26 December 2011

Research: A possible match

Well, it looks like my odd little house has even stumped Rose Thornton. That's hard - she knows a lot about kit homes! Her best guess is that she thinks it might - maybe- be a Gordon Van Tine. I have asked her to ask Dale Wolicki if he recognizes that floorplan in his collection, as there are currently no pre-1920 GVT catalogs online.

However, that made me go looking again, in hopes that I might find something useful. And - I might just have done so!

Thanks to the Clarke Historical Library's online archive of Aladdin documents I may have found a possible match. In the 1912 annual catalog, there is a little house called the Sherman. It isn't in the 1910 catalog and there is no 1911 catalog in the archive.

Its footprint is off, it's a little narrower, (ETA: I had the dimensions wrong!) exactly correct, 26x48, and the room dimensions are a little off (another ETA) practically identical except that they are given as divisions of the plan, not wall-to-wall measurements (plus there is a pantry where my house has none), but this is the absolute closest house plan I have yet found. I wish the scan was clearer, I've tried to refine it a bit for my example, but it wasn't very good.

Here she is in the 1913 annual, with two plan options. Neither is as good a match to my little oddball as the 1912 plan (or to the exterior illustration! look at the windows). The only real difference between this one and the next year's example is that there are people in the image, and the scan is clearer.

By 1915, it's clear that no more changes are being made to this design, or even the catalog page, except perhaps for typesetting. The 1914 and 1915 layouts are almost identical. And, in the 1916 catalog, I think I may have hit upon an answer as to why the Sheridan looks so very very much like my little mystery kit home. In 1916, the Sherman's name is changed to the Sheridan, one plan gets updated, and the exterior image finally gets a full update to match the changed plans. 

Look how the unaltered windows (the dining room and kitchen windows have significant alterations in my home) line up with the plan! At this point, while I am very optimistic that this house may, in fact, be a customized 1912 Sherman, because of the differences shown in the overlay image above, it is still equally possible that the 1912 Sherman is a copy of a similar house from a competitor's 1911 or 12 catalog. And, of course, if it is an Aladdin ... why is it all Sears on the inside? What this has given me is a concrete time range for the design of the house. I always had a feeling it was early teens, and now I am certain of it. It makes the search more focused and I am very, very happy about that.

Research: What the House is Not

I've been saying recently that I have pored over - without any success - numerous online and print resources, without being terribly specific. I really ought to share where and what I have looked through. I've mostly focused on the best (most local) companies, since my town is on two north/south rail lines and Chicago and Cairo were likely sources. Another clue about this being cut at an IL mill is that the house is mostly, if not all, cut from cypress. However, while makes the house nearly bulletproof and resistant to water damage, that fact doesn't narrow the options any, since local lumber mills in IL cut lots of cypress lumber both for local and regional use. Sears even advertised cypress as a high-quality budget option for floors and millwork (cheaper than oak or birch, but not by much).

Features that make my house easy to identify:

  1. Odd footprint size -apparently 28x48 overall is a weird footprint for the period.
  2. One floor (fairly rare in a house of this size among all the various plans).
  3. The arrangement of the bedrooms and closet between.
  4. The bath positioned at the center rear of the house.
  5. The kitchen is not square.
  6. Front has two living room windows, the door, and the den/parlor window.
  7. That crazy angle between the living and dining rooms (this may have been a custom feature, though it was still fashionable in the 1900's and early teens).
Superficial features:
  1. Porch design, tucked under the hipped roof (could easily be customized).
  2. Hipped dormer attic vent (now missing).
  3. No living room or parlor fireplace (house was heated with stoves originally).
  4. Lap siding, millwork and interior hardware are all Sears (and original, there is no sign whatsoever of the interior hardware ever being changed).

So, here you go, a quick illustrated guide to what this house is not.

From the Winterthur Archive (these examples are created from their archive scans):
Chicago House Wrecking Company 1913 house plans book.

The best candidate is the 119A - It looks good, from the outside, except this house is wider and has a different roofline, footprint (31x38) and similar, but still off, layout.

Montgomery Ward Book of Homes, 1916 (date taken from wallpaper book ad at end of catalog).

It isn't a 156, because the footprint (32x39) is wrong, and the plan is also far off. The only real similarities are the outer appearance and bath/kitchen positions. She looks a lot like my house, though!

Plan Book of Harris Homes 1915

The closest I could find is this one, the L-1001. It's not really even close, footprint is off, appearance is wrong, all details are wrong.

A later undated edition (all houses are "N-" designs) has no likely examples beyond the N-1001, which is almost identical to the above excerpt. Another I would assume comes between the two has houses designated "M-" and is equally unhelpful. Nearly all Harris Plan Book houses have a side-located bath in the one-story models.

