Tuesday, January 19, 2021

ID this House! Sears Carlin and Windsor

Sears Carlin in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Recently, while searching real estate listings, I spied what I thought was a model I've seen many times over, the Sears Windsor. On first glance, this house in Kalamazoo, Michigan had all the hallmarks of the Windsor. As I was drafting up a post for my "Sears Homes For Sale" Facebook page, I made sure to note that while this model is often misidentified as the "Carlin", in fact almost all of the hundreds of examples that have been identified to date are actually the "Windsor". I was going to point out some of the easy-to-spot differences between the two models that would show that this was a Sears Windsor. Except as I started reviewing the house more closely, it quickly became apparent that in fact the house in Kalamazoo was not a Windsor, it was a Carlin! To date, only 20 examples of the Carlin have been added to the national database of Sears houses. The house in Kalamazoo provided the perfect opportunity to showcase those differences and help other kit house researchers and homeowners easily determine whether a house is the Carlin or the Windsor. Let's learn to ID these models! 

The Sears Carlin made its first and only appearance in the 1918 "Modern Homes" catalog. The model was named after Carlinville, Illinois, where homes from the largest single order of Sears houses ever placed were built and a number of examples of this model were constructed. After 1918, the Carlin disappeared from the pages of the "Modern Homes" catalog. A few years later, the house design reappeared in the 1922 edition of the "Modern Homes" catalog with a new name - the "Windsor" - and some tweaks to the design of the house. The "Windsor" continued to appear in the catalog until making its last showing in the 1933 catalog. Yet many of the people who own a Windsor think that they own a Carlin. Why? 

Sears Carlin from the "Modern Homes" catalog (1918)

Despite being a popular model and appearing for 11 years in the "Modern Homes" catalog, when the popular field guide of Sears houses - "Houses by Mail" - was published, the Windsor was relegated to a passing reference under the entry for the Carlin (the designs are very similar). The reference didn't even include a catalog image or floor plan for the Windsor and the authors didn't get the distinguishing details for the Windsor correct! For 35 years, many a kit house researcher and homeowner has cracked open "Houses by Mail", spotted the image of the Carlin and ID a Windsor as a Carlin. I ran into that myself when I authenticated a nearby example of the Windsor that had been misidentified as a Carlin. Thankfully, I was able to explain the history to the homeowner at the time and the current owners know that they own a Windsor, not a Carlin. 

Sears Windsor from "Modern Homes" catalog (1925)

While there's likely a lot of misidentified Carlins out there, the good news is that there are some really easy to spot differences between these two models. Once you've seen these differences, you should have no difficulty determining whether a house is a rare example of the Carlin (the national database of Sears homes only lists 20 examples, most of them in Carlinville) or the more common Windsor.

Before we look at those differences, let's talk about some of the elements that are common to both models that will help you first pick out a Carlin or Windsor in the wild. In their original form, both models have:
  • A story and 1/2 design with an asymmetrical roofline where the roof line at the back of the house is much higher than the roof line at the front of the house. 
  • The distinctive 5 piece "Sears" brackets (a bracket design that appears on a number of models from Sears although it wasn't exclusive to Sears) on all sides of the house.
  • Exposed rafter tails on the front roof line (contrary to what "Houses by Mail" states). 
  • A full-width porch with 4 square columns and the front door offset to one side, not centered. 
  • A front dormer with 2 separate windows and a walk-out area the catalog referred to as a "balcony" enclosed with a short railing (but typically no door to access the balcony area). 

Note: On many houses, the decorative elements, like brackets, have been hidden behind siding or removed. 

These elements will help you differentiate the Carlin and Windsor from some of the other Sears models, like the Vallonia and the Westly, that share some of the same lines and elements. 

Once you've identified a likely Carlin/Windsor, how do you determine which it is? Let's start on the sides of the house, where there's a couple of obvious differences between the models. One of the easiest spotting elements for a Windsor is the living room window adjacent to the front door. It's located right at the front corner of the side of the house, unlike the Carlin where the same window is located closer to the middle of the side of the house. If you see the side window at that front corner, you can safely ID the house as a Windsor. 

Corner window location on Sears Windsor in Mt Rainier, Maryland

Pro Tip: While the catalog plans shows 2 separate living room windows on both models, on multiple authenticated examples of the Carlin (and one example of a Windsor), I've seen a set of paired windows centered on the side of the house, mirroring the paired windows on the second story. The house in Kalamazoo has this arrangement too. 

Paired first floor windows on a Sears Carlin in Takoma Park, Maryland

On the opposite side of the house, look for a side entry towards the back of the house. It's found on the Carlin but not the Windsor and opens directly into the kitchen. On the Windsor, that door is moved to the back of the house and down to ground level. Depending on where you find that door, you're well on your way to confirming the identity of the house. In looking at authenticated examples of the Carlin, I've seen several with enclosed side entries. Don't be thrown if you can't see the side door. It's probably tucked away inside a small, enclosed side porch. Also, this does not apply to the Carlins that were built in Carlinville and Wood River, Illinois as part of the Standard Oil purchase of 1917. Those Carlins varied from the 1918 catalog version and lack a side door. 

Kit house researchers can't always view the back of the house but if you can, in addition to the back door entry of the Windsor, there's another distinct difference between the two models you can easily spot. Both houses have a small back dormer that opens onto the stairway from the first floor to the second floor. On the Carlin, that dormer has two windows, as you can see on the example from Kalamazoo. 

Rear dormer of Sears Carlin in Kalamazoo, Michigan 

On the Windsor, it's just a single window. 

Rear dormer of Sears Windsor in Willoughby, Ohio 

Now that you know the key differences between the two models, you'll quickly know whether you've spotted a Carlin or a Windsor! If you think you've found an example of the Sears Carlin or Windsor (or any other kit house), share it in the comments!


  1. If the Mt. Rainier Windsor pictured is the one on Upshur, it's currently for sale: https://www.redfin.com/MD/Mt-Rainier/3207-Upshur-St-20712/home/10957844! It's lovely, but even with an addition, it's amazing how small the Windsor is by modern standards.