May 30, 2023

A Sears House After House Hunters Renovation

There is an authenticated Sears Barrington in Villa Park that was featured on the television show House Hunters Renovation in 2015.

From HGTV: "Ever wonder what happens AFTER House Hunters choose? In House Hunters Renovation, our buyers look for a new home that is anything but turnkey. Watch as they tour three potential homes and ultimately choose the one that's waiting for their special touch. Then stay as they renovate and decorate, ultimately revealing their new space."

The episode "Stressful Suburban Renovation" showed buyers Stephani and Dan as they decided to buy the Barrington and then worked with interior designers and contractors selected by the network. The house was recently listed for sale, so now we can get a close look at the before and after!

Before--The House Stephani and Dan Bought

There are a few photos of the house before the renovations.

102 N. 3rd Ave., Villa Park. The white exterior is blah. Photo from Realtor site.

The Sears Barrington was a popular Modern Tudor. This image is from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The dark living room. The front door is to the right and the arched entry to the staircase is to the left. Photo from Realtor site.

Another shot of the living room. Note the simple arch between the living room and dining room in the Barrington. Photo from Realtor site. 

Photo from Realtor site.

This brickwork can be found in many Sears houses today. Scan of the Sears Building Materials catalog from Andrew Mutch.

Photo from Realtor site.

This is the only photo of the kitchen. Behind the kitchen is an enclosed sunroom. Photo from Realtor site.

After--The House That the Professionals Modernized

In 2015, blue was one of the most popular colors for a home exterior. Photo from Realtor site.

The catalog illustration of the Barrington is framed next to the front door. Photo from Realtor site. 

The woodwork is unpainted. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The designers kept the built-in bench (left side). Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The front bedroom. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The original owner was Harry E. Benson, a metal polisher. In 1928, he obtained a $5,000 mortgage from Sears Roebuck. 

This Sears house was landmarked by the Villa Park Historical Preservation Commission. A shipping label that was affixed to the lumber in the house is currently displayed in the Villa Park Historical Museum.




April 25, 2023

A Custom Sears Tudor in Chicago

Beginning in 1930, Sears began heavily promoting their custom home design and construction services.  Rather than using the Sears standard house plans, the customer could request a custom design. The Home Construction Division of Sears could build you a house "from any plans you may have or plans prepared by your own architect." In communities that had Sears construction offices (like the Chicago area) Sears would "engage the best building contractors and supervise all construction from start to finish." Naturally, Sears would also provide all the materials needed to build the house.

The Sears custom houses came at a premium price. Either you hired your own architect and brought those plans to Sears, or you hired one of the Sears architects to design the house of your dreams.

Chicago Tribune ad from 1931. Sears could build you a custom house "costing from $35,000, down to homes that may be owned for a little as $6.00 a week." 

Despite the additional cost, the Sears custom houses gained in popularity during the early years of the Depression.  This could be because most of the people building new homes in that time period were wealthy and not particularly cost-conscious. According to Sears supervising architect David S. Betcone, "It is interesting to note that upwards of thirty percent of homes built by Sears [in 1931] were from designs of outside architects."

Today, these custom Sears houses are nearly impossible to identify since they are one-of-a-kind. But occasionally we get lucky. 

2208 W. 116th, Chicago. Scan from Google Streetview.

This Tudor Revival is most definitely not a kit house design sold by Sears, and does not match any of the houses shown in the Modern Homes catalogs.

What information does the building permit provide?

The permit was issued in September 1931, as we suspected. The house was $12,000, and the owner was Herbert L. Hulsebus. The architect on file was "Kandl". This refers to Hungarian architect Norman N. Kandl, who was employed by Sears Roebuck in 1931 and 1932. He worked on customizing the standard kit house plans for customers, as well as assisting with (possibly wholly creating) house plans for customers who wanted a custom design. In the Depression, times were tough for all architects, including Kandl, who was a successful architect in Hungary and had his own practice in the U.S. until 1930.

March 1928 advertisement in the Southtown Economist for Normal N. Kandl buildings in Chicago.

When we see the name Norman N. Kandl associated with a house in 1931 or 1932, we can say with almost 100 percent certainty that Sears Roebuck was involved in the house's construction. This Tudor in Morgan Park is almost certainly a Sears custom house.

There was an advertisement for Sears Roebuck custom homes that ran in 1932 that confirms it. The house in Morgan Park is pictured.

Herbert Hulsebus bought the 75x180 lot in April 1931, and then contacted Sears Roebuck to build his dream house.

Herbert in 1936. 

The 1940 census has Herbert, wife Laura, daughter Fleur, and a maid living in the house. Herbert was the vice-president of the Stack Goble advertising agency in Chicago.

Herbert died in 1946 and Laura lived in the house until 1985.

To read more about Sears custom homes in the Chicago area, click here.

March 28, 2023

Five Reasons You Think You Have a Sears House... but You Don't

Many people believe they have a Sears house. The vast majority of them do not.

Sears houses are rare and they are typically found in certain states (Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania having the most). 

So why do so many people insist their house must be from Sears? There are five reasons that are brought up continually.

1. "My house has markings on the boards."

Millions of houses in the U.S. have marked lumber. Lumber mills started marking cut lumber with rubber stamps or stencils around the turn of the century. This information could include the grade of the lumber, the name of the lumber company, or the size of the piece. The mere existence of marked lumber in your house does not mean your house is a Sears house. 

What a stamp in a Sears house generally looks like.

2. "Everyone says my house arrived by train."

Building materials for any house, kit or otherwise, could be delivered by train, particularly in rural areas. Additionally, Sears houses were not always delivered by train.  

3. "The neighbors say my house is a Sears kit."

Oral history is often wrong. Sometimes, misinformation is passed along for decades. For instance, someone told President Jimmy Carter that his childhood home was from Sears Roebuck and it wasn't. 

4. "My house was built in the 1920's so it's probably a kit house of some sort."

Kit houses are uncommon. In the case of Sears Roebuck, about 0.61 percent of houses constructed in the U.S. during 1908-1942 were from Sears. If your house was built in the 1920's, the odds are strongly against it being a kit house.

5. "There are a bunch of houses on my street that are the same so they must be kit houses."

There is no logic behind the rationale that identical houses mean they must all be kit house models. Any builder could construct the same house numerous times. 

A real Sears Mitchell in Crete at 1365 Elizabeth.