Aladdin Homes "Built in a day" catalog No 29, 1917

It's not a Sunshine, though it is very close in some significant details, like the kitchen/bath/back bedroom arrangement (this is a very Aladdin style layout, actually), and the chimney stack position. Footprint is close but wrong, roofline is wrong. The Boulevard is just as close, but too small, as is the Stanhope.

Oh, now we get to the Sheridan, which really, really looks like the old girl. I mean, look. Just look at her.

They could be twins. But all the other details are off. Plus that pesky all-Sears interior.

Then there is the Cadillac, which really looks like a similar plan, and is even 28 feet wide. But the room sizes are all wrong. All of them. It so close to right but it's not.

This concludes the selections from the Winterthur Museum Library (courtesy of archive.org).

There are no Sears Home Catalogs or Gordon Van Tine Ready-Cut catalogs earlier than about 1920 on the Internet Archive. I have compared the 1920s GVT 548 with my house and while there is a superficial resemblance, they are far from the same house, the 548 is too narrow and has the wrong plan. Likewise for the 1920s 533.

I also have several Aladdin and Sears catalog reprints, plus The Houses That Sears Built and Houses By Mail and have voraciously read everything Sears and kit home related I can find online, and I can tell you that I have not yet found a precisely similar house. I am at a loss and I would be deeply grateful to anyone who might be able to point me to one.

Research: A resource for kitchen restoration

The Kitchen Plan Book, 1920 Published by Hoosier Manufacturing (the cabinet people!) is available at the Internet Archive's online texts archive. It is a free download, or you can read it online. It's the collected best submissions from a kitchen design contest, and shows a fantastic variety of kitchens from classic mid-late 1910s bare-bones rooms with wood stoves to ultra-modern, deluxe, fitted kitchens that would not look out of place in a modern home.

Here are a few excerpts:

This one is for a small kitchen not unlike ours. I want built in everything, like this little kitchen has.

I especially love this one, though it's for a much more architecturally interesting house, with an octagonal kitchen. It looks like something you might find in a new house with a modern fitted kitchen.

Advice, if you want to download it: remove the extra periods from the filename, or your pdf reader will tell you it's a corrupted file.

If you want to get a hard copy of an earlier one, American Bungelow has their reprint of the 1917 edition of the Kitchen Plan Book (all different designs from this one, different year's contest) on sale, half price.

25 December 2011

A clue! But what does it mean?

This is the only greasepencil mark we have found so far. We found it when we demoed out the wall between the master bedroom and the closet (which was VERY nonfunctional and which we plan to replace with builtins/wardrobes), and then I misfiled the photo - only to find it today. That is a stud, actually 2 inches by 4 inches. Since it is vertical, this could be read any sort of way:

  •  SP1
  • 1d5
  • 1dS
  • SPI
  • Id5
Does anyone know what it might mean?

I'll be shop-vac-ing the attic soon, and I expect to maybe find more marks.

24 December 2011

Return of the Kitchen Plans

Part of gearing up for a return to work on the house is updating plans, and updating cost lists. One thing that hasn't changed is that we intend to use Ikea kitchen cabinets as our budget solution for making our kitchen more usable. We are going with white Adel cabinet fronts because they look the most like what used to be here (we found the remains of a door in the basement), and using hoosier-style pulls instead of knobs and handles because, as big a room as it is, it is still a tight space.

I wish the Ikea planner gave a little more control over the walls, and I don't really understand why the stove hood won't fit in with the short open shelves (there will be a vent hood there of some kind, but we may have to fabricate it ourselves), but I'm happy with the general look. 

I love the light in the room, and I never, ever wanted to cut those long windows in half, as I would certainly have to do if I let the cabinets and counters cut across them. I also want, but don't have room for, a permanent kitchen island or kitchen table in the middle of the room. Given these two factors, I decided to use kitchen carts  as combined movable workspaces and additional storage for things like mixing bowls, the wok, baskets of folded kitchen towels, art materials for the kids, all kinds of things we won't need to hide.

The sink is getting put back where it used to be, under the short wide window where the stove sits now, looking lonely. Where it is now, it has the water lines running through an unheated, uninsulated space under what was originally a porch that got enclosed some time in the late 1920's, and expanded into sometime in the 1940's. That space is a perfect spot for a table and a couple of benches for eating, doing homework or making messy crafts.

This is what it looks like now, with a round table, all the counter and most of the storage on one side, the sink crammed up against the back door, and the stove hanging out in the middle of one wall. So much wasted space, not a great working layout, and a bunch of great 1940's steel cabinets that will become my laundry room cabinets when we do the kitchen reno.

