House-plan books like those from Palliser & Palliser date back to the Victorian period; full construction drawings were offered, and sometimes also a millwork package. By the middle of the bungalow era, a host of companies offered pre-cut kits, which would be shipped by rail for on-site construction. Not only lumber but also everything down to the nuts and bolts, and even paint, were included. Leading sellers included Keith’s, Aladdin, Sears, Harris Brothers, Montgomery Ward, and Gordon–Van Tine.
From 1908 until 1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold over 70,000 kit houses through their Modern Homes and Honor Bilt catalogs. Designs for 370 different plans ranged from the elaborate to the simple; the ‘Goldenrod’, for example, was a three-room vacation cottage (no bath, out-house separate).
The Ohio bungalow restored by Sam and Kathleen (previous story) is the ‘Argyle’, a Sears bestseller with just 1,008 square feet but many nice features, inside and out. This particular design was marketed from 1915 until 1926. In 1915, the kit cost $785. By 1919, it was $1,479, and by 1923, it cost $2,349— still an exceptional value. Sears provided some customization (mirror-reverse plans, for example), a book-length instruction manual, and 10,000–30,000 pre-cut and -fitted framing members and elements. Plumbing, electrical, and heating equipment could be purchased separately, also from Sears.
The couple found out about their house from a neighbor, who stopped by one day when Sam was working in the garden. “You have a Sears kit house,” the man told his new neighbor. “It was called the ‘Argyle’.” Quite delighted, Kathleen and Sam went to their local library and found a copy of a 1919 Sears Homes catalog: indeed, there was the familiar house plan.