Sunday, May 17, 2009

Houses by Mail by Katherine Cole Stevenson

Americans have ordered from Sears, Roebuck just about everything they have needed for their homes for 100 years - but from 1908 to 1940, some 100,000 people also purchased their houses from this mail-order wizard. Sears ready-to-assemble houses were ordered by mail and shipped by rail wherever a boxcar or two could pull in to unload the meticulously precut lumber and all the materials needed to build an exceptionally sturdy and well-designed house. From Philadelphia, Pa., to Coldwater, Kans., and Cowley, Wyo., Sears put its guarantee on quality bungalows, colonials and Cape Cods, all with the latest modern conveniences - such as indoor plumbing.

Houses by Mail tells the story of these precut houses and provides for the first time an incomparable guide to identifying Sears houses across the country. Arranged for easy identification in 15 sections by roof type, the book features nearly 450 house models with more than 800 illustrations, including drawings of the houses and floor plans.

Because the Sears houses were built to last, thousands remain today to be discovered and restored. Houses by Mail shows how to return them to their original charm while it documents a highly successful business enterprise that embodied the spirit and domestic design of its time.



The introductory text was extremely dry, like a poorly made scone, reminding one of a college textbook. The book itself is physically unwieldy and rather difficult to hold while reading - partly due to the heft from its 365 pages.

While looking through the houses it was a bit surprising to see that bathrooms were not included in some of the houses as late as 1918 and 1919! I guess outhouses were still in use then. Very odd to build a new house but not put in a bathroom! It was amusing to see that what was considered essential then is no longer acceptable for most average homeowners now.

It is a amazing how much floorplans have changed, yet still stayed the same in many ways. I think the most surprising discovery for me was the sample kitchen illustrations! They were so empty with no refrigerators or other appliances except stoves! And they were quite open and roomy, but had virtually no countertops! It's amazing how the wives who lived in these homes cooked dinner parties! No Martha Stewart kitchens there!

This one gets six stars. It was obviously meant to be a manual and as such, was quite dry. The information presented, such as illustrations and floorplans of the homes were very interesting. It was also quite interesting to see that several of the homes featured were built in areas fairly near me. It makes me want to go track them down!

Rating: ★★★★★



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