Sunday, August 14, 2016


Wickline, David, MAIN STREET USA, IMAGES OF 66, 80th Anniversary EditionRoadhouse 66 LLC, July 2007. 

I've always loved home design. I guess it stems from the required college courses home and housing design I took while obtaining my BS and MS degrees. While working on my masters degree we toured one of Frank Lloyd Wrights tract homes at a museum in Dallas. The house had been dismantled, transported to Dallas, and rebuilt on site. Mr. Wright designed his homes with a great deal of storage space and some built in furniture, and each one had a place for a baby grande piano. The tour was fascinating and the home a perfect model of Wright's philosophy that the outdoor environment should complement and become additional entertaining space for the home. Wright's homes were more upscale than the ordinary home, and not many people could afford one.

Many individuals, especially those in the country, had few choices and built their own homes with the help of family and neighbors. Sears Catalogue Homes provided an excellent service to those individuals. They began publishing their home catalogue in 1908. In the 32 years the company prospered, they sold 70,000 in North America.

Though we might think of kit homes as cheap, they were not. They were well-built of good quality lumber and reasonably priced, and assembling the homes themselves allowed people to save considerably. Many of these homes still stand today and are in well-established neighborhoods.

The drawing and floor plan came from time, Modern Homes catalogues came to advertised three lines of homes, aimed for customers' differing financial means:  Honor Bilt, Standard Built, and Simlex Sectional."

Here is an example of an Honor Bilt home, the Magnolia. It was built between 1915-1920 for between $5,140 to $5,972. The price didn't include cement, brick, or plaster. Excavation was the owners expense. Each kit home came with a 75 page instruction booklet.

Note that it has two bathrooms upstairs and a lavatory downstairs. It's interesting that the kitchen, in the early model, didn't have built in cabinets.

This simpler home, cost $452 to $1,096 between 1908-1914. Note that it has no bathroom, a luxury for many people in this time period. I love the large kitchen, the gathering place for the family.

In 1912, Sears began financing their homes. Their terms were usually 5-15 years at 6% to 7% interest. Sales peaked just before the Great Depression in 1929 which led to a rise in defaults. Sears was forced to liquidate $11 million in homes. After a slow recovery, the decision was made to wind down sales of homes though they continued to be built through 1941 and 1942. The last catalogue was published in 1940.

Modern HVA systems were later made available, as were kitchens and bathrooms. Large quantities of asphalt was available and easy and cheap to install. Dry wall instead of plaster over lath wall boards made construction easier and added fire protection. It's important to note that even back in these earlier times, homeowners were required to abide by city building codes.  

The Prairie Style home, made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright, was introduced by Sears in 1918 in the Honor Bilt catalogue. "The Carleton, offered at $5118, was 'a prominent architect's conception of what a twentieth century home should be.' It was most expensive home Sears ever offered." The Aurora below is a scaled down version of the Carleton and cost $2,740.

These two homes did not sell well so Sears didn't offer them again. The higher prices may have been one factor, but both plans required a wider lot size of 75 foot, standard for Chicago was 25 feet.

This added on to Aurora home in Cincinnati, Ohio sold in 2010 for $265,000. It is pictured below.

Photo Courtesy of Senior Life Newspapers

While traveling Route 66 in 2010, we located this 1913 Sears Catalogue home in Chelsea, Oklahoma. It is the Hamilton model and cost $1600 and was the only Sears home west of the Mississippi.

I enjoyed researching Sears Modern Homes and would love to be able to see more than the one we saw in Oklahoma. Maybe we can fit searching for Sears homes into a vacation one day soon. 

There is a lot of information about Sears home on the web. Ebay has catalogues for sale, but most are reproductions so be careful when shopping. Next month my post will be tips on how to tell if your home is a Sears kit home.

Happy Reading and Writing!


  1. Linda, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on catalog homes. When I think catalog, I immediately go to the Jim Walters Homes we had in Texas. It's hard to imagine building mansions from a catalog isn't it?
    In my new book, the heroine is rehabbing a Galveston catalog mansion. I loved researching this.

  2. Hi Carra. They are fascinating, aren't they. A style for everyone. Looking forward to your book set in Galveston!

  3. I couldn't wait for this post. This topic is endlessly fascinating for those of us who love old homes, even though we don't want to live in one. I've heard about these most of my life, but never knew where to find one to look at. However, the "Modern" home style is very familiar, as I believe it was at least imitated endlessly.
    The big modern one that didn't sell. Yes, of course, the size of the lot would be a detriment, but I wonder, too, if the "too modern" look did not appeal to the general population. Even I do not care for the "modern" look to homes. I always prefer something more homey and cozy.
    And that brings me to one of my dislikes--so many new homes today had such an "open" look, that one room runs into another...fewer walls...with extremely high ceilings.(I watch a lot of House Hunters on HGTV.)
    Thanks, Linda. This is a wonderful post.

    1. I like both, Celia, the traditional and the modern. Actually, I have a problem because I like them all; however, I do like my privacy so guess that would limit my choices. We lived in a home once where the master bedroom was a big lot upstairs. Not ideal and it was hot. I love to watch anything about home buying but don't watch much television anymore. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Linda, I loved this post. I had no idea Sears sold catalogue homes. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, CJ. I'm glad you enjoyed it and thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hi, Linda! I'm one of the administrators of the Sears Modern Homes page on FaceBook-- thanks for linking to us! We are a small, dedicated group of researchers who actively search for and document kit homes around the U.S. (especially Sears, but there were other big kit-home companies as well, such as Aladdin, Gordon-Van Tine, Lewis, and Harris). We have been compiling a national database of the Sears homes that we find, and have now gone past the 5,000 mark.

    My blog, Sears House Seeker, documents homes I find, and tells about the families who built them. Several of my fellow researchers also have fascinating blogs, and I've listed them here, in this blog post.

    Judith Chabot

    1. Hello, Judith. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and relay all the blogs. I will certainly take a look and I know others in this group will also. I'd like to know if there are any homes in the Waco, Texas area so I could drive by and take pictures. I'd read about the Aladdin homes and also knew Wards built some but didn't know of the others.

      Many thanks for the info.


    2. Linda, we have very few Texas homes on our national database -- two, to be exact. One in Houston, and one in Terrell. Our understanding is that Sears wasn't marketing that far west, at least in the 30s, so the homes should be pretty rare in Texas.

    3. Oh shoot, makes sense though. Shipping this far would be astronomical. Do you have addresses for the two in Texas?

  6. I can't imagine undertaking such a feat as building an elaborate home from a kit. On "Rehab Addict" Nicole Curtis mentioned the Sears house kits. She also mentioned the problem Frank Lloyd Wright had with leaky flat roofs. These certainly were beautiful houses. I like looking at houses and house plans.
    It's mind boggling how prices have escalated over the years. Today we couldn't buy a car with these prices.
    I so enjoyed this article, Linda. It's so much fun looking at these older homes and it's fascinating what a huge part Sears played in all aspects of American life.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Sarah. I just found out from the lady above who researches Sears homes that there are only two in Texas. I may have to take a road trip and look them up. Seems back in those days people were more adept at building. Think about all the homes built by homeowners on the prairies—house and barn raisings.

  7. There were other companies producing the homes, too. One house in Weatherford, Texas that is now a Bed and Breakfast originally had 26 rooms. Many were combined to include closets and bathrooms, but this home is gorgeous. I once hosted a wedding shower there.

  8. Thanks for your comment, Caroline. Do you know which company built it? There were about 6. I'd love to know and the address. Weatherford isn't too far from us.


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