Wondering how to decorate your bungalow for the holidays? Let this quote by William Morris, the father of the Arts & Crafts Movement be thy guide.
I grew up with a mother dedicated to creating magical moments for her family, & zhuzhing up the place for the holidays every year was high on the list. (Though her credo was,”Less is more,” I’m not going to swear that she was true to it.) In consequence, as the days at the Hare House, my 1910 Craftsman began getting shorter, & the weather started cooling, I was prompted to consider the holiday decorations that the Reverend & Grace Hare might have chosen back in 1910. Though childless, they had family nearby & were of sufficient standing in the community that it would have been expected that they would entertain. The Hares were reasonably affluent, with refined tastes, but they were not lavish spenders. The lot they chose was not on the prestigious Eagle Rock street of Hill Drive. The house had only two bedrooms & a single bath. In the bathroom they chose to use scored plaster instead of tile. The fireplace sported a modest hearth, covered in smooth tile rather than the more ornate Batchelder that was often seen in our neighborhood. I could not imagine that the Hares would change their habits for the holidays. My thought was to follow Morris’ inspiration & choose the simplicity of natural materials from Grace’s garden decorate my bungalow.
PLANNING MY HOLIDAY GARDEN
“The houses were decked with evergreens in December
that the sylvan spirits might repair to them and remain unnipped
with frost & cold winds until a milder season had renewed the
foliage of their darling abodes.”
~Quoting the Druids in CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS FROM WINTER’S GARDEN, The Craftsman Magazine, 1911.
My first bungalow holiday in The Hare House, was a year in the making. I moved in in December of 1998 & started thinking about the next Christmas. I had been living in a terrific Mid-Century hillside house in Pasadena. Because the Hare House was built before electricity came to that part of what would be Los Angeles, I didn’t feel like I would do the same celebration with the 50’s colored lights & Blow Mold Santas.
As I planted my garden beds at the Hare House, I thought of Stickley, & wanting to remain “unipped” in the cold winds of Los Angeles, I considered what might be good choices for Christmas foliage for my darling abode. Asparagus ferns are a total takeover nightmare, but I decided to plant a couple to use on the deep mantel & above the built-ins in the dining room. They bounce back even after the closest haircut & provide a nice fluffy element. I am in love with ferns, so I planted a few different types, again thinking of bedecking the halls.
CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS FROM WINTER’S GARDEN also suggested, “Of those bearing bright berries that we can gather from the woods or fields to adorn our homes at this Christmas season, perhaps the general favorite in the East is the holly—in the West it is the toyon. These two glossy leaved bushes of the scarlet berries are too well known to need words in their favor.”
I was lucky enough to have toyons on my property, perennial California native shrubs that had been trimmed into trees. Also known as Christmas berry, I knew that they would provide me with all the red berries that I would need. Fortunately, the tree in back produced a sufficient quantity that I could leave all the lovely, red berries on the tree to decorate my front yard.
When I left L.A. for Florida, I requested that my sister-in-law in California gather toyon berries & bring them to me in her suitcase. I adorned the mantel & sideboard of my 1925 bungalow with the little red berries from California, adding large, shiny magnolia, the tree of the South, leaves to the mix.
I crafted a fluffy wreath out of pine cuttings, added pinecones & a bow & hung it on my door to greet my guests as they entered, after walking up the poinsettia lined steps.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Though Edison offered strings of decorative electric lights as far back as 1890, power would not come to Eagle Rock until 1914 so I used candles to re-create the simple, but festive holiday home of these people for whom I held such affinity & admiration.
I clipped branches of our huge, old pine which I augmented with branches of other conifers & fluffed up with the ferns I had planted the year before. These I piled the on mantel & the top of my sideboard, & strew across my dining table, then tucked in candleholders of various sizes. I added pinecones & the prickly little pods I’d gathered from the neighborhood. The pods I had sprayed gold & I handled them with care because they were full of nasty little stickers. For color I used batches of toyon berries & pomegranates from my local Trader Joe’s. I had considered apples, but discarded the idea in favor of the richer color of the exotic pomegranate.
