Living with a Sears Catalog Home

Scott Gibson

I believe I have a Sears catalog home, the Marina. My problem is the 90-degree angle in heading up the stairs. What can I do to fix this problem? I can't even get a full box spring mattress up the stairs without taking it apart. Any suggestions?

You're probably stuck with a staircase that's difficult to navigate with anything bulkier than an overnight bag. But consider yourself stuck with an intriguing part of American architectural history.

The Marina was one of the many models of mail order homes that Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold between 1908 and 1940. A family could sit around the kitchen table and pick a house they liked right out of a Sears catalog, just like buying a pair of overalls or a set of wrenches.

Prices were reasonable, beginning at less than $500, and the kits included just about everything Mom and Dad would need to put the house together--pre-cut lumber, millwork, flooring, shingles, even nails and paint.

Kits arrived by rail, and because all the parts and pieces had already been cut, the houses could be assembled quickly. Sears wasn't the only company to offer kit houses, but they were certainly good at it. The company estimates that more than 100,000 houses were sold.

Sears' Modern Homes program was the forerunner of modular housing.

According to the Sears archives, which are available online, the Marina had a pretty short run. It was available only between 1918 and 1921. The official Sears list doesn't include a photo. But a brochure for the house available elsewhere on the Web shows a 24-foot by 25-foot bungalow, starting at $639.

And yes indeed, there's a right-angle turn in the stairs from the first to the second floor.

You have to remember that people had more modest tastes at the turn of the 20th century. Sears designers apparently didn't anticipate king-sized beds, wide-screen television sets, and all the other supersized furnishings we now find essential.

Staircases like the one you have save floor space, one reason they're still popular.

You just have to think creatively. Instead of a king-sized bed, try two doubles pulled together and spanned by a single mattress that can be folded to get up the stairs. Think modular when it comes to furnishings. Or think small. Maybe your bedroom needs to be on the first floor with the second floor becoming a den, living room, or library.

Short of a renovation that changes the layout of your house, or an addition that provides another means of access to the second floor, there's not a lot you can do about it.

You might take comfort in the fact that you're not alone. Sears maintains a lot of information about the catalog homes on the Web. You can even register as an enthusiast and contact others who own one of these houses. You might look to other Marina owners for ideas on how they cope with these problems. If you want to check it out, look up searsarchives.com/home.






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