Thursday, December 2, 2021

ID this House! Sears Carver

In the later years of the Sears Roebuck "Modern Homes" program, the public interest in architectural styles shifted to more minimalist designs. In part, this was a response to changing preferences that reflected the austerity that accompanied the Great Depression. The detailing that accompanied the Arts and Crafts-inspired house designs of the 1920s probably seemed extravagant to buyers looking to save every penny. Many of the house designs that Sears offered in the 1930s were similarly austere which can make them more difficult to pick out from other houses of that time period. One of the more distinctive designs was the "Carver". While it was only offered for a few years, this house is one that should be easy to pick out once you've learned a few of the key design elements. Let's learn to ID this house! 

The Sears Carver made its first appearance in the 1938 "Modern Homes" catalog. That meant it had a pretty short run making its last appearance in the last "Modern Homes" catalog offered in 1940. While it only graced the pages of the catalog for 3 years, it was offered with no less than 2 different floor plans. And even though it was only offered for a few years, a number of examples of this model have been identified. 

We often talk of the challenge of finding and authenticating late model Sears houses due to the lack of mortgage and deed records associated with these houses. But several of the Carver model have been authenticated through building permit information and newspaper articles. The rest were identified by visual exam and we'll show you how you too can ID a Carver through a close review of the house design. 

Sears Carver from the "Modern Homes" catalog (1938) 

The most distinctive feature of the Carver is the triple full-sized windows centered on the front of the house. This is an uncommon design that I rarely see on other houses of this era. On either side of those windows are the front door to one side and a single window on the other. Remember that Sears offered reversed floor plans so you may see the location of the front door and other window reversed on the front facade. Either way, those triple windows should be your first clue that you may have found a Carver. 

Sears Carver from the "Modern Homes" catalog (1940) 

Next, you'll want to examine the sides of the house. The "left" side of the house is easy - it's two single windows that correspond to the two bedrooms in this model. The "right" side adjacent to the front entry is where you'll see differences. The 1938 floor plan for the Carver shows a paired window for the dining alcove and a single window for the kitchen. You can see that arrangement in this authenticated example from Rockford, Illinois. I've seen a few examples of the Carver with this porch over the front entrance that makes me wonder if it was an option available to homeowners. 

Sears Carver at 2418 Yonge St, Rockford, IL

The 1940 floor plan has the same window arrangement but with the addition of a door off the kitchen. Here's another authenticated example from Rockford, Illinois that was built in 1941. 

Sears Carver at 2304 Lawndale Ave, Rockford, Illinois

As you can see, the differences in the design can help you date the year the house was built. One other tell-tale clue of the vintage of the house is the location of the chimney, if present. In the 1938 floor plan, it will be aligned towards the right side of the house. In the 1940 floor plan, it shifts to the left. 

Floor plan of the Sears Carver from the "Modern Homes" catalog (1938) 

We often can't get a good view of the back of the house but if you can, what you'll see here will depend on the year the house was built. In the 1938 version, there's a series of single windows plus a door for the utility room. The presence of the utility room is an unusual feature for a Sears house. In the write-up for this model in the 1938 catalog, Sears specifically calls out the utility room and its purpose - a place to locate the furnace and laundry. Sears did this to help reduce costs by allowing this model to be built on a slab with no need for a basement space for the furnace and laundry. The cost of excavating and constructing a basement foundation was a cost (and sometimes labor) that had to be borne by the customer. 

Sears had dabbled with models in the 1930s that had only half basements. But this is the only example I can recall where Sears specifically indicated that a house could be built without a basement. One has to remember that in the days of coal-fired furnaces, you needed a place for that furnace and a coal bin to store the coal and in Sears houses, the basement was the place for those. Also, these systems were typically gravity-fed which meant that hot air rose up from the furnace in the basement and in some cases, cold air flowed back through return ducts. But when the 1938 catalog came out, heating systems had advanced such that some coal-fired systems had blowers that would push the heat to where it was needed. Also, oil and gas-fired systems had become available - something highlighted in some ads for Sears houses of this era - providing flexibility of the location of the furnace. 

Floor plan of the Sears Carver from the "Modern Homes" catalog (1940)

Whatever the merits of the "no basement" approach, it clearly wasn't a winner with customers because the 1940 floor plan converted the utility room to a 3rd bedroom. With that change, you'll see a change in the rear exterior of the 1940 model too - a paired set of windows for the 3rd bedroom and no door on the back of the house. You'll also see changes inside the 1940 model too. An entrance to the front bedroom to the living room is eliminated in favor of an arrangement that connects all 3 bedrooms and the bathroom by reducing the size of some closets. Also, a stairway to the basement from the kitchen has been added. If you have access to interior views, like through real estate photos, this should help you narrow down when the Carver was built. 

Sears Carver at 1014 Oswego Rd, Carmel, Indiana 
Indianapolis Star, December 1941
The house was demolished in 2016

The Carver is a rather modest looking house but its unique design has helped us ID over a dozen examples in several states including Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey. These include houses that have been authenticated through building permits and newspaper articles. But I'm confident that there are more examples out there to find. The modest size and price of the Carver likely made it a popular choice for homeowners looking to start down the path of homeownership. Also, the authenticated examples include several houses that were built in 1941, so don't limit your searches to 1938 - 1940.  If you think you've found an example of the Sears Carver, share it in the comments!

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