The Starlight’s Siblings

Sears Starlight with slightly modified entry

Last week, we put a 1922 Sears “Starlight” catalog home on the market. It’s one of five known “Starlights” in DC (which have been authenticated mainly via the Sears Roebuck mortgages extended to the original owners). The Starlight was one of the simpler and less costly homes that the mail-order company offered in the 1920s, but this affordability was likely the reason for its success as well. The company branded it as one of their “top 20” bestselling models. At only 24 feet wide, it’s easy to see how the bungalow would have been a popular option for narrower city lots.

You can read about the home’s history here, but we thought it would be fun to show you the other ones, all in different parts of town, all near rail road tracks (where the “kit” with the house materials would be dropped off), and all in very different shape or state of updates.

This one was built in 1926 and is not too far away on 3rd St NW in Brightwood:

1926 Sears Starlight in Brightwood

Two more Starlights, in which later owners had made the front porch a part of the interior, can be found in nearby Takoma Park, Maryland:

Sears Starlight on Flower Ave
Sears Starlight on Cedar Ave in the Takoma Park Historic District

The other three DC Starlights can be found on Evarts St NE, and on 31st Place and Brothers Place in SE (images courtesy of Google Streetview and MRIS):

Sears offered an upgraded, more luxury version of the Starlight at the same time: the Hamilton, which featured nearly the same floor plan, but extended the living room into the porch, allowing it to have a fireplace. They also added a bay window to the dining room and a breakfast room to the back.

To show you what this looks like, here’s a pretty, night-blue Hamilton near the District line in Silver Spring MD:

Authenticated 1926 Sears “Hamilton” in Silver Spring

A Picture History Of DC Housing Styles

We’re not entirely sure that all the build dates in this collection are perfectly correct, but that doesn’t diminish the charm and historical interest. Put together by RentCafe, apparently with images harvested from Google map’s street view, it gives quite a neat inside into the history of the rather traditional urban (and suburban) architecture we’re living with:

Perceptively Perfect: Aladdin Pomona Addition In AU Park

Kit House of the Week 3/11/2016

Aladdin kit house addition, awesome architect
Aladdin addition done right: Continuing the natural line of the roof, even the new garage, entry hall, expanded porch and second floor spaces look like they have always been there.

Facts & Figures:

Manufacturer: Aladdin Co. of Bay City, MI

Model Number or Name: The Pomona

Year Built: 1921

Neighborhood: AU Park, DC

Authenticated:  We’re working on it (as of 3/16) and are hoping to obtain the original purchase/shipping receipt soon. Aladdin sold only a handful of homes to DC developers and owners each year in the 1910s and early 1920s.

Scroll down or click for original catalog image or description and floor plan of the Aladdin “Pomona” (image scans courtesy of Aladdin archives/Clarke research library). Click here for interior pre-addition photos from 2009 (courtesy of MRIS).

House History

Picture book example: The AU Park Aladdin Pomona in 2009, before its expansion
Picture book example: The AU Park Aladdin Pomona in 2009, before its expansion (Photo: MRIS)

In both this blog and on DC house Cat, Marcie and I have frequently bemoaned the many destroy-renovations of historic kit houses we come across. We see them all the time, usually in quick flip listings or “re-muddeling” efforts that go back to the 1970s or 80s when charming was considered dated.

Today, rather than going into the deep history of this American University Park mail-order home, we want to show how the contemporary expansion of a hundred year old home can be done beautifully and with respect.  A lovely neighbor believes the name of the architect is Brady. (We have tried to get in touch with the owners and will update the post once we hear from them.) However, the pictures speak for themselves.

Artists rendition of the "Pomona" as pictured in the 1922 Aladdin catalog (image courtesy of Clarke research library)
Artists rendition of the “Pomona” as pictured in the 1922 Aladdin catalog (image courtesy of Clarke research library)
Aladdin kit house addition, awesome architect
Aladdin addition done right: Continuing the natural line of the roof, even the new garage, entry hall and expanded porch and second floor spaces look like they have always been there.
Aladdin mail-order home in AU Park, Washington DC
With shingled siding, characteristic eaves brackets and muntined casement windows, the addition picks up many of the original architectural details
Awesome addition on historic house in Washington DC
Even from the back, the 2-story addition is a masterly example for how it’s possible to blend in and maintain the integrity of the original architecture. Yet it’s clearly made for the 21st century. Note the solar panels on the roof.
Aladdin kit house in Washington DC
Barely a hint from the street: the addition maintains the visual appearance and is sensitive to the original dimension and character
Aladdin kit house in Washington DC
The “Pomona” was offered in two versions: either as a 2-bedroom model, or — at the cost of living room size — with 3 bedrooms. (Image courtesy of Aladdin archive/Clarke research library)


*Catalog images provided courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

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Are you Interested in Kit House History? We can help!

