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Posts Tagged ‘Sears Modern Homes’

The Grant: A Charm All Its Own

April 17th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Wayne (hubby), Milton (buddy) and I traveled to the National Archives and Records Administration in Philadelphia to do research on Penniman. Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, NJ to check out the houses in that neighborhood.

Carney’s Point, like Penniman, was the site of a World War 1 DuPont munitions plant.

In 1891, E. I. DuPont de Nemours bought the land, which had been owned by the descendant of an Irish immigrant named Thomas Carney. DuPont had purchased the 17 square mile tract so that they could build a plant and manufacture smokeless gunpowder.

When The European War began in July 1914, demand for smokeless gunpowder exploded (so to speak). (World War I began in Europe in July 1914, and was originally known as The European War.)

At Carney’s Point, the population swelled from 2,000 (pre-European War) to 25,000 (1917). In their great rush to provide industrial housing for all these people, DuPont turned to Aladdin to supply pre-cut houses. One of the houses that was built in the Aladdin neighborhood was The Grant.

This is one Aladdin model that I have never seen anywhere else, and yet there’s a surfeit of them in Carney’s Point.

Do you know of a “Grant” in another community? Please leave a comment below!

And please share this link on Facebook or with your old-house loving friends!

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The Grant, as seen in the 1914 Aladdin catalog.

In the 1914 Aladdin catalog, it was called, "The Jackson."

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People on prch

I just love the drawn-in people.

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In 1916, it was renamed

In 1916, the little house was renamed The Grant.

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Pretty basic floorplan

This first floor was 20 by 20 (400 square feet) and had a pretty basic floorplan.

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And perhaps most interesting, no bath

And perhaps most interesting, it had no bathroom (as shown in 1916).

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You can assemble it on youor next stay-cation.

Best of all, you can assemble it on your next "stay-cation" (last paragraph).

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Cutie

This one is easy to spot with the unique window arrangement and Arts & Crafts porch.

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nice house and cheap

This front porch on this Grant is largely original, but covered in siding and screens. The Victorian screen door isn't a good look, but that's kind of off-set by the 1950s wrouught-iron railing.

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unfortunate placement of ac

These folks went with vinyl siding instead of aluminum. Plus, it has a beam sticking out of its eye.

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house house

And this darling little house (which also has its original front porch) is for sale for a mere $112,900, which seems like a pretty good deal (assuming that it has an inside bathroom).

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my favorite

This was my favorite, because it's untouched by the ravages of roving home-improvement companies and vinyl-siding salesmen. I'd love to know if this is the original siding, or if it was added in later years. We do know that some of the DuPont designs were offered with "composite siding" which is a nice way of saying, "crappy asphalt roll siding" (which is what we're seeing here).

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detail

Oh yeah, baby! Original windows! I *love* it!

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detail around porch

And nice detail around the front porch.

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A view of Carneys Point in the late 1910s. .

A view of Carney's Point in the late 1910s/early 20s. This photo was taken in the 200-block of Broadway.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about another town filled with Aladdin Homes, click 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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Thou Shalt Not Steal, Part II

January 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

Who owns this pre-1923 image from an old Sears catalog?

Who owns this photo?

Shown above is a Wizard block-making machine. These were hugely popular for Sears and now they're in great demand as collectors' items. Apparently, they were well made and worked as promised. All for a mere $57.50!

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I sure don’t want my wonderful fun-laden website to turn into an on-going tutorial on copyright issues, but several times in the last few years, people have asked me, “Isn’t an image from an old catalog the property of the creator of that catalog?”

With the blog I published on January 29th, that question has arisen again.

With a caveat that the following is *my* understanding of the vagaries and complexities of intellectual property as it relates to pre-1923 images, I’ll give this a shot, but bear in mind…

I am just a lowly writer. My husband is the smarty-pants lawyer, but even he is reluctant to render an opinion on intellectual property issues because these laws are intricate, complicated and forever changing.

