Filed Under Architecture

Sears Catalog Homes

Sears Roebuck and Company built many a marketing campaign around its ability to supply "everything for the home." However, between 1908 and 1940, Sears also supplied the home itself. Through its mail-order catalog, Sears offered more than 400 different house styles: from the elaborate "Ivanhoe," with French doors and art glass windows, to the Spartan "Goldenrod": three rooms and no bath.

According to Sears-house authority Rosemary Thornton, Sears kit homes contained about 30,000 pieces, including 750 pounds of nails, 27 gallons of paint and a 75-page instruction book with the homeowner's name embossed in gold on the cover. Masonry (block, brick, cement) and plaster were not included as part of the package deal, but the bill of materials list advised that 1,300 cement blocks would be needed for the basement walls and foundation. The average carpenter would charge $450 to assemble a Sears house. Painter's fees averaged about $35. Other skilled labor generally priced out at about $1 an hour. Total home prices ranged from less than $600 to about $6,000.

In some cases, Sears houses were more modern than the communities in which they were built. Electricity and municipal water systems were not available in every locale where Sears homes were sold. To meet this need, Sears advertised houses without bathrooms well into the 1920s. And for $23, you could always purchase an outhouse. This also explains, in part, why Sears sold heating, electrical and plumbing equipment separately, and not as part of the kit.

From 1908 to 1940, between 75,000 and 100,000 houses-all components manufactured by Sears-were made available through the company's catalog. Authorities believe that less than 5,000 of those have been conclusively identified as Sears homes, which means that at least 70,000 remain "undiscovered." Take Cleveland Heights, where only five homes have definitively been labeled "Sears": The Argyle on Marlindale, The Crescent and Ardara on Ormond, The Columbine on Clarendon and The Wayne on Randolph.

Across the Cleveland area, myriad Sears homes have been positively identified, although they likely represent only a small percentage of all those that were built. These structures include The Princeville in Bay Village, The Elsmore in Westlake and The Rodessa in University Heights. According to Rosemary Thornton, Ohio had more sales offices than any other state and most likely the greatest number of Sears homes.

Although no examples have been cited in northeast Ohio, there was even a Sears home model called "The Cleveland"-a two-story building with an apartment comprising four rooms and a bathroom on each floor. According to researcher Bill Latrany, Sears would often name houses after cities where there was a Sears Homes Catalog office. In addition to The Cleveland, Sears also created The Wellington, The Mansfield, The Lorain and The Norwood.

Mail order homes from other companies-Montgomery Ward, Aladdin, Gordon-VanTine-also have been identified across Cleveland. However, it is Sears that had, and continues to have, the enduring name recognition: the "cachet."

Images

The Argyle The Argyle, a 1,008-square-foot Sears model introduced in 1916 for a mere $881, was a Craftsman bungalow whose front facade, according to Sears, "bespeaks richness and comfort on the inside." The model's living room featured a beamed ceiling, bookcase colonnade, large brick mantel, and leaded built-in bookcase. Sears intoned that the style would "not be too extreme and yet entirely different from a cottage" and suggested that it was "pretty without being too showy." Furthermore, its built-in features saved the necessity of buying one's own furniture. The Argyle model shown here is on Marlindale Road in Cleveland Heights. Source: Chris Roy
"Five Rooms, Bath and Porch" The Ardara kit from Sears debuted in 1921 and featured an Asian-influence portico. Initially it retailed for $2,056 "Already Cut and Fitted," or one could purchase the kit with a front left-side garage for $2,258. Source: Sears Modern Homes
The Ardara in Cleveland Heights The only known example of the Ardara in the Greater Cleveland area stands on Ormond Road just west of South Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights. Source: Chris Roy
Sears Honor-Bilt Storefront, Mansfield, Ohio This Sears Honor-Bilt storefront in Mansfield was one of 14 in Ohio in the 1910s-20s. Cleveland's Sears home store was located in the Wurlitzer Building, just east of the Union Trust Building, at 1017 Euclid Avenue. Source: Bill Latrany
The Princeville, Bay Village, Ohio Sears offered Modern Home No. 173 (The Princeville) kits from 1911 to 1919. This modest six-room design, which required a 35-foot-wide minimum lot, included a living room, dining room, and kitchen with small pantry on the first floor and three "chambers" (bedrooms) and a bath on the second. First offered for $917, the home, according to Sears, could be built for about $2,250 once one added the "cement, brick, plaster and labor, which we do not furnish." This Princeville home is located in Bay Village. Source: Chris Roy
The Elsmore, Westlake, Ohio The Elsmore kit from Sears started at a modest $858 but rose over the course of the 1920s to well over $2,000. The house design featured five rooms with a circular flow: counterclockwise from the front entrance, one entered the reception room, followed by a combined living and dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms divided by a bath and connected by a short hall. This Elsmore house is located in Westlake. Source: Chris Roy
"Eight Rooms, Bath and Porches for Two Families" Although Sears was best known for its Craftsman bungalows, the company also furnished designs and pre-cut and fitted materials for other styles. "The Cleveland" was a two-story, two-family house design from Sears. As you may have guessed, this one was named for the Ohio city. Sears named many of its kits after cities in which it maintained a Sears Honor-Bilt sales office. Source: Bill Latrany

Location

Metadata

Chris Roy, “Sears Catalog Homes,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 28, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/693.