Cati and Marcie are Realtors by day and house history enthusiasts by night. We specialize in NW DC and close-in Montgomery County, MD, but cover the entire Washington metropolitan area. House History–the hidden stories behind the walls of the homes we sell or walk by every day–has long been a passion of ours (In fact, for Cati, a former journalist, it was what ultimately brought her to the world of DC real estate).

We have written about many house-stories in our individual blogs over the years, and we sometimes have surprised (and delighted!) clients with our research findings. When the time allows, we love digging in archives, city records and historic collections. What we find, is sometimes funny, sad or scary, but it’s always a part of the DC area’s story as well. And when it comes to history of any kind, there could not be a better place for that than the metropolitan area of the Nation’s Capital!

If you have followed us for even a short while, you probably know that one of our special interests are the mail-order homes of the early 20th century. In many Washington, DC, neighborhoods and in the city’s older suburbs, we can find an abundance of those historic kit houses. (More often than not, the owners have no idea that some 90 or 100 years ago, their house arrived neatly packaged on a railroad car, in thousands of numbered pieces.)

You can learn more about catalog homes here, “like” our Facebook page for updates or email or tweet us with questions or suggestions for houses to write about.

Join the Mailing List for our Annual Kit House Newsletter:

 

With Due Respect For The Home And Its Past

Buyers and Sellers, take note! Renovation money spent wisely now can reap big rewards in the future. As agents, we feel really lucky when a house presents nicely and has had the benefit of a proper architect or designer. However, there are good renovations and there are bad renovations.

good renovation
A renovation gone awry in Brookland. The house BEFORE (left) and AFTER (right)

 

For want of a nail…

We once had a seller who fondly spoke of a napkin he had framed with the initial sketch from a builder who put an addition on his house. Builders should not be confused with architects. You get what you pay for. That’s not to say that all design/build firms are hopeless. But in this case, it didn’t work out so well.  Other local homes with additions roughly the same size had reliably sold within a specific price range.  This particular house was such an oddball that buyers didn’t know how to react, and it sold for a good 25% less than counterparts. That’s some serious money. For what might have run @ $5,000- $10,000 at the time of construction (in architectural fees), these sellers sacrificed close to $200,000 25-years later.  For want of an architect, a fortune was lost.

Destroy Renovations

This is our term for “fixes” that sacrifice the charm of an original home. When solid wooden doors in a hundred-year old house are swapped for hollow Home Depot specials, or when original brass doorknobs and hinges are replaced with something shiny and cheap. You’ve seen the flips with plastic overhead fan/lights instead of the quaint lighting fixture that preceded it. Don’t get us started on the siding salesmen who, as kit house expert Rosemary Thornton likes to say, “had their way” with the exterior of an unsuspecting and taste-free homeowner’s abode. Examples are too numerous to cite, but maybe these photos will help illustrate our frustration.

Historic "Martha Washington" Sears house in Forest Hills, before and after
Expansion of historic “Martha Washington” Sears house in Forest Hills, BEFORE and AFTER. The architect was perhaps a little too creative as he designed the side addition with a two-story foyer, but there still a love for the preserved original house palpable

 

There are, on the other hand, numerous examples of beautiful expansions, renovations and even modernizations that work respectfully and often lovingly with the original character of the house. This recent addition to a home in the Takoma Park Historic District, done by a local design/build firm for instance, showcases this very well. (Click on the picture below for a description of the project.)

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We can help!

We don’t just sell houses.  We’re also passionate about architectural integrity and historic preservation, namely of our city’s homes, and are available for consultations (free!) if  you are trying to figure out what best to do (or avoid) when renovating or expanding your older home. We know what buyers are looking for and we know what sells. If you’re not sure that your home really needs an expensive X, Y or Z, we can certainly offer up an opinion.

Come join us for a Kit House Talk

Preston kit house
Preston kit house
Sears “Preston” circa 1923

Historic Kit Houses of Cleveland Park, Tuesday, June 23rd, 7:30 pm

Cleveland Park Congregational Church, 3400 Lowell St., NW

Join our very own local kit house expert Catarina Bannier for an illustrated talk on early-20th-century kit houses by Sears, Aladdin, Lewis, and other companies. Learn about kit houses in Cleveland Park and how to tell whether your house was built from a kit.

Gather for refreshments at 7:30; the talk will start at 7:45.

Space is limited to 50 people and registration is required. Tickets are free for current Cleveland Park Historical Society members and $10 for non-members. (You may join CPHS on the ticket form here. If you have joined or renewed since October 2014, your membership is current!)

Don’t miss it!

Proud To Announce 3-D Virtual Tours For Our Listings!

