In the late 19th century, it first became possible to buy products from catalogs to be delivered, as the age of mass production began. One of the most popular catalogs was Sears Roebuck; by the turn of the 20th century, you could buy pretty much anything from Sears — clothes, furniture, tools, you name it. In Charlevoix, Michigan, Sears Roebuck’s vice president Albert Loeb had a summer home built in the style of a Normandy estate which the family called, somewhat unoriginally, Loeb Farms. Loeb Farms was basically a showcase of Sears products, and really did look like a wealthy farm with its Belgian horses and Fresian cattle. Albert Loeb’s son Richard would become quite infamous as a defendant in a high profile 1924 murder case, which we will visit later this month.
Between about 1908 and 1940, you could actually buy your home from Sears. No, not just all of the furnishings and decor and supplies for your home, but the actual house itself. You could customize it to an extent, and either build it yourself if you were either Super DIY Man or a glutton for punishment, or hire someone to build it for you. These homes, about 70,000 in all, were well built and many are still standing and lived in to this day — mainly in the Midwest and East Coast of the U.S.
It’s a lot of fun to explore the floorpans of Sears homes — one thing that will strike the 21st person immediately is that these homes from the 1920s typically only have one bathroom. If you live alone, that’s probably not an issue, but these homes were designed for families — you might have six or more people all sharing one bathroom, which wouldn’t fly at all today. I’m sure that many of these homes that still exist probably had a first floor room converted into a second bath. But I noticed while looking at the floor plans of the earliest Sears homes from the 1910s that many of them had no bathrooms at all! So I suppose no one would have been complaining in the 1920s about only having one bathroom.
Here is a very popular model of Sears home, the “Westly.” Probably my favorite Sears kit home I’ve come across… you can tell a Westly model because the slope of the back part of the roof is shorter. It also has some really neat features, like a window in one of the bedroom closets). And one of the bedrooms has a door that leads out onto the second floor balcony.
In 1925, the Westly cost $2483; per the U.S. Inflation Calculator, this would be $40,792.71 in 2022. This price tag only included the materials, not the land, or the construction if you chose to hire a crew to build your house.
The Great Depression in the 1930s threw challenges at the company, forcing them to end their financing program in 1933 and temporarily closing their Modern Homes department in 1934 till it reopened the following year. But by 1940 the Second World War ended a lot of building as supplies were needed for the war, and Sears’ Modern Homes was closed for good.
If Sears kit homes of the early to mid 20th century trip your trigger, here are a couple of links where you can explore more floor plans and even see what the interiors of Sears homes that exist today look like.
Searsarchives.com for a more in-depth look at the history of Sears Kit homes and also photos of them and their floor plans.
Searshome.org – The Wonderful World Of Westlys
Do you think you would have bought a kit home, or would like to live in one today? Why or why not (aside from the usually-single bathroom thing)?