Hot Property: An Original Sears “Kit” House Goes Up for Sale in McCandless
The mail-order, two-bedroom Mission-style home remains largely unchanged.
The kit and catalog houses by Sears Modern Homes were well on their way to changing the way Americans approached housing when the Osborn model from the Honor Bilt line was introduced in 1916.
Priced at $2,753, the Spanish Mission-style design featured stucco porches, bulkheads trimmed with brick coping “for color” and timber columns. Two open porches and a rear sleeping porch were marketed to nature lovers.
Advertisements touted the home as hailing “From the Golden West.” Its generous windows, 9-foot ceiling height and one-level living were a hit with the public. Capturing the imagination of would-be homeowners, it stayed in production through 1929.
It also captivated Alicia Dallago, who first saw the Osborn model for sale at 8828 Memorial Drive in McCandless in 1998.
“I walked onto that front porch, and I fell in love,” she says. “I said, ‘I want this house.’”
At the time, Dallago was looking to downsize. She made a contingent offer on the Osborn, and was just one hour away from the entire deal falling apart when she received a firm offer on her other home.
“That in itself to me was a message that it was going to be my house,” she says.
Despite her ongoing love for the home, Dallago is moving again — this time, to be near her son.
Her two-bedroom, one-bathroom home is listed for $247,000 (MLS# 1520628, Michelle Bushée of Piatt Sotheby’s International Realty, 412/585-2451, piattsir.com) It is open by appointment.
Many North Hills residents already are familiar with the home thanks to Dallago’s longtime business, Alicia Photography, which operated from the location for 22 years. Today, Dallago works remotely restoring old photographs.
“I was the only female photographer in the area when I opened my studio,” she recalls. “It was the perfect setting to live and work from.”
Sitting on one-half acre, the bungalow retains the original footprint. The exterior has the stucco finish, original brick details and a wonderful wood porch floor finished in marine varnish.
“I spent many years sailing,” says Dallago, a native of Argentina. “I would varnish every three or four years. It’s great, you don’t have to sand between coats.”
Once inside, the 24-by-12 square-foot living room offers lots of flexibility, with seating to the left and to the right. The original fireplace was converted to gas and sports the original threshold and mantle. A pair of pocket doors with brass cup handles is classically beautiful and convenient.
“If I took portraits of a dog, I would close the doors and say, ‘Let him loose. He needs to go everywhere and get familiar with the place,’” Dallago says. “Same with the kids. It was very convenient.”
The 13-by-15 square-foot dining room leads to the sunroom. The layout fills the room with light from interior and exterior multi-pane windows. The wood trim, baseboards and floors are original to the home, allowing the space to really shine.
In the 9-by-14 square-foot kitchen, a former owner tackled a remodel. While the footprint remains the same, modern conveniences such as a dishwasher, stainless-steel appliances and new countertops were added. New oak cabinets with cathedral door fronts are a nice complement to the room’s original wood trim and floors.
A back hallway leads downstairs to laundry. Another door leads to the rear yard, where Dallago installed a multi-level patio and pergola that takes advantage of the natural landscaping she nurtured for years.
“I installed a waterfall and planted wildflowers. It creates an ambiance in the yard,” Dallago says. “You see all of the trees and at night when the lightning bugs are out. It’s so beautiful.”
The setting also was the perfect place for portraiture.
“The wildflowers grow and every five or six years, you cut them down, weed and fertilize. Then they grow back even stronger,” Dallago says.
Back inside, two 12-by-10 square-foot bedrooms hold more stories. One bedroom has a wood storage cabinet that dates back to when the house was built.
“One of the prior owners was a watchmaker and that room is where he had his shop,” Dallago says. “Back in those days, travelers would use old Route 19 to go to Butler and stay overnight in that room.”
The single bathroom has a tub/shower combination. The home also has steam heat and central air conditioning.
An attic room has been repurposed into a bonus room. The 38-by-8 square-foot space runs the width of the house and is painted gray with gray vinyl flooring. It is lit with fluorescent light boxes made to look like windows.
“I finished that space to store my photos and I used it as a sewing room. I insulated the walls and it is heated and air conditioned,” Dallago says. “I adjusted the light temperature to mimic daylight.”
The home has many fond memories for Dallago. She is intent in preserving the history of the home and determined to pass it to the next owner as such, including the sunroom that makes a Pittsburgh winter a wonderland.
“That sunroom was my backyard in the winter. I would be there if it was snowing,” she says “I would open the shades and look at the snow falling. It was just beautiful.”
Hot Property is an inside look into unique and historic homes on the market. Each week, Hot Property goes behind the For Sale sign to share the story of a special Pittsburgh-area home. And four times a year, Hot Property gives an in-depth look at the region’s real estate market in Pittsburgh Magazine HOME, tracking housing prices and sales and detailing where the hot properties can be found. Rosa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All About Sears Kit Houses
The year was 1895.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. was arguably one of the largest retailers in the world, and the Sears Catalog was selling everything from the Graphophone Talking Machine to clothing, furniture and personal items such as prescription eyeglasses. The pages of the catalog even included a self-test for “old-sight, near-sight and astigmatism.”
In 1897, the Sears Catalog added a Builders Hardware and Material section that sold and delivered everything needed to construct a building, among them barns, sheds and even outhouses.
By 1906, building materials were unprofitable and Sears considered closing the department for good. Then along came Frank W. Kushel, former manager of the china department. He took over the Builders Hardware section and had an epiphany — he could ship building supplies directly from the factory and save storage costs.
By 1908, Sears issued its first “Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans.” Featuring an initial offering of 22 home designs, the catalog’s houses were priced from $650 to $2,500, according to Sears Archives.
Modern home building innovations such as asphalt shingles, plasterboard and precut lumber allowed customers to tackle the ultimate DIY when the 25-ton houses arrived by box train. The buildings quickly became known as kit houses thanks to a 75-page manual that took builders through the piece-by-piece assembly process.
By 1910, design styles had expanded and gas and light fixtures were offered. By 1920, Sears was averaging nearly 125 housing units per month. The Honor Bilt line of homes were four-season homes complete with inside trim, siding and custom options. Architecture styles included mission, colonial, tudor, ranch and cottage, to name a few. By the time Sears ended the program, more than 100,000 Honor Bilt homes had been constructed in America.
To learn more, visit searsarchives.com