Here is the plan view, showing how much better the new layout (which is likely not too different from the original layout) will use the same space.

The fridge/storage/pantry wall, with some workspace (I foresee the microwave and telephone taking up residence here). Those tall cabinets are the pantry and cleaning closet, the high cabinets will be more pantry. Yes, I have already purchased my stepstool.

The old Ikea planner version of the kitchen redesign, with the medium brown wood finish Adel fronts and gray counters. Between my research showing that white was popular, locating the white cabinet door in the cellar, and realizing that a long narrow room like this never benefits from loads of dark wood, we elected to go with the white. However, as you can see, the basic plan remains the same.

And an overview of the kitchen from the new planner, with the white Adel fronts, more open shelving (we like putting coffee cups, spice and dishes on display) and better-fitting carts. I expect my entire basement will be filled with boxes in short order, though the renovation isn't going to happen until spring. 

Oh, I forgot to mention the best part: the cost for all the cabinets, counters, sink and furnishings is under 5 grand. Yay Ikea!

21 December 2011

On the longest night

Whatever midwinter festival you celebrate, don't make it about greed, or selfishness. This time of year is meant to be about pooling our resources so we can get through the dark and cold months, alive, together. Everything else is just set dressing and hyperbole.

Something I can defintively associate with this time of year, ever since I struck out on my own, is that all the world seems to strive towards obscene excess, leaving so many on the sidelines, outside looking in. This atmosphere counters what is supposed to be going on, if you listen to the songs and stories, essentially highlighting how little most people can afford to give to others, and how little most people can afford to have at all, in the face of orgies of consumerism and public plenty. 

The holidays are only full of joy away from all of that, away from comparing haves and have nots, away from all the implication that those who have and get less should be somehow more grateful than those who have and get more than anyone needs. I think this is especially important right now, with the longest night being more than the literal one, and the cold being much more than weather. Some of us have hungry faces outside our windows and some of us are among them in the dark and the cold. The only way we might survive is by pulling together.

Maybe at the end of it, there will be warm sunlight and hope. 

15 December 2011

Emerging from hiatus, and a request

UPDATE: Dimensions were wrong, and a typo led me on a wild goose chase. Please read the posts tagged "aladdin sherman".

It's been 4 years of near-total inactivity here, but there wasn't much to report. We've been on hiatus, my husband has been deployed a few times, and we are finally getting to get back to work on the old girl.

I've spent the intervening time researching things and making plans, and I have figured out a number of things about this house. Not one of those things, and none of my extensive research, has given me anything like an answer as to which architect or kit company she came from. Not a bit, despite having practically had a love affair with the online texts section of the Internet Archive, and spending way too much time with Google Books. So, in the spirit of warming up a cold project and slowly getting it into gear, I am going to ask you for some help. Here's my question for you:

Does anyone out there recognize this floorplan? I have yet to find a house with a 28 x 48 26 x 48 footprint with a 28x40 26 x 40 cellar/foundation. I made a few rough scale drawings of what the house looked like before three different additions were tacked (or frankensteined, in the case of the dining room bay) on, and before the porch was closed in and roofers removed the vent gable. I think I ought to have drawn the steps wider, but I have no idea what the original steps might have looked like.

Here's the only photo I have been able to find prior to the changes to the porch:

What we do know:

  • The county tax assessor has a single sheet of manila with a tiny photo stapled to it, which I have been told dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s. The build date on the house, according to this document, is 1925. However, as records are incomplete, I have been told that could simply be a sale date, or the date the property record was recorded in the county office. Nobody knows.
  • The younger daughter (Edith Heppe) of the family that built it visited the late former owner of the home about 15 years ago, and a statement about the house was written down from her childhood memories. We have this statement and I have transcribed it here
  • Mrs. Heppe remembered it was built by her father, and her parents moved to Centralia in 1921, so it had to have been built before that time. 
  • It's got Sears hardware throughout, and all the original millwork is directly out of the Sears millwork catalog. 
  • It originally looked rather like an Aladdin, if you go by that little black and white photo. But it does not match any recognizable Aladdin plan, or even a footprint of any similar style of home, that I have yet found. Also, the interior millwork and hardware and NOT Aladdin.
  • I've found a similar footprint in Wards and Chicago House Wrecking company catalogs, but nothing like this plan or style in combination with the footprint.
  • It's got an odd arrangement of den/living room/dining room that is indicative of an earlier house, so really, the latest I would put it at is 1914.

In other news, I finally know what to do with the back bedroom. More on that, and the kitchen remodel, later.