There’s a lot of discussion in the historic kit house community about custom built kit houses, and the difficulty they pose when it comes to authenticating a mail-order home. “Custom kit” sounds like a misnomer, but it actually isn’t. The customization was done not on site by the builder but before shipment by a Sears (or Lewis or Wardway, etc.) staff architect, and the kit was then cut, sorted and packaged according to those changed specifications.
All the major mail-order house companies, including Sears and Lewis, the most popular brands in the DC area, offered such options to the consumer. In fact, national kit house expert and historian Rosemary Thornton (“The Houses That Sears Built”) believes that 30 percent all all ordered kit houses came with some kind of customization.
Some of those customizations were upgrades (like brick veneer instead of wood siding), others had to do with lot restrictions or a family’s size requirements (making a house a couple of feet wider or narrower, or working extra additions like sunrooms or pantries into the floor plan).
And then there were the ones for the more picky kit house buyer, who just couldn’t find the perfect model in the 135 or so page catalog. The ones that wanted a “Martha Washington” portico on their “Rembrandt” or different windows, or liked one model but preferred the staircase location of another.
In some cases, the result was a hybrid of different models of the same mail-order catalog. One of those just came on the market in close-in Silver Spring, MD. It’s a 1927 Sears “Woodland” (by dimension, structure, footprint and architectural detail), but received the facade, smaller entry area and stairs of the (overall much smaller) “Fullerton” model. Obviously, someone did not want to waste space on a useless, if stately, reception hall!
It’s a pretty house, and many other modifications have been made since (such as a powder room in the former first-floor closet or the transformation of one bedroom into a master bathroom). Some of the origins can still be traced nicely–as in the sturdy kit house window trim or the original built-in “medicine case”–, other elements–such as all the door hardware–have been obliterated. You can see excellent pictures of the listing here. The 4-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath house is offered by Re/Max Plus for $699,900.
If you’d like to learn more about the historic 20th century mail-order homes, or if you think you live in one and would like help authenticating it, check out some of our other kit house blogs and posts.
And if you’re thinking you would like to live in an original Sears catalog home… maybe even a Woodland, please get in touch with us. We are constantly scouring the marketplace for authentic catalog homes, and would be delighted to help you find one of your own. Fill out the form below, or simply pick up the phone and give us a call.