With that in mind, here goes.

The image shown above is pre-1923, which means it is in the public domain (and therefore, no longer has copyright protection). The image originally appeared in a 1910s Sears Concrete Block catalog. After scanning the image, I also cleaned it up a bit, cropping it down and removing spots and crease marks.

Practically speaking, anyone who knows how to use “copy and paste” can lift that image from my site and run with it (as many people have). However, there needs to be some consideration as to what was involved in my acquiring that image.

1)  Research. How many people even know that Sears offered these block-making machines? How many people are aware that Sears had a specialty catalog devoted to block-making?

2) Expense. Through the years, I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on research materials and old catalogs. And the expense of acquiring these materials doesn’t even touch on the time I’ve spent on the road, giving lectures and listening to people’s stories after the lectures. Because of this, I’ve learned so much from people of all ages, throughout the country. Such education is invaluable and irreplaceable, but it does not come cheap.

3)  Time. I don’t have the emotional courage to add up how many hours I’ve spent researching architectural history, but I’ve written six books on this topic and that alone has required thousands of hours. And scanning a 100+page catalog can take HOURS.

4)  Expertise, which, honestly, combines all of the above.

And then there’s the labor involved.

In most cases, the process of scanning a 90-year-old catalog destroys the binding. You’re left with an abundance of brittle pages that must be stored in an acid-free envelope or folder. And after the scanning is done, there’s the long, slow process of cleaning up each and every image.

Back to my original question: Who owns the image?

The following comes from Wikipedia:

In Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (1999), the New York District Court held that “a photograph which is no more than a copy of a work of another as exact as science and technology permits lacks originality. That is not to say that such a feat is trivial, simply not original”.

In spite of the effort and labor involved in creating professional-quality slides from the original works of art, the Court held that copyright did not subsist as they were simply slavish copies of the works of art represented.

Although that case related to photographs rather than scans, it would be reasonable to say that by analogy the US courts would not grant copyright to a scan which has been enhanced - even manually - with a view to creating an image which is as similar as possible to the original.

Where the enhancement has gone beyond that, for example in bringing out selected details or colors not easily visible in the original, Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. may be less persuasive, and such cases should be considered on their own facts.

Seems that even for the courts, these are murky waters.

From my reading of Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., the act of scanning does not in and of itself constitute the creation of a “new” image that can be protected by copyright (which does not bode well for all the poor saps who scan pre-1923 catalogs and sell the CDs on eBay).

Conversely, when it comes to my contemporay photographs, those are most certainly protected by modern copyright laws.

However, even if my “scanned and enhanced pre-1923 images” are not protected by copyright laws (and it appears they may not be), the fact remains that from a literary standpoint, the ethical and professional thing to do is to give attribution and credit when materials are taken from another source.

And as Rachel has pointed out, it’s also the smart thing to do. This website gets 1,200+ visitors every day. Sharing some “Link love” is a sure-fire way to boost visitors at your own website.

In conclusion, if you wish to use any images from my site, please - oh please - just put my name with the image. Something like, “This image is used courtesy Rosemary Thornton,” or, “Image is courtesy searshomes.org.”

It’s just the right thing to do.

And now, back to happy things.

To read about my beautiful “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

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This is one of the happiest pictures I could find. Its my brother Eddie, licking the beaters after Mother had made some wonderful dessert.

This is one of the happiest pictures I could find. It's my brother Eddie, licking the beaters after Mother had made some wonderful dessert (about 1958). He stands in front of our home's fine-looking metal cabinets that were in our 1925 Colonial Revival house in Portsmouth. Check out the round handles on the cabinet's front. And to the left is a top-loading portable dishwasher, which we used to store dishes. It had a glass top, and some plumber told Mother that if she ever hooked it up to the sink, our entire plumbing system would explode and we'd have to have new lines installed, all the way from the city reservoir system to our sink. Or something like that. One night, when my parents went out, my brothers hooked up the dishwasher and let it run through a cycle. We were all relieved and pleased when nothing exploded. Lastly, check out Eddie's flannel-lined pants. So very cool!

