Sears Modern Homes: House Kits from Catalogs

by hookedonhouses on April 21, 2008

Can you imagine being able to flip through a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog full of house plans, choose one like this charming “Puritan” model, and buy it for as little as $1,500?

Sears sold Modern Homes kits like this one between 1908-1940. Each kit contained between 10,000-30,000 pieces with which you could build your house. They were shipped on boxcars, so you’d go to the railroad station to pick it up. Blueprints were drawn so that novice homebuilders could understand them and came with a 75-page instruction book explaining how to put everything together.

The catalogs assured customers that “a man of average abilities could assemble a Sears kit home in about 90 days.” About half of the kit homes were built by professional homebuilders, but those who did it themselves saved about 30% off the cost of a conventionally built home. In 1908, a contractor charged about $450 to put a kit together. Even then it was considered a bargain.

The Sears catalog homes were made with the finest materials, including cypress for all exterior components like the window trim and clapboard, and first-growth, top-grade southern yellow pine for framing. Kitchen and bath floors were solid tongue and groove maple.

According to Rosemary Thornton, who writes extensively on the topic:

Over its 32 years of selling kit homes, Sears offered more than 370 house designs, including bungalows, Colonial and Tudor Revivals, Foursquares, Cape Cods, Prairie style and more. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes from 1908–1940.
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Increasingly complex house designs, the Great Depression and federally sponsored mortgage programs (FHA) were the three primary reasons that Sears closed their Modern Homes Department in 1940.
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This Sears home, a model called “Crescent,” was featured in the Sears Modern Homes catalog in the 1920s:
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A Crescent home was built in Libertyville, Illinois in 1929, and here’s what it looks like today:

An example of another “Crescent” model that has since been remodeled to include an addition, including an attached garage:

Here’s the Lewiston model, which was offered between 1929 and 1939:

And a photo of one of a Lewiston as it looks today (built in 1932):

The Barrington model, which was sold between 1926-1929, was billed as an example of “English-style architecture:”

Here’s an example of a Barrington home today with a brick exterior:

This was the Mitchell model, sold between 1928-1940:

Here’s a Mitchell, built in 1928, as it stands today:

This model was called “Puritan” and featured “Six or Seven Rooms, Bath, and Porch.” It was sold from 1922-1929:

Here’s a Puritan today in Libertyville, Illinois:

And another Puritan with the original siding (built in 1926):

Do you have a favorite?

What fascinates me is how so many of these houses shaped our American ideas of what “home” should look like, even though the last one was built in 1940.

For more information about Sears Modern Homes Kits: Read Rosemary Thornton’s article about identifying Sears houses. See more original catalog pages in the Sears Archives pages. To see more photos of catalog homes then and now, go to the Cook Memorial Public Library. Catalog photos matched with contemporary photos of the homes were found on a website created by Cook Memorial Library that is devoted to identifying Sears kit homes in Libertyville, Illinois. All photos copyright Cook Memorial Public Library, 2004.
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JLB April 21, 2008 at 10:47 pm

This is now officially my favorite blog on the planet! This post made me cry… I am from Savannah Georgia (currently living in NJ) and there are tons of these houses there…It reminded me so much of home I just started to tear up…was already feeling a little homesick.

Class of 56 April 21, 2008 at 11:06 pm

I also get a lump in my throat when I see those designs. They are some of may favorite looks. I guess I am just a Puritan at heart because those models have always appealed to me.

My Aunt Lelah lived in a Lewiston or one modeled like it and I thought it was something only rich folks had. I think we rented a Sears House in Illinois when we first married. At least the old folks called it a Sears. It had a big porch like the first model but was one story.

We have an oak Sears Wardrobe knock down that was shipped by rail during the same period. The Antique dealer said it was built around the turn of the century. (1900)

I really admire the ingenuity and craftsmanship of Americans. This allowed our ancestors to have quality houses all across America and the country settled with a society quite fast.

maya April 22, 2008 at 7:20 am

I love the Crescent and the Mitchell, but really, I love them all. Having a beautiful home at a reasonable price – what more could a person ask for?

