Did you know that Sears and Roebuck sold complete houses in kits from their mailorder catalogs? From about 1908-1940 they sold hundreds of different models and styles, at different price points, so that average Americans could afford to own their own home. You could purchase an enitre house, complete with every part, piece, and fixture - including the kitchen sink- and have it shipped to the closest rail station. Even the nails were included, along with an instruction book for putting it together. The pieces were all lettered and numbered for ease of assembly for you or a hired builder.
And, 84 years later, we are fortunate to live in just such a home; the original house for crafters and do-it-yourself-ers. Our model, the Sunbeam looks just like the advertised picture from the above 1923 Sears Modern Homes Catalog.
Check out this appeal to emotion from their catalog: "To get the full share of Good Health, Long Life and Happiness for yourself and kiddies, to get the most out of life as our Creator intended it to be, A HOME OF YOUR OWN is an absolute necessity." Sears wasn't selling mere homes, but lifestyles, as all good salesman do. And they even had a mortgage division to make financing accessible to people. I discovered that our little Sunbeam was in fact a kit home while I was working on my masters in historic preservation, and it has enriched our lives here learning about the life of this house. Because isn't that much of the reason we love old things? Because of the stories that they have been a part of? Part of the worldview that I want to instill in my children consists in an appreciation and love for old things, as we strive to properly steward the resources we're given; and because of the beauty, workmanship and simplicity that they often exhibit in our modern world of drive-by consumerism. I guess you could call it historically-mindful living: caring not just for values, traditions, and practices of the past, but caring also for the structures and artifacts that have been left. And isn't this also the ultimate in recycling and green living? Re-using historic structures and reducing waste?
The ironic thing is, that these "modern homes" as they were advertised gave rise to the first suburbs outside of cities, pushing daily life outside of downtown areas and giving rise to highways, the deterioration of downtowns, and other problems such as gentrification. However, I believe there is still value in these homes, they are beautiful examples of the hand craftsmanship of days gone by, when style and beauty mattered just as much as function, and they represent a distinct era in the history of our nation.
Ok (gets off soapbox), enough for now, but if you are interested in learning more about historic preservation in general, or Sears kit homes, check out some of these links:
You may just be living in a kit home yourself and never know it!