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Another happy picture is me,

Here's a happy picture of moi, studying the intricacies of our beautiful wooden staircase (just out of view). I always loved that staircase with its solid walnut banister, terminating with a winding volute. I spent my hours wondering how it was all assembled. Mother is jiggling the crib in an effort to distract me (about 1960). To this day, a soft jiggle is still thoroughly distracting.

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To read about Frank’s beautiful Strathmore in Waldwick, NJ, click here.

Interested in the Sears Wizard? Click here!

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Sycamore Street and The Wonderful Life

December 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

It’s Christmas, and before long, the local channels will be airing my favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man making a difference in the world, but I saw it in a different way: “It’s a Wonderful Life” explains why homeownership is so important to our country’s prosperity and economic health.

After The Great War ended, the magazines and newspapers of the time boldly extolled the many virtues of homeownership. Post-war, contemporary literature made it clear that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. Homeownership benefited not only individual families, but also neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, the entire country.

What better modern-day model do we have than Detroit or East St. Louis? How many homeowners live in these two communities? Despite some searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s NOT MANY.

The message communicated by Sears Modern Homes catalogs and early 20th Century magazines was this: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of prosperity, stability and peace.

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls (now “Pottersville”) is full of substandard rental properties.

And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.

Remember Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver)?

In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate Bedford Falls are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, burlesque shows and billiard halls. Garish neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls.” Breviloquent policemen struggle to keep peace and order among the surly citizens.

George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” came from - in part - a realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.

Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.

Sears empowered countless thousands of the poor and working class to become homeowners. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?

How many towns were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant and enduring difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.

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George

The Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan was the real hero of the story. It persisted, despite great trials and tribulations, and enabled the less-than-wealthy citizens of Bedford Falls to achieve the dream of homeownership.

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House house

George and Mary worked hard to achieve their dream of homeownership, and that's another reason that I love this movie. They purchased a real "fixer-upper" and did a thorough restoration that spanned many, many years. Today, how many banks would even lend money on a house with a leaky roof?

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It was a common theme 1921

As demonstrated by this 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, homeownership was a far wiser investment for the young couple starting out in the world. After all, would you rather have "rent receipts" or a home of your own?

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house 1921

Father is tossing those rent receipts right into the trash.

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Its a wonderful lfie

Another reason to love "It's a Wonderful Life" is 320 Sycamore Street, a classic "Second Empire Victorian." Or, as the author of "Finding God in 'It's a Wonderful Life'" said, "It is a home of second chances."

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To read more about why 320 Sycamore was in such ghastly condition, click here.

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

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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 III: Bookcase Colonnades

December 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the early 1980s, my husband and I looked at an Aladdin Shadowlawn for sale in Chesapeake, Virginia. We both fell head-over-heels in love with the solid-oak bookcase colonnades between the living room and dining room.

It was just last week that I learned that, in the early 1900s, these enchanting built-ins were known as “Permanent Furniture.”

“Permanent furniture” (built-in cabinetry) was a brilliant concept. The more “permanent furniture” present in a house, the less “temporary furniture” the new homeowners would need to purchase. And all these built-ins really did make best-possible use of small spaces.

To read more about permanent furniture, click here or here.

As always, thanks to Norfolk historian and librarian Bill Inge for sharing his wonderful old architecture books with moi!

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House

More than 30 years ago, we looked in the windows of this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, Virginia (near Chesapeake Square Mall) and caught a glimpse of the solid oak built-in bookcase colonnades and fell hopelessly in love. There's something about "permanent furniture" in old houses that still makes me swoon.

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The Aladdin Shadowlawn had beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades.

The Aladdin Shadowlawn came with beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades (1919 catalog).

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These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck Building Materials catalog (1921).