I’m sure building houses is too complex now to be able to do the same thing, but wouldn’t it be lovely if you could?

Marie April 22, 2008 at 7:28 am

I love the Puritan! That first house (the 10 room one) looks pretty sweet with that front and back porch. I’ve heard of these homes and I’ve seen them…just never so many examples in one place! Love it!!

Liz April 22, 2008 at 10:22 am

One of the things I admire about Sears homes and the era in which they were built is that Americans were FINE with living in a house they ordered from a catalog that arrived on a train and that had an interior and exterior everyone with which everyone would be familiar. Somehow, no matter how similar the process of going to a builder and selecting flooring and lighting options, I just can’t imagine anyone doing it today. Particularly when there are 15 year olds out there who wouldn’t be caught dead in clothes from Sears.

I wonder how much it would cost now to build a Sears home with the same quality materials and specs?

fat stylist April 22, 2008 at 10:30 am

I’m kind of fascinated by mail order houses of the past. These Sears houses are good examples. Neat find!

Sallie April 22, 2008 at 11:19 am

My husband and I were just about to lease (with an opportunity to buy) a Sears house in North Carolina. Someone snatched it up before we moved there. We were so sad!!

They seem like really GREAT houses!

God bless,
Sallie

irishsof April 22, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Oh, this is my favorite post of your blog for the couple months I’ve been reading it. SO interesting and well, “warm”. My fave is the Puritan model, but it was tough to choose.

abbreviated April 22, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Wonder how many people have a mail order house & a mail order bride ?

janet April 23, 2008 at 9:04 am

I have the book “Houses by Mail” by Katherine Cole Stevenson and H. Ward Jandl. It is so much fun to look at all the different styles and read the descriptions (“reflects good cheer and gracious dignity”) and I admit to cribbing some phrases when I run out of imagination for my R.E. ads. A must have book for anyone interested in architecture of the first half of the 20th century.

Janet

Sherry McKinley May 7, 2008 at 11:44 am

I’m trying to find a copy of the 75 page instruction booklet for putting the house together… I’m curious about the process, how much of the material was supplied, etc. looked on ebay, amazon, but no luck. Any suggesions?

Em May 11, 2008 at 8:56 am

I grew up in a kit house in New Jersey, although I am not sure it was a Sears. The original paperwork says “kit house.” It is a Four Square from ~1919. I love the window frames and doors etc. One of the charms of the design is that it lets in a lot of light. To our regret, my parents need to sell the house now, as it and the large yard is too much for them. I am always interested when I see a similar house elsewhere in the country.

Renee May 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I am the proud owner of a sears modern kit home. My grandma bought it 65 years ago and I have owned it for 14 years. I am not sure what model it is and would love someone to tell me what they think. email…xassper8ing @yahoo.com. Wisconsin.

ajiga May 21, 2008 at 9:38 am

beautiful houses

KP August 2, 2008 at 8:34 pm

I live in a Sears house. How do I submit the picture of what it looks like today?
Thanks

Kim August 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Renee…I could probably give a good try at telling you what model home you are in…you can email me at nob835@aol.com

Charlene August 17, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Our first home was a Sears Foursquare kit home built around 1910 in Lincoln, Nebraska. During the time we owned it we spent a lot of time restoring and refurbishing every bit of it. The woodwork was wonderful — beautiful oak downstairs and a nice pine upstairs. All of it was covered with layers and layers of white paint. We took 13 pounds of dried paint off the trim in the upstairs hallway alone! The walls were made of concrete block which the original owner and his sons poured themselves — apparently the molds were included in the kit. They looked like stone when assembled — or were supposed to. The house had been painted white and we painted it a terra cotta color true to the time period when it was built. Downstairs walls had airspace created by 2x4s with lathe and plaster walls over it. Upstairs walls were just plastered over the concrete blocks. Oh, did they get cold in the winter — usually a thick layer of frost on the inside walls from December to February. Not drafty just conducted the cold really well. Otherwise, it was a very livable house and of much better quality than our present day home built in 1977!

