Thursday, March 16, 2017

ID this house! Sears Van Dorn

Catalog image of Sears Van Dorn (1928)
Sears offered a number of Dutch Colonial Revival style houses in the Sears Modern Homes catalog. Many of these models were large, spacious homes. But Sears also offered several smaller, more modest houses in this style, the best known example being the Sears Puritan. Similar in size to the Puritan but not as well known is the Sears Van Dorn. While the Van Dorn may not appear as distinctive as the Puritan, it actually has several elements that I've found make it fairly easy to spot once you know what to look for on this model. Let's learn to ID this house!

I've been fortunate to be able to authenticate a number of Van Dorns through mortgage records. But when I first started trying to identify this house, I discovered that there's scant information out there about this model. This post is my attempt to assist homeowners and fellow researchers in identifying the Van Dorn by providing some clues on how to spot it and showing some real-world examples of the house to use for comparisons.

The Sears Van Dorn appeared in the Modern Homes catalog between 1926 and 1931, took off a year in 1932 and appeared one final time in 1933. At 26' wide and 24' deep, the Van Dorn is similar in size to the popular Puritan  (the Puritan is 24' x 24'). To get a sense of their relative popularity, there are over 100 examples of the Puritan in the national database of Sears homes while there are less than 20 Van Dorns. I think this relatively small number of Van Dorns is due in part to its relative obscurity. During the years it was offered, it was overshadowed by more popular Sears models. My hope is that by showing how easy this house is to identify, more examples will be located and added to the national database of Sears homes.

136 Leroy - Tarrytown, NY - Sears Van Dorn
The place to start when trying to identify a potential Van Dorn is with the front of the house. On the first floor, the house should have the basic Colonial entrance as seen below. Unlike some of the other Dutch Colonial houses offered at the same time as the Van Dorn, its entrance is plain with no sidelights or a fanlight above the door.

Colonial Entrance - Sears Building Materials Catalog (1929)
Image courtesy of
Take note how the front porch ties into the roof. Those two widely spaced windows on the second floor are another clue. We don't see a lot of houses with that design.

Pay special attention to the amount of roof area on either side of the shed dormer and between the shed dormer and the edge of the roof along the front of the house. Too often I see houses misidentified as a particular model of Sears house when these proportions are widely off as compared to what you see in the catalog image. I've highlighted some of those areas in orange below.

Here's an authenticated Van Dorn in Eastchester, NY with original entrance and shutters! See how the amount of roof area you can see matches up to the catalog image?

72 Waverly - Eastchester, NY - Sears Van Dorn
Image courtesy of Bing Maps
Not every example is catalog perfect like the house in Eastchester. Here's another authenticated Sears Van Dorn in Pittsfield Township, Michigan which has lost many of its original details.

2584 Torrey Ave - Pittsfield Township, MI - Sears Van Dorn
Image courtesy of Google Maps
Moving onto the side of the house that you can see in the catalog, look for the paired windows of the first floor living room. Even the poor Van Dorn in Pittsfield Township still has those windows.

At the top of the gable, look for the half moon attic vent. You'll find that on both ends of the house.

26 Hudson - Irvington, NY - Sears Van Dorn
Image courtesy of Google Maps
While the catalog doesn't show the right side of the house, we can get a sense of what we should be seeing by looking at the floor plan.

First Floor - Sears Van Dorn (1926)
Image courtesy of Google Books
On the first floor, we have a side entrance and a window towards the back of the house for the kitchen.

Second Floor - Sears Van Dorn (1926)
Image courtesy of Google Books
On the second floor, we have a window above the side entrance for the stairwell and a second window for the front bedroom on the right-hand side of the house. What this arrangement creates visually is a stair-step effect of windows from right to left across the side of the house. You can see that the house that follows from Berkley, Michigan doesn't have a standard porch. This house was authenticated with a mortgage from Sears Roebuck.

3764 Buckingham - Berkley, MI - Sears Van Dorn
Here's an example of a Van Dorn with a reversed floor plan showing the same pattern. As you can see, the middle window should be aligned above the side entrance.

181 Fillmore - Yonkers, NY - Sears Van Dorn
Image courtesy of the City of Yonkers
While we don't often get to see the back of the house, if you can, you can see in the floor plan how the kitchen has a bump out. You can see that in this image where I've outlined that area in orange.

816 Lincoln Blvd - Bedford, OH - Sears Van Dorn
Image courtesy of Estately
Again, the windows on the back of the house should match the arrangement in the floor plans with a paired window for the first floor dining room on the right hand side (partially obscured by the tree in the image above).

As you can see, while not as distinctive as its more popular cousin the Puritan, the Sears Van Dorn isn't that difficult a model to identify once you know what to look for when you are trying to identify this house. Now that you know how to identify the Van Dorn, maybe you'll find one in your community. If you think you've found an example of the Sears Van Dorn (or any other kit house), share it with us in the comments!


  1. I love your "ID this house" posts. You're right about this one having distinctive features that will help us spot it on street surveys. I'll bet we locate more of this model now. :)

  2. Thanks for another helpful "ID this house" post!

  3. Thank you!!! Ive been trying to find the kind of sears kit home i live in and its a van dorn!!! Im so excited! Thank you!

    1. Glad we could help! Feel free to contact us with details about your home.