These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck "Building Materials" catalog (1921). Pretty basic and very plain and no shelving or bookcases. And who's Carlton? My guess is that he's someone that wasn't well liked at Sears. Maybe it started out as a practical joke. "Let's name those really boring colonnades after that boring guy, Carlton who never does anything but stand around and look goofy," and before they knew it, the $34 colonnades were listed in the Sears catalog as "Carlton Colonnades."

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1921

For $82.50, you could buy a colonnade that actually had a practical purpose (unlike Carlton).

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The

The Sears Osborn featured these bookcase colonnades with either wooden muntins or leaded glass doors (1919).

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No sooner had I returned Bill Inges 1927 Builders Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure. It was full of - colonnades!

No sooner had I returned Bill Inge's 1927 Builders' Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure, "Building With Assurance; Morgan Millwork." It was full of - colonnades! It was published in 1923.

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And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades.

And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades: "It's an imitation of nature itself." BTW, check out the lovebird logo.

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Nice

Nice way to dress up a doorway!

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house

These colonnades are simple, but quite attractive. That rug looks like a trip hazard, though. The dining room furniture looks like it came out of a dollhouse. The proportions are skewed.

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Aon d

Apparently Morgan had their own line of Carlton Colonnades.

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test

Much more ornate, and bigger bookcases, too. The original caption reads, "This Morgan standardized design offers a fine opportunity for tasty decoration with jardinieres, statuary, bric-a-brac, etc." I had to look up "jardinieres," because I've read a lot of books in my life but I have never seen that word. Turns out, "jardinieres" is a female gardener, allegedly. I'm not sure that even the most progressive 1920s housewife would be too keen on the idea of using built-in bookcases to store female gardeners.

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This one's my favorite: Rugged, sturdy, spacious and a built-in desk, too.

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That desk is pretty cool, even if he does have a lot of bills hidden inside of it.

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eith

Another beautiful colonnade, but in use as a china hutch!

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A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. No foolin'.)

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To read about the Sears Magnolia we found in West Virginia, click here.

To read more about built-ins, click here.

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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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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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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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A Number of Nice and Natty Niches

December 1st, 2013 Sears Homes 10 comments

It was described as a “Modern convenience in a typically modern setting” (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

The Montgomery Ward catalog said it, “Answers the problem as to where to keep the telephone.”

The telephone was patented in March 1876.  At the turn of the last century (1905), about 5% of U.S. households had a telephone. By 1930, more than 40% of American homes had Alexander Bell’s fancy new invention installed in their homes.

The new technology brought new housekeeping issues: All those wires were a bit of a mess. The phone niche solved that problem and made this wonderful new convenience even more convenient!

Interested in building one for your own home? Check out the photos below, one of which provides detailed specs.

And as always, if you enjoy the blog, please leave a comment!

To read about Hospitality Seats, click here.

To learn more about beautiful staircases, click here.

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The 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog offered this phone niche.

The 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog offered this phone niche for $4.70 (in Fir) or $7.50 (in Oak). Either way, it was a pretty sweet deal. However, that wallpaper looks ghastly.

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The Montgomery Ward Building Materials also

The Montgomery Ward catalog described their phone niche as "A Wardway Refinement" (1929).

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1929

And it's included "without extra cost."

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GVT 1929

Gordon Van Tine also promoted their snazzy extras, but in COLOR!! (1929)

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1929 Niche

There's a reason that this image (from the Gordon Van Tine catalog) bears a stunning resemblance to the phone niche shown in the Wardway catalog. Gordon Van Tine printed the Wardway catalogs for Montgomery Ward and fulfilled their orders, too. At least they had the decency to change the words around a bit.

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Phone niche in 1927 Builders Woodwork Catalog.

The niches above appeared in the 1927 Builders' Woodwork Catalog. Thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this wonderful old book with me. It's full of fun images, just like this!

