Considering Sears, Roebuck & Co. was founded in Chicago back in 1893, it’s no surprise Illinois boasts many of the company’s ready-to-assemble kit homes (second only to Ohio). The Sears Modern Homes and Honor Bilt mail-order catalogs sold about 70,000 homes of various architectural styles between 1908 and 1940. Once a buyer picked their preferred model — the popular “Osborn,” for example — it would be shipped by rail and include everything the owner would need to construct the home. Windows and flooring were just some of the 30,000 pre-cut and numbered parts, and the floor plans could be customized. Although mostly affordable to the immigrant and minority workers who built them, homebuyers easily obtained Sears mortgages, which did not ask for the applicant’s race, ethnicity or gender. Maybe that explains why a new generation is nostalgic for these charming dwellings, as it harkens back to a time when anyone could afford to build their American dream house.
Sears has become synonymous with any kit home, but there were other companies involved in their manufacturing and selling, including Montgomery Ward and the Harris Brothers (both based in Chicago). Even though this 1925 cottage isn’t an authenticated Sears house, it still has all the charm and coziness one expects of such kit dwellings. Although updated for modern tastes, there’s still plenty of character here with the adorable front porch and homey bedrooms. Did I mention there’s a picture-perfect she-shed in the professionally landscaped backyard? It’s a gardener’s paradise. The neighborhood is full of similar homes, while more quaint buildings can be found nearby in historic downtown Geneva and along the Fox River.
This 1929 Sears home in Oak Lawn has all the exterior details of “The Vallonia” with its sloping, overhanging roof, three-window dormer, distinctive porch columns and bump out on the side. The property, which includes a side lot, has great curb appeal. For a historic home, it’s no surprise the kitchen is small — but there is an abundance of cabinetry. And there’s plenty of space in the full separate dining room and cozy breakfast room. Some original details include wood trim throughout the house ,as well as the penny tile bathroom floors and the built-in drawers in the bedrooms.
Believed to be a Sears Rembrandt, this Dutch Colonial was built in 1924 for original owner J. Oscar Anderson and is located in Oak Park’s Ridgeland Historic District. The home might need some TLC, but inside you’ll find the high quality materials that Sears was known for, like the entrance hall with the beautiful wooden staircase and the French doors flanking a fireplace that leads to the large sunroom. Located on an oversized lot, there’s the possibility for an addition or a garden. Plus, the house was featured in an article about kit homes written by the late Jeannette Fields, first executive director of the Chicago Architecture Center, who had grown up in a Sears house in Iowa.
If you’re searching for Sears homes, you can usually find them along the rail lines in Chicagoland’s historic commuter suburbs. The kits would be delivered by boxcar and then trucked to the building site. Located next to the Illinois Prairie Path, a converted railroad right-of-way, this 1924 bungalow is just one of an estimated 43 Sears catalog homes in Lombard. Although just 1,782 square feet, the home is located on a deep lot with lots of possibilities. Lovingly maintained and owned by the same family for almost 70 years, it has been updated with new windows, gutters, plumbing and architectural shingled roof.
Crystal Lake was the location of the American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Company. With factories came clusters of worker housing, which means there are a lot of kit houses in this far northwest suburb. In fact, the McHenry County Historical Society and Museum has a map and self-guided tour of them. Supposedly a Sears Sunbeam, this 1927 home has been modified over the years by its longtime owners but still retains much of its charm. The 2,250-square-foot home is located on a one and a half lot full of trees, which you can enjoy from the gazebo on the deck. Not only is it close to the commercial center and Metra station, but the home is also near the main beach of the town’s namesake lake.