Curt and Annette Brennan September 26, 2008 at 5:00 am

We just bought a LARGE Sears Kit Home (circa 1910) and we are trying to get as much info and photos on the home as we can to restore it properly. The home is located in the Willamette Valley “Oregon Territory” ;-)

Nadine Graham October 6, 2008 at 10:37 am

I just bought a “Crescent” #3086 Craftsman home in North Olmsted, OH. We are currently restoring it, trying to find about the fireplace. It looks like everything else is pretty much intact except they covered that. We are trying to find photos or know if it was gas or wood burning.

Kim January 9, 2009 at 11:40 am

o gosh!! i love those homes
they speak to me it has that air of a family home filled with love and a come on in sit and be comfortable charm i love these homes a while back there was a huge article on a woman who finds these homes and restores them etc!! i found it intriquing when ever i see a home that looks similar i look for that iron s shaped symbol that alot of the the sears homes had back then!!!!

xanthia LaCrosse January 19, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I live in a sears home there are two in this town. they are standing up well all things considered.

TWB January 28, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I love the Crescent, but it is really hard to find these days.

TWB’s last blog post..Mysterious Find in Houseblog-a-vania

KelsB March 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

My Great Uncle has one of these houses from the catalog.

Donna March 13, 2009 at 2:50 pm

My Grandparents supposedly bought one of the first mail order
homes from a Sears catalog. My parents told me a few years ago they had been contacted about the home. At the time the house was still standing in Putnam Texas.
I was told the house was to be moved and reconstructed–like for
a museum. I would like to know if it ever happened. All my elders
that ever lived in the house, have passed. I just want to see the
house again. Any info on locating it would greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Donna

Kathy Lowe April 24, 2009 at 12:44 pm

We just put under contract a sears home and would love to find out any iformation you might be able to share. We have many pictures if you would like to see it. It was brought in on the railroad in our town and their is so much history about this house. The local doctor lived in it all these years until his passing. Were very excited to be purchasing it.

Cheri Peoples August 31, 2009 at 8:03 am

Love the old Sears house kits — so much character to them and fun thinking about who might have lived there years ago.
Cheri
.-= Cheri Peoples´s last blog ..The Knock Off Knock Out Party =-.

mary March 16, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I think it is near Cumberland, Tennessee where I saw several of these houses in a group. They made me wish I could move in. And they are near the Cumberland General Store, if memory is right.

Joshua Keller July 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I live in the Lewiston!

Kathy Goodpastor May 2, 2010 at 6:44 pm

While doing some remodeling this weekend, we discovered that we may be living in a SEARS home, THE PURITAN. We found stamped lumber and SEARS markings on the fireplace equipment. Also, the room placement and dimensions match exactly what are listed in a copy of the catalog we found online today. We know it was built in 1930. What do you think?

Richard Andrew Brown August 20, 2010 at 12:15 am

The house I grew up in, where my parents still reside, was built in 1940 in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. It has many characteristics of a Sears modern home, but I have only seen a few house plans from that period so I am not sure. On the bath tub, a small circle is visible on the outside on the right side lower corner that has a SR that indicates it was purchased from Sears. Before my parents remodeled and added a second story to it in 1983, the sink in the bathroom was the typical Sears pedestal and also had the SR stamp in the circle. I am pretty confident that the house was a Sears Modern Home, but I have never had access to many plans from 1939-1940 to see and tell for sure. The styling was “Colonial Cape Cod” which was basically all the homes Sear’s sold during this period. I would like to know if those bathroom fixtures were available to the public in addition to the Sears kits, and where I can obtain a full catalog of Sears Modern Homes from this period.

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