A Sears “kit house” in Chatham’s Old Village receives a top-to-bottom makeover.By Laurie Higgins | Photography by Dan Cutrona
From 1908 through 1940, Sears, Roebuck and Company sold close to 75,000 homes through their “Modern Homes” mail order program. This hip roof bungalow, circa 1915, is one of several Sears homes that exist in the Old Village of Chatham. When the present homeowners bought it, it hadn’t been updated since the 1930s. Despite the run-down condition of the house, the owners were attracted to the property because of its close proximity to the downtown area and the unique style of the house. They hired Minglewood Homes in Chatham to completely refurbish the home.
A big makeover for a small home
Tim Smith, owner of Minglewood Homes, says that their main goals were to maximize space in the cottage-sized bungalow and to remain as historically accurate as possible. To accomplish the first goal, he and his crew jacked the house up and replaced the old block foundation with a full foundation and a walkout basement that increased the living space by a third. That space now contains a large and light-filled family/entertainment room, a lovely fifth bedroom and a full bath as well as a laundry room with folding area and utility room.
“Then we gutted the whole house and tried to rematch some things that were here,” Smith says. “The layout on the first floor is a little bit different. It’s not a huge house, so you really had to work with what you had.”
They did so beautifully. In the formal living room, they removed an old woodstove fireplace and replaced it with a space-saving gas fireplace. Built-in bookcases add storage and charm. The living room is separated from the dining room by a half wall with columns that give both spaces an open feel. To recreate the historic dining room, Smith and his crew took photos of the wood paneled walls and reconstructed the old look with new materials.
The large kitchen on the back of the house is every home chef’s dream, with a Viking six-burner professional gas stove and a Liebherr built-in refrigerator that matches the white cabinetry. Countertops are jet mist granite that has been “leathered” to give them the look and feel of soapstone without the maintenance. A butler’s pantry with plenty of built-in storage and a wine rack separates the kitchen from the adjoining dining room.
The first floor master bedroom can be accessed either through a full bathroom off the kitchen or through a door off the living room. Pale blue walls create a calming effect and plantation shutters offer privacy.
History found; history preserved
In keeping with the historic nature of the house, the staircase to the second floor is the original staircase, beautifully refurbished. The fir treads on the staircase inspired the decision to use vertical grain fir floors throughout the house.
“The original house had fir flooring and the stair treads are fir so we decided we wanted to match what was here,” Smith says. “It’s very pretty because it’s got a lot of different colors to it.”
When the Minglewood crew gutted the upstairs, they discovered there had been a fire at some point. They found smoldered rafters with a few burned straight through that had to be replaced. The original second floor had a couple of tiny warren-like bedrooms. To create more space, Smith added dormers and cantilevered the roofline. The three bedrooms are still small, but have storage cubbies and features like built-in beds to maximize space and create a cozy feeling. There is also a new full bath on the second floor.
“From the outside it doesn’t look very big, but when you get inside there is a lot of space,” says the homeowner. “I credit Minglewood with the creativity of that lower level. If you’re around a lot of people, everyone needs their own space from time to time.”
In addition to maximizing space indoors, Smith created plenty of outdoor living spaces. The existing covered front porch was completely redone. The small deck off the kitchen was replaced with a larger mahogany deck that was rubberized in order to create another sitting area underneath for rainy days. The lower sitting area is a patio with bluestones edged by cobblestones. Granite steps lead up to a four-car parking area. A bluestone path leads to a giant outdoor shower with beautiful fieldstone accents.
A former one-car garage was also completely refurbished and turned into what the homeowner’s call “the bunkhouse,” which offers yet another area for family and friends to congregate.
“We took the long term approach both in terms of the structural improvements and also the aesthetic improvements,” the homeowner says. “We didn’t cut any corners and we got a lot of good advice from Tim and his team.”
Their efforts earned the house a 2012 Chatham Preservation Award from the Town of Chatham Historic Commission, the Historic Business District Commission and the Chatham Historical Society.