My tree was fir. Since childhood my mother had taught me about Christmas trees adorned by candles. Because they came into common use in 1917, & the town where she lived had been electrified in 1911, I’m thinking that she, born in 1919, never got to have the experience of candles balanced on the ends of branches. My mother’s tales of these candles included stories of horrible fires so I didn’t go that route, instead opting for strings of white electric lights which seemed like a good (but sorry) compromise, though quite likely the Hare’s used candles on their tree. I had some of my mother’s childhood glass & celluloid ornaments which I embellished with the ones that I had gifted her over the years.
My mother loved tinsel & insisted that each piece be carefully draped a single piece at a time, over individual branches. Tinsel originated in Germany as strands of thin, beaten silver to reflect the light from the candles. Being affordable to only the wealthy, the next generation of tinsel was made of an alloy of tin & lead. I’m thinking that due to the avarice of the lead industry, which was allowed to continue for decades, both our families suffered the misfortune of handling this material.
The gift wrapping at the time was very simple, usually red or green or white tissue paper, or even plain brown paper. Modern gift wrap was invented by the Hall brothers, of Hallmark fame, in 1917 & it seemed a bit out of place in our simple holiday. I did use cellophane tape though, which was not invented until 1930. String & sealing wax were used prior & I’m an admitted Luddite but with the craziness of the holidays, I didn’t feel like sitting around manipulating hot wax around the noses of overly curious kitties.
”Would we not be entering more into the spirit of Christmas by going out to meet it, as it were, by searching for these aromatic symbols of immortality & bringing them into our homes, rather than by unromantically ordering wreaths, vines & branches from the florist’s.”
My decor was very simple but elegantly brought the aromatic, natural world indoors & clearly conveyed the spirit of the holiday. As I picked up my shears & my grandmother’s woven basket, & headed out to the garden with my pussy-cat, I thought of Grace Hare & my grandmother preparing for their holidays & felt the peace of the season.
ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS AT STICKLEY’S CRAFTSMAN FARMS
The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms is a National Historic Landmark & historic house museum, located on the campus of Craftsman Farms in Parsippany, New Jersey. It was built by Gustav Stickley between 1908 & 1917 as the most complete expression of his “Craftsman” style & provides an unmatched opportunity to experience Stickley’s ideas about the impact of architecture, design, & landscape on a meaningful life. The Log House, which was the Stickley family home, will be decorated in period holiday décor & will be open for holiday tours. Their Crafts-Mas Open Houses are: Saturday, Dec 2nd Saturday, Dec 9th Saturday, Dec 16th Their holiday tours of the log house are: Dec 3rd: Tours at 12pm and 3pm Dec 10th: Tours at 12pm and 3pm Dec 17th: Tours at 12pm and 3pm
If you want to read about my family Christmas, & my wild uncle Bill, just click here.
I have learned a great deal about the Southeast U.S. from visiting house museums. After having read so much material on old houses, it is wonderful to visit the complete homes, most restored with the best preservation practices. Often they contain at least some original furniture & household goods. Generally you are provided with information about the family & their contributions to local history as well as a glimpse into their lives & the life & culture of the time.
I live in the Southeast, but I have toured house museums all over the U.S. & find each experience to be enlightening & entertaining. The videos are broken up by region so that you can hopefully, hop in your car & for a weekend getaway in time. This one, about the Southeast contains videos of many of the places I have been. Check back! I’m not done yet!
LET’S VISIT SOME OF THE HISTORIC HOUSE MUSEUMS IN THE SOUTHEAST U.S.
Cracker Country – A rural Florida living history museum (2:03)
The City of Tampa
This was my first taste of Florida history after having moved here from Los Angeles. I was rattled by the move & the 8 back-to-back hurricanes. Visiting these early homes served to ground me. My curiosity is always my best friend & Cracker Country opened wide the door to a whole segment of history & architecture with which I had no familiarity. Hm-m-m. Maybe
Truly one of the most stunning & creative houses in the world, the house is only one attraction in the Ringling complex in Sarasota, Florida. In addition to viewing the video, take a look at my post on the other attractions. If you visit Florida, you cannot miss experiencing The Ringling!