Screenshot 2015-06-03 12.48.20They’re better than the virtual reality in your favorite hi-res X-box game! Marcie and I are thrilled to offer these incredible, life-like new virtual tours for our listings (or better, for those listings that lend themselves to the experience). Click on the image or here to dive into the first one we’ve created–it’s for a new listing we’re showing this coming weekend in East Bethesda. More info to come soon.

 

A Sweet Longing For Sun

Spanish-style home in DC's Shepherd Park

You’d think that there should be palm trees around them when you see these homes. But no — this is DC, and there’s no such thing in our yards, at least not year-round. But we love to dream, and apparently we already did some 100 years ago. While the housing stock in DC is generally rather conservative, you can also find the traces of some quirky trends. The “Spanish” style, most popular in the 1910s and 1920s, is one of those. It was applied to homes of all sizes , from little 2-bedroom houses to mansions. Enjoy!

 

Where The Phone Went

Mail-order home for sale in Chevy Chase
Mail-order home for sale in Chevy Chase
A 1930 Sears “Barrington” in Chevy Chase, Washington DC

The Sears “Barrington” was not a very rare or unusual model. In fact, the style was so popular in the late 1920s that several other companies, including Montgomery Wards, offered similar-looking mail-order houses.  This 1930 Sears “Barrington,” however, is just like we want to see them. We have so often complained about renovations that strip those dear old homes of their charm and character, add generic additions, or “modernize” in a way that violates the style of the house.

This house, however, which just hit the market (listed with our very own office for $1,049,000 ) is an absolutely beautiful example of how it can be done right. While there is a two-story addition in the back, it’s not out of proportion to the rest of the home. The whole design was inspired by the original part of the house, even the new window moldings are crafted to match the old ones in the front.

Just as nice is the fact that much of the historic Sears mail-order detail was preserved, even some quirky things that have long disappeared from our lifestyle. Take the built-in phone booth in the entry hall, for instance. According to the 1930 Sears catalog, it was supposed to “solve the problem” of “where will we place our phone?” That probably won’t be necessary for  2014 cordless handsets, but a great touch to respect it as part of the home’s integrity.

Phone booth in 1930 Sears catalog
Phone booth in 1930 Sears catalog

A similarly authentic piece is the corner cabinet in the dining room that came shipped with the houses neatly packed 1,000s of pieces as well. The catalog image (below) even shows the same lead glass panes.

Kitchen and baths are new, but they, too, work with the essence of the style. It certainly can be done, but it’s not usually what we get to see! And some changes to the layout might actually be practical improvements, like an arched break-through from the hall to the kitchen. Beats carrying groceries through the living room, at least in my book.

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The main stairs still sport the unique Sears-invented plinth blocks for the lay builder. There’s no doubt about the authenticity of this one!

You can see a Virtual Tour of the whole house here. And as always, if you’d like to see this historic kit house in person, just let us know and we’ll get you in!

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These plinth blocks were a unique feature only found in Sears homes. They made it easier for the amateur builder to join different kinds of molding.
These plinth blocks were a unique feature only found in Sears homes. They made it easier for the amateur builder to join different kinds of molding.

Fun Fix For The Floor

Floor fixes on a budget

It’s getting harder to surprise us. We’re getting to see a lot of houses each week, and much of what we see repeats itself. Design trends, fashionable features, architectural styles. We can date the kitchen cabinets after just a glance, and we can tell you in what decade those kinds of windows were used. It doesn’t help that the DC market and home owners have been incredibly traditional in their choices. (Yes, we do have some eccentric outliers, but let’s leave those out for now.)

So, it’s always fun to discover something that’s whimsical but not weird, that’s economical and not too hard to replicate. Painted floors as a design feature have not been widely used in the past hundred years, but they can be a really great idea. I took these pictures in a couple of houses that were recently for sale. It might not show too well in the photos, but in each of these cases, the paint made a huge difference in cleaning and cheering the place up.

In fact, we’re often asked by our sellers about their floors – brittle old linoleum in the laundry room, cracks and oil stains in the garage floor, stairs covered in un-revivable carpet, or even the bare floor in an attic playroom that was originally only intended for storage. The owners have long gotten used to overlooking the sore spot. When getting the house ready for the market and trying to look at it with the eyes of potential buyers, they suddenly find it embarrassing.

If you want to paint a floor, why not turning it into an opportunity? It’s certainly a way to make the house look pretty on a budget. whether time- or money-wise. Companies such as StencilEase.com or Cutting Edge Stencils

And you don’t even have to wait — you can reap the benefits of your beautification while you’re still in the house. If the fix was inexpensive enough, you can always repeat it later on. You might surprise yourself (and us!) with some great new ideas.