June 28, 2016

Why Are So Many People Wrong About Their "Sears" Houses?

The subject of Sears homes came up on Atlas Obscura a few weeks ago. Since that article was published, I have been inundated with emails telling me about Sears homes located in every area of the country--from California to New Jersey to Oklahoma to Florida and many places in between.

The vast majority of these reported Sears homes are not Sears homes at all.

So what is going on? Why do so many people insist their house (or their neighbor's house or their grandma's house) is from Sears when in reality they don't resemble any of the Sears models?

I don't have a definitive answer, but I have some possible reasons.

1. Misconception that a Craftsman bungalow is a Sears bungalow. The term "Craftsman house" has nothing to do with Sears although many people believe that any house in that style must be from Sears because of the name. Although Sears had a hardware line called Craftsman that started in 1927, Craftsman architecture refers to houses designed in the Arts and Crafts style, which came into vogue about 1910. Sears sold some Craftsman bungalows, but not all Craftsman bungalows are from Sears. In my experience, this misunderstanding of the term Craftsman results in many houses misidentified as Sears.

Chicago house reported to me as a Sears house. It's not Sears, but it is a Craftsman house, built in 1909. Photo from Curbed.

2. Just because the building materials were from Sears does not mean the house was a kit from Sears. Sears sold kit houses, which consisted of most of the materials you needed to build a house for one set price. The kit houses were standard models that were detailed in the Modern Homes catalogs. Sears also sold building materials separately to buyers. You may have purchased the lumber, doors, shingles, and windows for your house from Sears, but that doesn't make the house a kit house. This leads to confusion--when people learn that the building materials for their house were originally from Sears they assume the house is a kit model.

3. People assume their house was a Sears kit model that was "modified". Close enough isn't good enough in the kit house world. Sears did make changes to the exteriors of the standard models on occasion, but this practice was not as widespread as people assume. If your purported Sears house differs from the catalog illustrations, you need to find proof to back up your assertion. 

Sears Magnolia.


A supposed Sears Magnolia in Como, MS. There's no proof supporting this claim and the house does not match the catalog illustration. Sorta close is not good enough. 

4. All kit houses are not from Sears. Many other companies sold kit houses--Montgomery Ward, Aladdin, Gordon-Van Tine, Harris Brothers... to name a few. Every kit house is not a Sears house; every chocolate bar is not a Hershey bar. Often houses misreported as Sears houses are actually kits from other companies.

340 Prospect Ave., Glen Ellyn. The owners believe this is a Sears kit house.


It's actually model No. 588 from Gordon-Van Tine.

Do you know of a Sears house? Feel free to email me.


Tpostan said...

Having a six column porch doesn't make something a Sears Magnolia house. It clearly doesn't follow the exterior facade or the simple scale of the original. You only have to take in account the entry door or window sizes "which were standard" and compare to the rest of the exterior.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting info on the Como “Sears” house.


Anonymous said...

Here is some interesting info on the Como “Sears” house.


Mike said...

I have a house that looks exactly like model number 109 Sears catalog house built 19 13, 1914 except the wood for the house was from Swift Upson lumber company in New Britain Connecticut. The dimensions inside the house are the exact same sizes for the rooms given for the dimensions. I don’t know what this means.

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

If the lumber is not from Sears, it's not a Sears kit house.

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