So Close, And Yet So Far…

Truth uncovered: a peek at the floor beams reveals that it's simply the "wrong" lumber for a Sears kit house

This is the first time I’ve written about a kit or catalog house.  Cati has a few years on me with this recent obsession, and on our drives around town names of kit houses flit off her lips like old multiplication tables… it’s no longer a novelty… rather, it’s ingrained.  “Oh, there’s an Alhambra. Oooo, look at that Americus.  Isn’t that a Vallonia?”  I have some catching up to do.  She’s also very descriptive in the way she writes about these homes, having been a former journalist.  I mean, how will I ever top a title like “A Sears Winona Kit House and a Gallon of Blood”?  It’s just not in my make up.  It’s sorta like having Springsteen be your warm up band.

But, persevere I must.  Cati and I like to keep an eye out for the latest real estate listings that we think might have kit house “potential.”  Some weeks the listings are a plenty; others, we really have to scrape the the bottom of the barrel.  This was the case with a house we recently viewed on England Terrace in Rockville, MD. With a great deal of misplaced enthusiasm, we managed to talk ourselves into thinking that it was an original Sears “Winona.” After all, on paper it seemed to share many of the characteristics.  It appeared to have roughly the same (original) footprint, it was

Home-made or pre-cut? The trim often betrays the true origins of your supposed kit house

built during the right era, a dormer on the left side of the house appeared to be exactly where the dining room would fall, and it had this cool looking odd little door in the middle of the living room wall…once we spied that in the house photos, we were smitten.

Five panel door--purchased from Sears 80 years ago?
It's quite possible that this five-panel door was purchased from popular Sears Roebuck at the time--that it came as part of a kit is less likely

Tires screeching, we raced out to Rockville, took a few false turns, and eventually found the house.

Almost as soon as we entered the house, we knew it was a bust.  Why?  The trim–where it hadn’t been replaced–was all wrong.  And the dormer favored the front of the house, not the middle as in the Winona. The distances of the bedroom windows from the corners were wrong.  The odd little door in the middle of the dining room wall (which we had seen in interior photos of “real” Winonas) was still in place, but the similarities stopped there.  The basement entrance had been modified when the addition was put on, so there were no identifying marks near the stairs (where we’ve discovered them in the past).  And a good deal of the basement had been re-built, as evidenced by the newer beams & shiny metal plates at just about every corner.

The biggest revelation, however, were the darkened original beams: roughly finished and a crude kind of wood–nothing like the high-quality lumber that was the trademark of even the simplest Sears house.

The little door that accesses a storage cabinet above the basement stairs resembles the medicine cabinets Sears offered in the 1920s, but the trim looks too plain

It’s possible that someone built the house based loosely on the design of a Winona he’d seen somewhere.  That was done a lot in those times, that sort of “borrowing.”  It’s also possible that a builder bought the kit and modified it, though in this case the building materials didn’t point that way.  It could be a knock off from a competitive kit company that we just don’t know about.  The possibilities are endless.  All we can tell you, for sure, is that it’s not a Winona.

While the outcome was a disappointment, it got us away from our desks and computer screens, out into the brilliant blue afternoon, checking out houses, which is what we love.  Next!


(Click here for an authentic, though modified, Winona in Arlington, VA)