Relocated to Heritage Village in Largo, Florida in 2014, now, nearly 10 years later, the restoration is complete & you can tour this bungalow, built in 1915. In the Village museum are displayed Turner family artifacts, covering every decade since the home was constructed in 1915.
Constructed in 1895, the richly ornate Conrad-Caldwell House in one of America’s largest concentrations of Victorian homes, is a site of cultural & architectural significance to the city of Louisville.
I hope that you will have the opportunity to visit the historic house museums of the Southeast U.S. The rich history of the area is represented in these old houses & they contain much information about the development of the architecture, technology & culture that created our world today. They answer the question, WHY PRESERVE?
I learned about the culture of the early 20th Century at my mother’s knee. The stories she told me about my grandmother, born in 1888, growing up on the farm, & the fascinating tales of her own life & times, combined beautifully with my own old-timey nature & held me securely me in those periods as others are anchored to the generation of their birth.
Not surprisingly, I have always lived in an old house & I always felt a special kinship with it, but it wasn’t until I owned my first home that I learned the concept of stewardship & became curious about- no, actually compelled to start researching the history of my bungalow & discovering its secrets.
A building is a composite of the culture & technology of its day. A custom-built home tosses in the tastes & lifestyle of the homeowners. Who were they? What inspired them? How did the house serve their needs? So, let’s make those walls talk!
My suggestion for keeping the maze of information easy to follow is to start by creating a system in which to keep your research orderly because you could end up with many pages of documents, both hard & digital. Set up a dedicated hard file & a digital one in your computer in which to stash your finds.
You might also want to create a spreadsheet to make a map of your data so you know where you’ve been. In this you would have such columns such as the document name, its date, publisher, your source & a space for notes & most importantly, where can it be found in your hard or digital files. Each piece or group of information can lead to the next so you want to keep your clues untangled!
GETTING STARTED RESEARCHING THE HISTORY OF YOUR BUNGALOW
Are you in a historic district, or has your house been designated as a historic structure? (This information should have been disclosed to you when you purchased your house because these designations often come with restrictions, but, sometimes there are surprises!) If so, the designating planning body should have information about it. Even if you are not, your house could have been part of a historic survey at one time so check with your city & state preservation offices.
OLD HOUSE GROUPS
Your local historic society can often provide a great deal of information from their archives. Also, see if there’s a preservation advocacy group near you & enlist their aid. Even if they don’t have information about your specific house, they will be able to provide you with a great deal of information on your city, maybe even on their website! I recommend being connected with & supporting these groups. If you are an old house lover, they’re your peeps!
”For over 20 years Arcadia Publishing has reconnected people to their community, their neighbors, and their past by offering a curbside view of hometown history.
Composed in a unique pictorial format with over two hundred vintage images and accompanying captions, Arcadia books animate the cherished memories, people, places, and events that define a community.”
The next place to start is your own observations. Does the layout make sense? Are there indications of add-ons? This can confuse records because sometimes a build date can be listed as the date a later addition was permitted. I’ve seen houses that were clearly built close to the turn of the last century with recorded build dates that were post WW II.
In researching the history of your bungalow, look around your neighborhood. Are their houses that look similar? Talk to your neighbors & ask what research that they have done. They may have made discoveries that would enrich with what you are seeking.
One interesting factor is to notice how your house & the surrounding houses, orient to one another. In my neighborhood, you can clearly see what was the original farmhouse. Much older than the other houses, it faces what is now a big city street, with its back door facing the rest of the neighborhood. Most neighborhoods began as farming communities & in researching the history of your bungalow, you’ll find that the story of your local neighborhood forms a large chapter in the history of your own house.
THE BUNGALOW HISTORY RESEARCH PAPER TRAIL
Know this- the older your house is, the more changes could have occurred with regard to its location- street numbers, street names, even town & city names & borders. And, the house itself could have been moved maybe just blocks or even many miles! So pay attention to any oddball changes you might see as you are doing your research- those facts that don’t line up. For example, an odd build date can reflect a house move. You don’t want to be researching the history of the house that was demolished to make room for your house! I’m sure the lives of its inhabitants are worth knowing about, but it’s not what you’re after! This Folk Victorian that I restored (You can see the sad tale here.) had been moved from another neighborhood to make room for a highway project. It was weird to do research for a different address but at least I knew that it had come from another location & I had the correct original address for it.
