My Grandma's 1940's Mail-Order Home

Grandma's kitchen.
Grandma's picture perfect kitchen.

This is my Grandma's adorable kitchen. My grandfather built it for her in the 50's and I assume it was the envy of many June Cleavers at the time, with the glitter-flecked counter tops, aqua blue steel cabinets and glossy pink walls. The kitchen is still in perfect condition- almost untouched. She loved it so much, she chose to do all of her cooking in the basement kitchen, a dark concrete room with cinder block walls where she and her three sons ate, slept and bathed while my Grandfather built the rest of the house upstairs.

My Grandmother and I.
My grandmother and I. We are both Johanna Inmans.

Grandma's house
Little mail-order Cape Cod bungalo.

In the 1940's, my grandparents, Bub and Nonnie, ordered their home from a Sears Roebuck's mail-order catalog. Everything, from the pre-cut lumber to the nails and varnish, arrived by train to be loaded onto a flatbed truck and delivered to their double lot in Bloomington, IN. Although Sears sold more than 75,000 homes, they were not responsible for the architectural trends of the time. They just borrowed popular styles and applied them to modifiable, affordable building plans that were composed of easily constructed, pre-fabricated building materials. The homes came with 75-page instruction booklets and 10,000 - 30,000 pieces. Each piece was numbered to aid in construction. Today, these markings help identify a Sears home from the others, since they are otherwise not easily recognized.

Sears Mail-order home
1937 Modern Homes Catalog, page 16 Available from 1937 through 1940

Back in their day, Sears offered customizable floor plans and financing. They even leased small lots of land to build on. Many kit houses were built after WWII as fast and affordable options for the new veterans who were eager to start baby booming. Unlike the pre-fab homes we see today, these were not so cheesy and obvious. In fact, you may be living in a Sears home - many of the styles are identical to the homes that line the streets of my neighborhood. Here's a collection of illustrations, featuring almost every Sears home design, from 1908 to 1940.


Like my Grandma's retro kitchen, her little home is a sign of the times. Once surrounded by grassy hillsides and farmland, her property is now flanked on all sides by condominiums, apartment buildings and Indiana University dormitories. The Hoosiers' football stadium is looming barely a block away and not one single-family home exists for blocks around; The homes that are left are rental properties owned by IU. Often she is pressured to sell to a developer for a pretty penny. Heck, recently, her covetted property became of interest to one of the region's most notorious con-artists, posing as a representative of a " wealthy European investor."

But she'd hate to leave. I'd hate for her to leave. We've had some hard times, my family, and we've lived a lot of places. Despite whatever circumstances, her place was always there, the same.

Instead she'll keep fretting over the robbery of a coke machine at Union Square next door. She'll continue feuding with (and feeding) party animal college students who appear in her lawn in drunken stupors. Like in the movie UP!, perhaps she should escape campus life via thousands of multi-colored helium balloons?

Unfortunately, I know her home won't last for long. I can tell by the way she hints at my inheritance of her prized bottle collection. All I can do is remember it, and as you can see, I am doing some remembering before it's even gone.


  1. Johanna,

    What a wonderful bit of family history, and the house is just charming! I lucked upon your story when I was looking for Mail Order Homes.

    There was a tiny one in the town my Grandparents lived in, really like a dollhouse to me, set well back on its lot, and looking even tinier by comparison to its neighbors.

    I loved skating down there when we visited. It had two little peaks in front---one on either side of a little screened porch, instead of the smooth, square facade of yours, but I always imagined the kitchen to be simply splendid, with PINK walls!

    This was WAY South in Mississippi during my childhood, and now we live in Indy. Small World.

    (Can you believe I just SAID that?)



  2. I love your Grandmother's house and the story behind it. Thanks for sharing! Those were the good old days, weren't they? My own Grandmother, 94, lives in a house similar to this. I wonder if it was a Sears!

  3. Hi! That's not a Carver model, and likely not a kit from Sears. (The very last homes sold were in 1942 and only in certain states.) However, you might want to check the Aladdin mail-order models.



Speak your mind.