the others will grab him and pull him back down into the bucket. Unfortunately, humans sometime exhibit the same tendencies as crabs.

In my own life, I’ve struggled mightily with envy, and I’m sorry to say that too many times, I had a decided leaning toward the crab/schadenfreude side.

And then one day, I read a story in the Christian Science Sentinel about a woman who’d spent a lifetime cultivating the habit of gratitude. She said that her mother had taught her to feel sincerely joyous and grateful for the good things that happened in other people’s lives, and to take it as a personal promise from God that, if it happened for them, it could happen for her, too.

The Buddhist have a word for this: Mudita. It’s the practice of finding joy in other people’s success and happiness.

The morning news is frequently awash in salacious and scurrilous scandals involving celebrities and their ilk. Yet we’re all “clay vessels,” and we’re all cracked pots and fallible and prone to foibles and missteps and mistakes and even lapses in good judgment. Who among us hasn’t lost our temper and said something we deeply regret? Who among us hasn’t surrendered to temptation when we could have done better? My point is, maybe the real need is to stop staring so hard at other people’s sins and take a better look at our own shortcomings and work on improving those.

Maybe we need to stop cultivating the habit of schadenfreude and work on mudita.

To read more, click here.

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Sears Alhambra in Downtown Portsmouth (Virginia)

September 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

This Sears Alhambra is in a section of town that was near Ida Barbour Park (public housing which has since been torn down). It’s been through many changes through the years, but is still in remarkably good condition. Notice how the red dumpster in the corner complements the red brick foundation. :)

The Sears Alhambra was one of their most popular homes. Note the parapet around the dormer and porch roof, and staircase wing. What a beauty!

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

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

Sears Alhambra from the 1919 catalog

Sears Alhambra from the 1919 catalog

Sears Alhambra in downtown Portsmouth

Sears Alhambra in downtown Portsmouth

From 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal: Modernize That Old House!

September 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Today, the magazine is heavy on diet tips and light on home related topics, but it wasn’t always that way. In the early 1900s, Ladies’ Home Journal was (get ready), a magazine devoted to improving the lot of women who wanted to be homeowners, or women who had achieved that high goal of homeownership.

This 1911 issue of LHJ devoted an entire section to fixing up old houses. The photos (and their captions) tell the whole story. One caption reads, “The foundation and timbers [of these old houses] are often better than are found in the houses built today.”

For the two images below, the caption reads:

It seems almost impossible to realize that the hospitable-looking house on the bottom (see second house below) was once the gloomy, desolate house on the top (see first house below), and the changes which transformed it were not great. First of all, the dull color of the old house and the overgrown condition of the ground in front of it are most forbidding. A comparison of the two pictures shows how much a little careful planting and fresh paint will do toward changing the whole atmosphere of the house. More rooms were added at the rear and a gambrel roof was built and into this were let two good-sized dormer windows. A large porch, which was extended into a porte-chochere was built, and the latter forms a nice balance to the right wing of the house.

Heres the before photo

Here's the "before" photo

And heres the after photo

And here's the "after" photo

More photos are below!

Take a moment and read the caption - and remember - this is from 1911!

Take a moment and read the caption - and remember - this is from 1911!

Another photo pair from the 1911 Ladies Home Journal

Another photo pair from the 1911 Ladies' Home Journal