Sears pioneered the modern prefab house in the early 20th century: Look back at ‘kit homes’

The do-it-yourself, modest tiny home boom is gaining popularity in an era of shocking rent increases and low housing inventory — and we may have America’s former largest retailer, Sears, to thank for some of that inspiration.

Sears was not the first company to offer “kit homes,” but the 1908 launch of Sears Modern Homes catalog, advertising a variety of home architectural styles and blueprints needed to build them, solidified the retailer as a pioneer in mail-ordered homes.

Similar to the prefabricated homes sold in stores today, Sears shipped pieces for buyers who could construct the houses themselves or hire builders to do it.

The iconic retailer is estimated to have sold between 70,000 and 75,000 houses before the catalog was discontinued in 1940 and some estimates indicate the majority are still standing.

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears designed 447 different housing styles, “from the elaborate multistory Ivanhoe, with its elegant French doors and art glass windows, to the simpler Goldenrod, which served as a quaint, three-room and no-bath cottage for summer vacationers,” the company’s website states.

“Sears was not an innovative home designer,” the company said. “Sears was instead a very able follower of popular home designs but with the added advantage of modifying houses and hardware according to buyer tastes.”

Handful of Sears stores remain

In 2018, Sears entered bankruptcy and shrunk from about 700 brick-and-mortar locations to less than 25.

Sears Holdings Corporation emerged from bankruptcy late last Fall after more than 10,000 court filings and hundreds of store closures, the outlet said. Today, Sears exists primarily as an online retailer.

Based on Google search information and the latest store list reported by the U.S. Sun, here are the locations of remaining Sears stores in the United States:

  • California — Concord, Stockton, Whittier
  • Colorado — Fort Collins (Appliance & Mattress)
  • Florida — Miami, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens
  • Kansas — Overland Park (Home & Life)
  • Louisiana — Lafayette (Home & Life)
  • Massachusetts — Braintree
  • New Jersey — Jersey City
  • Pennsylvania — Camp Hill
  • Puerto Rico — San Juan
  • Texas — El Paso, Pharr (Appliances & Mattress)
  • Washington — Tukwila, Union Gap