A Catalogue House

How many people can boast, “My house came from a Sears catalogue?”

When my great-niece Heidi and her family moved into a charming 1925-vintage Sears catalogue cottage in Seattle, I became enthralled with the whole idea of precut kit homes. Wading into on-line research, I found that approximately 100,000 Sears homes were purchased in the United States between 1908 and 1940. Most of these were in the Northeast and Northern Midwest states, where suburbs were springing up at rapid rate. So finding such a house right in my own Washington State back yard was a thrill.

I found illustrations taken directly from the Sears catalogue. One could choose from 447 housing styles, ranging from simple no-bath cottages of two or three rooms to elaborate and elegant mansions. One could even design one’s own dream home and submit the blueprint to Sears, which would then pre-cut the materials and ship the pieces (some 30,000 of them, not including screws and nails) off by railroad boxcar to the new home owner.

The ability to mass-produce the materials used lowered the costs for customers. Most kit-built homes ranged from $750 to $2500. Pre-cut and fitted materials shrank construction time by 40%, and “balloon style” framing, drywall, and asphalt shingles made the home buyer’s work much easier. Other innovations that Sears incorporated into their designs were central heating, indoor plumbing, and electrical wiring. And once the house was finished, the new owners could order the furnishings from the Sears catalogue and even ask for decorating advice.

Sears was not the only builder of kit homes. One expert says that more than 80% of the people who think they live in a Sears kit home live in one from another company. There are a number of clues to indicate if Sears built a home. One such clue is the five-piece support bracket between the eaves and the outside wall used in some homes. Sometimes identifying a home is hard because later remodels may camouflage the original construction. Floor plans may have been reversed, siding changed, dormers added.

What makes Sears houses stand out is that they have withstood 80 years’ worth of shifts in architectural styles and tastes. Ask Heidi and her husband…they are still great family homes.

This style, the Winona, was sold from 1927-1932.

Heidi’s house is hidden from the street by foliage, but you can see the similarities to the catalogue illustration.

Heidi shows off the original breakfast nook

An original light fixture

Central heating and hardwood flooring

Well crafted exterior details.

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