A Regal Affair In Takoma Park, The “Americus” Way In Rockville

Historic mail-order home in Takoma Park

Lewis Regal in Takoma ParkAfter the recent long stretch without notable historic kit houses hitting our market area, there were a bunch in recent weeks that caught our eyes. The first one here was not a Sears product: It’s a 1925 “Regal” by the Lewis Manufacturing Company of Bay City, MI. (There’s only one other “Regal” we’re aware of, and that one can be found in Chevy Chase, DC.) Lewis had a large local sales office in DC in the early and mid-1920s and sold many of their kits to developers. The new owners would never know!Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 5.58.58 PM

This “Regal” is right in the Takoma Park MD “downtown” area and — after just a week — already under contract. It was completely renovated, and while not so much in reverence to every kit house detail (judging from old pictures, much of those might have been lost before the contractor took over), so still respectfully and beautifully. One of the upstairs bedrooms gave way to a second full bath.

You can see the 1922 catalog page here. (For the full pdf, click on the link on the page that opens.)

A couple of other kit houses are on the market in neighborhoods that are a little further from our base:

Sears Conway in CheverlyA 1925 Sears “Conway” is on the market in CheverlyAt $440,000 and less than 2 miles from the District line, this is another nice renovation, if not a restoration, that saves one of the historic kit houses. (Photos and virtual tour courtesy of MRIS.) In the front part of the house, it retains many of the original detail, while the moderate addition adds a bright family room and some space. A lovely contrast to the more soul-less Conway addition we recently saw in Glen Echo.

1924 Sears Americus in Rockville MDIn downtown Rockville, another, somewhat bigger Sears house came on the market a couple of weeks ago, a 1924 “Americus” in walking distance to the Town Center and Metro station. It’s also been expanded, though not recently, and has a fabulous backyard,. At $679,900, however, in need of some work all over and with only the one original bath, it seems priced more for the potential. You can see some pictures here. (Photos courtesy of MRIS.)

For those of you who are interested, I will post 1920s catalog images for these two houses in the next couple of days, but for now, just let us know if you want to find out more (or even see one of them).





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.


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!


Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 4.11.35 PM

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 3.42.20 PM

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:

This Aladdin Needs A Magic Lamp

Kit Houses in Washington DC

It was an exciting moment last year when we discovered this inconspicuous little 1918 American Foursquare in Silver Spring, Maryland. [Click on the thumb prints for larger pictures.]

After much writing and talking about the many Sears and Lewis mail-order homes we have in the DC suburbs, we’d also been looking for evidence of Historic Aladdin kit houses for a while. In archives, we had found a series of picture ads in the Washington Post from the 1910s. They showed how the company — in the pre-cut kit house business even before Sears — had tried to charm the city’s potential home owners and builders. So clearly, there must have been a bunch of those houses built here.

Eventually, we did succeed in finding some truly amazing specimen (pictures to come soon!) as Aladdin offered some of the largest and most luxurious models  of all kit house companies.

The “Standard” was certainly a more moderate house, but the discovery was nevertheless exciting because it was the first Aladdin we spotted here. The playful, pointed yet swinging pitch of the roof and dormer and its 2-foot overhanging extension were the tip-off. They’re less common in other homes from that time, kit or not.

“BEE-UUU-TI-FUL!” cheered Rosemary Thornton, leading kit house expert and author of a bunch of books on the topic, when I shared pictures in a national kit house forum. What we were thrilled with was the fact that the house appeared – at least from the outside – preserved in almost original form. Despite the vinyl siding, it seemed likely that much of the original structure and detail was preserved.

Well, little did we know. Until a couple of days ago, that is, when I discovered that the house was for rent. Marcie and I ran off to have a look. What we saw was not at all what we had expected. The good news: the house was reasonable well maintained, comfortably and in healthy shape. Floor plan, blue grease pencil markings on the lumber and a few other little details confirmed that it was indeed the Aladdin “Standard.” The bad news: other than the walls and door trim, there was nothing left of the house inside. Absolutely nothing.

Hollow-core doors, epoxy hardware, Pergo floors all over and pseudo-contemporary glass light fixtures made it clear that the owner might have appreciated the house as such, but certainly not for its historic value or beauty. I’m not going to ruin this post with the interior pictures we took (although we ended up laughing so hard that it might warrant a follow-up piece here). You can, however, check out the listing agent’s MLS pictures here.

The “Standard” — off Georgia Ave in Downtown Silver Spring — is currently available for rent at $2,200/month by Josh Andrew of Streamline Management in Bethesda.

Perfect House, Perfect Sunday — And It’s Open 1-4

Today, we are putting an exciting new listing in Marcie’s own East Bethesda neighborhood on the market — a cute, meticulously maintained and beautifully expanded brick colonial on Highland Avenue with a “WalkScore” of 78!! Get more of the details and pictures here, and make sure you stop by for the open house on Sunday from 1 -4 pm. The weather on this first autumn weekend promises to be beautiful!




Sold in Five Days — How Much Is The Historic Sentiment Worth?

On my DC House Cat blog, I regularly introduce historic kit houses that are for sale in the Washington DC area. Many of them were once ordered from the (probably best-known) Sears catalog, others came from companies such as Aladdin and Lewis Manufacturing (a particular favorite of the in-town suburbs in the 1920s).
It’s virtually impossible to put a sticker price on the value of house history (although we frequently get that question). What we have found is that in neighborhoods which are highly aware, and often proud, of their history and significance it makes more of a difference. In other neighborhoods, where there’s more turnover, sometimes more privacy and less use of community facilities or organizations, owners seem less interested.

A lack of interest (or perhaps knowledge) leads to thoughtless renovations and modernization that strips the poor house of everything architectural history buffs and catalog house aficionados love it for. But when owners find a way to compromise between their need for comfort and updates and the one hand and the respect for the original materials and sensibilities of the home design on the other, it often pays out. My latest featured Kit House Of The Week, a 1925 Sears “Maywood” in Chevy Chase, is a good example  (check out the agent’s virtual tour). And guess what? It sold in just 5 days!