Foursquare House Plans - Catalog Favorites from the Early 1900s

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Sears Kit Homes are Everywhere in the US

Two white two-story pattern book houses in Tuscumbia, Alabama, built from kits ordered from the Sears Department Store catalog
Pattern book houses in Tuscumbia, Alabama, built from kits ordered from the Sears Department Store catalog. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

Use this directory to find advertisements, illustrations and floor plans for American Foursquare Homes sold as mail order kits from Sears, Aladdin, and other catalog companies. Also known as the Prairie Box, American Foursquare became one of the most popular housing styles in the United States around 1895 to 1930. Is your old house from one of these kits?

02
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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. 52

American Foursquare Floor Plan from Sears Book of Modern Homes, Number 52 for $1995.
American Foursquare Floor Plan from Sears Book of Modern Homes, Number 52 for $1995. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

This familiar Foursquare style is made from concrete block, an onsite method of construction. Cast iron was being used for all sorts of things by the end of the 19th century, including cast iron architecture, but Harmon S. Palmer had a different idea. He invented a small cast iron molding machine that could form concrete blocks right at a work site. The hand-operated machine had different "face" ends, including a look of rusticated limestone—popularized by the ​Richardsonian Romanesque style.

These little machines became very popular, especially through catalog sales. The Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog offered house plans for free if you bought the machine. "Don't pay an architect $100.00 or $150.00 for plans," declared the Book of Modern Homes. For "a small portion of your millwork order," Sears would give you the plans for free. The plans just happened to be for a concrete block home that could be easily made with the Wizard block-making machine, available for purchase, right there in the catalog.

Note, too, that this floor plan from 1908 to 1914 has an exterior kitchen and the first floor—a sign that this is an early design, when indoor utilities may not have been commonplace for the mass market.

03
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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. 102

American Foursquare Floor Plan from Sears Book of Modern Homes, Number 102 for $2065
American Foursquare Floor Plan from Sears Book of Modern Homes, Number 102 for $2065. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

Model 102 from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog introduces the central hallway. This popular floor plan was different from many other plans (e.g.,Model 52) that had a room-sized foyer containing the stairs.

Sometimes known as the "Hamilton," this model has a kitchen that is more integrated into the first floor than other designs. The second floor suggests that a large "store room" could be modified to a toilet room. What we may consider "standard features" today were not commonplace between 1908  and 1914, including indoor plumbing and, most importantly, waste removal.

 

04
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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. 111, The Chelsea

Illustration of American Foursquare Exterior from Sears Book of Modern Homes, Number 111
American Foursquare Floor Plan from Sears Book of Modern Homes, Number 111. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

"This house is modern and up to date in every respect," says the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog about Modern Home 111.

The Chelsea from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog is advertised as concrete AND frame construction. How can they do this for less than $2,500?

"The low prices we name on all houses shown in this book are only made possible by our selling you the material at manufacturer's cost price, plus one small percentage of profit."

Note that the kitchen and the bathroom are now incorporated into the house proper in this model. The kitchen is one of the four rooms on the first floor, with a separate entrance. This Foursquare house plan has transformed that second-floor closet from Model 102 and turned it into an indoor bathroom. The Chelsea Foursquare floor plan has a nice, large front hall room—quaintly described as a "Music Room" or "Reception Hall." The stairs off this room jut out on the second floor, allowing space for a side entry door that may lead to a basement. There's also a rear entry and a front door to a vestibule—many escape routes in this model home from 1908 to1914.

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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. 158

American Foursquare Floor Plan from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. 158 for $1548
American Foursquare Floor Plan from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. 158 for $1548. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

The typical Foursquare floor plan—four square rooms over four square rooms—was not always followed in these catalog homes. Model 158 from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog is a good example of modifications and additions you may find in homes built during this period, 1908 to 1914.

 

06
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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. 157

American Foursquare Floor Plan from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. 157 for $1766
American Foursquare Floor Plan from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. 157 for $1766. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)


Bedrooms are now called "chambers" in Number 157 from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, and the exterior squareness of the Foursquare has been modified. If your home was built in this era, circa 1908 to 1914, it may not adhere to typical Foursquare features if it was constructed from one of these catalog kits.

What is included in the $1,766 price? Mill Work, Ceiling, Siding, Flooring, Finishing Lumber, Building Paper, Pipe, gutter, Sash Weights, Hardware, Mantel, Painting Material, Lumber, Lath, and Shingles.

Not included? Cement, brick, plaster, and labor.

Oh, yeah. Labor.

07
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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. C189, The Hillrose

American Foursquare Floor Plan from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. C189, The Hillrose, for $1585
American Foursquare Floor Plan from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. C189, The Hillrose, for $1585. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

Houses in the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog from 1915 to 1920, like the Hillrose shown here, were marketed competitively.  "When comparing prices," says this Honor Bilt Modern Home catalog ad, "please consider that this house has a double floor on the first floor and is enclosed with good sheathing."

08
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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. 2090, The Alhambra

Illustration of an American Foursquare Mission Type from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. 2090, The Alhambra, for $1969
Illustration of an American Foursquare Mission Type from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, Modern Home No. 2090, The Alhambra, for $1969. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

The Alhambra from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, 1915-1920, is described as The Mission Type. The stucco siding and parapet detailing are not typical features of an American Foursquare style home, but they are features of the Mission Revival house style popular from 1890 to 1920.

Perhaps the home buyer was becoming more sophisticated or choosy as many options are offered in this ad—for an additional fee you could order clear cypress exterior siding, oak trim and floors, and storm doors and windows.

Another interesting feature of the Alhambra is the way the stairway is separated from the house, almost like an enclosed fire escape.

09
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Aladdin Catalog, The Hudson, 1920

Illustration of "The Hudson" - A mail order house from the Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes Catalog, 1920
"The Hudson" - A mail order house from the Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes Catalog, 1920. Public domain image from Arttoday.com (cropped)

"To lovers of simplicity in home architecture," says the 1920 Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes Catalog, "the Hudson always appeals strongly." The description goes on to say that this model uses the famous "Dollar-A-Knot" siding—a guarantee offered by the Aladdin Co. where the company would refund $1 for every "knot" found in their "knotless" siding.

Another marketing ploy offered by Aladdin in this catalog page is that the company would "be glad to send you copies" of "interesting letters from Hudson owners telling of their experiences, cost of erection, and length of time in building." Not only that but the company "will send you names and addresses of owners nearest you," so that you can personally contact happy customers.

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Sears Catalog Modern Home No. C227, The Castleton

Sears Honor-Bilt Modern Home No. 227, The Castleton, from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, 1921
Sears Honor-Bilt Modern Home No. 227, The Castleton, from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, 1921. Public domain image from Arttoday.com

Another "Honor Bilt" home in the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog, 1921, was The Castleton, offered for $1989.00. Houses were becoming more complicated, and these simplified building plans and kits may have been becoming suspect, or at least less useful to consumers. What were shoppers looking for? The ad copy gives us a hint:

"Price Includes Plans and specifications. For prices of Plumbing, Heating, Wiring, Electric Fixtures and Shades see page 115."

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