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.

 

Do you think you live in a kit house? We’d love to hear about it:

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.

Fullerland Or Wooderton? A Case Of Hybrid Sears House

 

Customized Sears Woodland-IMG_3066
This 1927 Sears “Woodland” Kit House in Silver Spring, MD, was customized to incorporate features and design elements of the smaller but popular “Fullerton”

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).

Woodland - 1925 Sears Honor Bilt HomesAnd 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.

Fullerton - 1925 Sears Honor Bilt HomesAs always, if you’d like to tour this “Woodland” or any other DC/MD home on the market — kit or contemporary — just let us know!

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.

A Pretty and (Almost) Pure Sears “Puritan”

Sears "Puritan" catalog house in Washington DC
Sears "Puritan" catalog house in Washington DC
For Rent in Shepherd Park: 1924 Sears Kit House with open kitchen and fenced-in backyard

Cute rental houses with a little yard, on a sweet block and in walking distance to the Red Line metro are hard to come by in Northwest Washington DC these days, let alone at a reasonable price. Thus, we have no doubt that this charming 3-bedroom, 2-bath Sears “Puritan” will be snatched away quickly. It was built in 1924 and just hit the market for rent in Shepherd Park for $2,500 per month.

Pages from 1925 Sears "Honor Bilt" Modern Homes catalog

It’s a smaller model, though perhaps not as small as it seems, but it seems to have been extremely popular. We’ve come across nearly a dozen of them between Takoma Park and Bethesda.

There are currently no MLS pictures online of the Dutch Colonial-style frame home, but when I saw the house last year, it pretty much still looked like in this 2006 photo tour.

Click on the thumb print of the mail-order catalog pages above to see a larger PDF version.

Sears Kit house garages No. 13043 found in aleey in Shepherd park, Washington DC

While the house has been adapted to a more contemporary life style (the kitchen has been opened up at some point, and sliding doors off the dining room now give access to a deck), many details have been preserved. Most doors still have the original “Strathmore” hardware; the front door and many windows as well as much of the trim are intact as well.

Sears kit house garages
“Star Garage” No. 13043 as seen in the 1922 Sears catalog

A charming touch, at least for those of us in the know, is the garage — accessed from the alley — that comes with the house. It was also ordered from the Sears catalog — check out the characteristic 5-piece Sears eaves brackets and the little window above the door. It was offered in several different sizes and with then-high tech tri-fold doors (which didn’t survive).

Wondering why there are two of those garages? Well, the house right next door is a Sears “Fullerton” built at the same time, but in rather sad shape today. Surely, they either had the same builder, or the owners coordinated their efforts.)

As always, if you’d like to tour the “Puritan” or any other DC/MD home on the market — kit or contemporary — just let us know!

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 our 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 Puritan, 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.

 

 

2012 Takoma Park House & Garden Tour

Cati and I had the pleasure of meeting Diana Kohn (President) and Lorraine Pearsall (VP for Preservation) of Historic Takoma, Inc.*  Cati has been involved in the upcoming Takoma Park House & Garden Tour, having sold one of the houses on the tour (and discovering in the process that it belonged once to the daughter of Frederick Douglass!).  Long story short, she was able to identify several houses on the tour as Sears Kit Houses (our specialty!), much to the delight of an owner or two.  We were treated to a mini walking tour on Wednesday.  It was a lovely indulgence!

Anyway, the Takoma Park House & Garden Tour is this Sunday, May 6 from 1-5 pm, rain or shine.  For ticket and tour information, visit HistoricTakoma.org

There are some real beauties on the tour, ranging from old to new.  Don’t miss it!

(If you own (or live in) a Sears house or other mail-order/ kit house, please click here)

*(Historic Takoma, Inc. [HTI] is a membership-based, all-volunteer, 501(c)3 non-profit organization, founded to preserve the heritage of Takoma Park, MD and the Takoma Park neighborhood of DC through educational activities and the preservation of historic landmarks and artifacts, especially documentary archives).

Not Your Average Colonial

Mid-century modern house in Alexandria, VA

The vast majority of houses Marcie and I list, show, sell, or even talk about, tend to be traditional in form, no matter if they’re two, twenty, or 120 years old. When it comes to residential architecture, much of Washington still seems to be stuck in either Colonial or Victorian times.

In the eighties and nineties, new construction in the suburbs here often had the porches and roof lines of the Victorian era. Over the past decade, Arts and Crafts elements have become popular once more. and throughout the decades, the quintessential Brick Colonial has been recreated millions of times. I wonder if elsewhere in the country, you’ll find this many vinyl-clad homes with brick vernier fronts on them. Proportionally, that is.

Whether the fake facade is a uniquely Washington phenomenon or not, tradition suggests rooted-ness and stability to many home buyers, and that’s what most of our clients are looking for as well. Although that certainly does not apply to all of them–we actually sold several bold mid-century modern contemporaries last year, and all of them to young people who wanted exactly that.

One of those houses, in a leafy Silver Spring neighborhood, was designed by leading MCM architect Charles Goodman.

In Alexandria, Virginia, there’s a whole large enclave of about 400 Goodman-designed homes from 1950s and 1960s: Hollin Hills. Last weekend, I took my daughter on a trip to the annual Hollin Hills house tour, and it was quite a change from the split levels, ramblers and bungalows she usually gets to see. (You can see a continuously updated list of Hollin Hills homes for sale here.))

Don’t get me wrong–we love our bungalows and colonials as well…

(If you are interested in moving to Hollin Hills: presently, there are 7 homes on the market for sale, ranging in price between $659,000 and $1,099,000. You can see a continuously updated list of Hollin Hills offers here.)