Once upon a time in America, it was possible to order a complete house from a Sears-Roebuck catalog and build it on your own lot. The do-it-yourself kit contained everything needed to assemble a ready-to-occupy house, from joists to roofing shingles. Each piece was numbered, and instructions were included. Between 1900 and 1940 Sears and its competitors sold hundreds of thousands of kit houses.
About 50 of these comfortable, sturdy homes still exist in Raleigh, and at least six are in UPHA subdivisions. A booklet published by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission and the Raleigh City Museum lists the six as 117 Chamberlain St., 208 Chamberlain St., 2820 Everett Avenue, 902 Brooks Avenue, 906 Brooks Avenue, and 2830 Barmettler St. Some of the homes look almost exactly like the images in yellowing catalogs from the 1920’s. Others have been altered over the years, but still retain a few identifying features.
Kit house at 208 Chamberlain St.
The heyday of kit home construction in the 1920’s coincided with the expansion of Raleigh from downtown to new developments in areas that were to become part of what is now University Park, such as Fairmont and Forest Hills. The appeal of kit homes was primarily price; components were mass-produced and therefore cheaper, much of the work could be done by the homeowner and friends, and skilled labor was needed primarily for specialized tasks like electricity and plumbing. Hundreds of off-the-shelf design options eliminated the cost of hiring an architect. The kit home varieties ranged from rustic cabins (outdoor privy optional), to spacious, multi-story homes. The most popular models were three bedroom, single story family bungalows with wide porches. Today, these homes still blend smoothly into their University Park setting.
Kit house at 2820 Everett Avenue.
For further information about kit homes, you may want to consult books by historian Rosemary Thornton, who identified those mentioned in this article. Please respect the privacy of the occupants.