Posts Tagged ‘prefab sears house’

“A Mansion of Colonial Style Architecture” - Sears Kit Home #303

December 6th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

There are scores of Sears kit homes that I have never laid eyes on, and Sears Modern Home #303 is one of them.

This particular model is of special interest because it is so grand and ostentatious. It has many unique features, so it’s easy to differentiate #303 from your garden variety Queen Anne manse.

And this was offered by Sears Roebuck as a “Kit Home.”

What a kit!

I don’t know that any of these were ever built. The sale of Sears Homes didn’t really take off until after The Great War ended (1919), and this house was only offered in one year (1910). It does not appear in “Houses by Mail.”

My dear friend and co-author Dale Wolicki posits that it was just a carryover from a pattern book house that Sears added to their catalog in 1910. That’s a pretty sound theory, and very likely.

Modern Home #303 was offered only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Modern Home #303 was offered only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It was the most expensive house offered in the catalog, and was intended to be built with solid brick walls. Sears estimated that the finished cost would be about $6,700.


Would you pay almost $7,000 for this house?

Would you pay $6,700 for this house?


One of the towers

One of the towers is a polygon (not circular).


And the other is round.

And the other is round.



And there's a toilet on the first floor! No sink, just a toilet!


Close-up of all that busyness on the back of the house.

Close-up of all that busyness on the back of the house.


Check out this floorplan!

Check out this floorplan! Notice the trunk room over the kitchen area? Back in the day, it wasn't fittin' to put a bedroom over the kitchen. Too much heat and too many odors.


And its even better than a Barbie Dream Mansion!

And it's even better than a Barbie Dream Mansion!


To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Wardway Houses, click here.

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A Kenmore House - by Montgomery Ward!

October 5th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Sears started selling kit homes in 1908. Montgomery Ward followed suit in 1909.

Sears started offering financing (mortgages) on their kit homes in 1917. Montgomery Ward reluctantly began offering mortgages in 1925.

In 1931, Montgomery Ward saw the writing on the wall and got out of the kit home business. Sears followed suit in 1934 (but re-entered the game in 1935, and closed down the kit home business once and for all in 1940).

Sears and Wards had a lot in common.

One night, I was going through the pages of my 1927 Wardway Homes catalog and found that one of Montgomery Ward’s modest little houses was named, “The Kenmore.”

Interesting name for a Montgomery Ward product!

Was the #2 mail-order giant poking a stick in the eye of the #1 mail-order giant?

What I do know is, Sears first used the brand name “Kenmore” in 1913 for one of their better-quality, portable sewing machines. It sold for $6.75 (including cabinet-grade wooden cover).

Six years later, the Kenmore name disappeared from the Sears catalogs and didn’t reappear until 1934.

Who knows why Ward’s chose the name Kenmore for one of their most-modest kit homes. However, it’s now an interesting little footnote in the history of American merchandising history and kit homes.

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

The Montgomery Ward Kenmore (1927)


1910s Wardway catalog. Note the "possible changes" offered.


Above is the floor plan for the Wards "Kenmore." Pretty modest little house. That rear bedroom is a mere seven feet wide. Today, we'd call that a walk-in closet.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Bungalow Craze and The Germ Theory

February 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Did you know that, Dr. Joseph Lister - a 19th Century British physician - is largely responsible for the bungalow craze? The fact is, Joseph Lister and his germ theory dramatically changed the way Americans thought about their homes.

For so many years, mothers could only watch in helpless horror as their young children died from any one of a myriad of “common” diseases. And then in the late 1800s, Dr. Joseph Lister discovered that germs were culprit. Mothers and fathers, weary of burying their infants, had a new arch enemy: household dirt. As is explained in the 1908 book, Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book:

Not many years ago disease was most often deemed the act of Providence as a chastening or visitation for moral evil. Many diseases are now known to be merely human ignorance and uncleanliness. The sins for which humanity suffers are violations of the laws of sanitation and hygiene, or simply the one great law of absolute sanitary cleanliness… Every symptom of preventable disease and communicable disease…should suggest the question: “Is the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Now that the enemy had been identified, modern women attacked it with every tool in their arsenal. Keeping a house clean was far more than a matter of mere pride: The well-being, nay, the very life of one’s child might depend upon a home’s cleanliness. What mother wanted to sit at the bedside of their sick child, tenderly wiping his fevered brow and pondering the awful question: “Was the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Because of Dr. Lister and his germ theory, the ostentatious, dust-bunny-collecting Queen Anne, with its ornate woodwork, fretwork and gingerbread fell from favor with a resounding thud.

Simplicity, harmony and durability are the keynotes of the modern tendency. The general intention seems to be to avoid everything that is superfluous; everything that has a tendency to catch and hold dust or dirt. Wooden bedsteads are being replaced by iron or brass; stuffed and upholstered furniture by articles of plain wood and leather. Bric-a-brac, flounces, valances and all other superfluous articles are much less fashionable (from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book).

Remember the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”? There’s a 1920s scene where George Baily and his girlfriend pause in front of the massive Second Empire house. It sits abandoned and empty, deteriorating day by day. This was not an uncommon fate for Victorian manses in post-germ theory America. Who knew what germs lay in wait within its hard-to-clean walls?

The February 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal was devoted to the new housing style: Bungalows. One headline said, “The Bungalow, because of its easy housekeeping possibilities is becoming more popular every year.”

And all because of Dr. Lister.

(By the way, Dr. Lister did not invent the popular mouthwash but it was named after him and his discoveries.)

To learn more about the bungalows sold by Sears, click here.


Snow White Kitchen

The Snow White "Sanitary" Kitchen. This picture is from the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.


Germ Theory

The Clorox man's claim to fame was superior germ-killing abilities. Note the adoring women praising him. Sadly, they're all wearing aprons. Well, maybe it's not so much sad as SCARY!



George and Mary ("It's a Wonderful Life") got into this Second Empire Victorian *cheap* because it was riddled with germs and so hard to keep clean! After the discovery of the germ theory, we abandoned Victorian homes - with all their fretwork and frippery - in quite a hurry. Prior to the discovery of the germ theory, about 20% of children didn't make it to their 18th birthday. Once we figured out that it was these tiny microbes that was killing off our children, cleanliness became the order of the day.


To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read more about George and Mary, click here.

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Sears Magnolia: Not!

January 30th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Sears Magnolia was the biggest, fanciest and prettiest home that Sears offered during their 32 years in the kit home business. According to legend, there were only a few Magnolias built in the country, and heretofore, only six have been found (Benson, NC., South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana). The sixth was in Nebraska, and has since been torn down.

Everyone loves Sears kit homes. People are enchanted and intrigued by the idea that you could order a kit home out of a mail-order catalog and have it shipped (via train) to your building site. These were true kits, arriving in 12,000-piece kits (including a 75-page instruction book). Sears promised that a man of average abilities could have one assembled in 90 days.

But there’s another reason we love these homes: They’re beautiful. They’re well-designed and thoughtfully arranged, with nice profiles and proportions and lines.

Recently I was driving through a 1990s neighborhood and spotted this house. (I’m surprised no one has contacted me to report that this is a Sears Magnolia!)   In my humble opinion, this is not an attractive home. It lacks those those proportions and lines and depth that make a house remarkable. It is, to be blunt, flat and uninspiring.

Modern house in modern area

Modern house in modern area

Below is the real deal. A Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.


Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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