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phone niche

This image (also from the 1927 Builders' Woodwork catalog) shows some detail on how these niches were built. If you look at the box on the upper right, you'll see the "bell box" in the top. Back in the day, the ringers were not an integral part of the phone. When we lived in Illinois, we had an early 20th Century home that had the two bells high on a kitchen wall. I imagine that it scared the housewife out of 20 years growth whenever those things clanged.

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1927 Niche book

Close-up of the niche in the 1927 Builders' Woodwork catalog.

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Elmhurst

The owner of this Sears Elmhurst (in St. Louis) went to great lengths to restore his phone niche.

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Phone niche also

Often, these niches get turned into tchotchke shelves (as seen in a Sears Lynnhaven in Greenville, IL).

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Niche Ersela

Ersela Jordan found this niche in a Sears House in Beckley, WV. Finding these old niches with their original varnish/shellac is a rare treat. Notice the surrounding wood trim is also unpainted. (Photo is copyright 2009 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.)

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Phone Ersela

Ersela found this niche in a Sears Lexington in Beckley, WV. The colossal egg is a nice touch. (Photo is copyright 2009 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about awesome built-ins, click here.

To let Rose know that her life has meaning and purpose and that she should continue perusing old catalogs and old books for vintage images and fun stuff, please leave a comment below. Each day, about 1,000 people visit this site. That’s a bunch of people clicking on through. I’m living on love here, so every comment brightens my day and lightens my step and enlivens my soul. Kinda. And on a side note, I’d like to be part of the worldwide effort to educate the American public on the proper use of the word “peruse.” Surely, it must be one of the most-often misused words in the English language (and don’t call me “Shirley”). Most people use peruse to mean, browse, or scan or read quickly. In fact, it means the opposite.

pe·ruse:  pəˈro͞oz/ 1. to read [something], in a thorough or careful way.

“Rosemary has spent countless hours in libraries perusing old magazines and vintage catalogues.”

The End.

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Hospitality Seats

November 30th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Dutch Colonial has always been a favorite of mine. I’m not sure I can easily define why I love this house, but one of the reasons is the little extras - cut-out shutters, gambrel roof, plenty of windows, and best of all, those cute little benches by the front door.

And until last week, I didn’t realize those cute little bench have a name.

My buddy Bill Inge loaned me “Builders’ Woodwork” (1927, Smith & Wyman) and it was within its pages that I found the “Hospitality Seats.”

Enjoy the many photos below!

To read about breakfast nooks (first cousin to the Hospitality Seats), click here.

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

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It was inside

It was within the pages of this 1927 book that I found "Hospitality Seats."

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And how

On page 311 of "Builders' Woodwork," there were two versions of the "Hospitality Seats" offered! The good news is, they will "harmonize with almost any type of architecture." They were offered with many different cut-outs, too.

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house house house house

Close-up of the hospitality benches with a tree cut-out on its base.

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house house to

These are nice too, but does that "S" mean it's a Sears House? (Just kidding.)

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Sears House house

The Sears Puritan came with two "Hospitality Seats" on the front porch (1928 catalog).

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house house house

They are pretty darn cute!

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more more more

Apparently, the Glen Falls (Sears Home) offers 50% less hospitality than the Puritan. The one bench looks a little lonely out there (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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Martha 1921

Apparently, there's even less hospitality with the Sears "Martha Washington." You wouldn't even make it to the front porch if you were visiting folks in this house (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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bench

At least it's under a tree.

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house house Carstine

The Homebuilders' catalog features many houses with Hospitality Seats. Shown here is "The Carstine" (1927 Homebuilders' Catalog).

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callao house

The "Callao" (1927 Homebuilders) has a pergola *and* two benches!

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Colinton

Apparently if you have a non-traditional Dutch Colonial you get only one bench (The Colinton, 1927).

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FUnky Cleo

But if your Dutch Colonial is really ugly, you get the ugly benches to match (The Cleo).

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house house

This was the lone non-Dutch Colonial house I found with hospitality seats. These front porch benches do seem to be the province of the Dutch Colonial! (1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.)

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

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