Additionally, public records can be incomplete or inaccurate due to human error, floods & fires destroying decades of information & illegible from age or just terrible hand-writing. Your search is not likely going to be linear, but more cobbled together like a puzzle, as you search for like pieces from different sources that form bits of the whole picture, some contradicting other materials & some validating it. This is why you want to keep those records in good order when researching the history of your bungalow!
HOME OWNERSHIP RECORDS
Visit your local county’s Tax Assessor’s office which will provide ownership records & descriptive information. You may have to go to a separate location to view archived records, or perhaps they will be helpful to find them for you & bring them to the office.
Next, head to the county courthouse to search for deeds & follow ownership backward. Take notice of how the property may have changed hands- liens, judgements, inheritance, etc. & you may need to check other records such as civil courts or wills to get more of the story.
Then, with all your information, head for your local public library. I can almost guarantee that you will find at least one librarian there who is a local history expert & she will happily point you in the right direction to flesh out your data. Local colleges & universities can also provide a wonderful amount of material as well as friendly & enthusiastic librarians who hold much data in their heads.
The Library of Congress’s collection of telephone/city directories represents the following states and localities: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the city of Chicago. Most local libraries will have these directories to many local ones, covering most of the 20th Century also.
Many of these directories are arranged geographically, in other words, by street name, so you can look for your address in any particular year’s edition & see if was included. This is often very helpful in discovering the year your house was built. In one volume you’ll see it. Checking earlier, you won’t!
THE SANBORN MAPS
These maps were created to allow fire insurance companies to assess their total liability in urbanized areas of the United States. Founded in 1866, the company made maps of churches, schools, commercial, industrial & residential properties. These maps are helpful for determining build dates & also footprints of houses, including outbuildings. They also show the locations of windows & doors, building use (sometimes even particular room uses) as well as the composition of building materials including the framing, flooring, & roofing materials.
These maps can be accessed via the Library of Congress & through many local libraries. They are very beautiful. so, old house nerd that I am, I have saved some of the most lovely ones for you here on Pinterest.
There are also general maps that can be accessed from Old Maps Online. A fun feature of this site is that you see the evolution of a place by overlaying old maps on top of modern ones to compare historical maps to current data. This provides a visual clue to the development of areas over time.
Another great tool is census records which paint a detailed picture of each person living in the house. For example, the 1910 (my favorite year) census records the following information for each person:
• relationship to head of household
• color or race
• age at last birthday
• marital status
• length of present marriage
• if a mother, number of children & number of living children
• place of birth
• place of birth of parents
• if foreign born, year of immigration and citizenship status
• language spoken
• type of industry employed in
• if employer, employee, or self-employed
• if unemployed
• number of weeks unemployed in 1909
• ability to read & write
• if attended daytime school since September 1, 1909
• if home is rented or owned
• if home is owned, free, or mortgaged
• if home is a house or a farm
• if a survivor of Union or Confederate Army or Navy
• if blind in both eyes
• if deaf & dumb
This data can be accessed through the National Archives, but your local library can probably help you with it too.
NewspaperArchive provides links to millions of pages from 12,111 publications in 2,671 papers all over the U.S., starting way back in 1736.
They gather information from libraries, historical societies, & newspaper publishers, amassing content that will help you find the stories that will further your research on your bungalow.
The search can be arduous, but poking around on the site I discovered that Reverend Alfred Hare, the builder of the Hare house, played the guitar & was very active in the social life of my town, Eagle Rock, as well as participating in community betterment activities. I also found the obituary of his wife’s father. In general, I was able to get a good idea of the lives & characters of the Hare’s & gain a greater understanding of the some of the puzzling features of the house. And fell more in love with them.
I also got an idea of how life had been in my town around 1910. The funny thing is, it hadn’t changed all that much! It was still centered around our cultural center, which had been a Carnegie Library, & the 20th Century Women’s Club, to which I belonged in the 21st Century.
A large number of bungalows were built from plan books, many of which can be accessed here. Instead of drafting whole new blueprints, builders would adapt these plans to the lot & to clients’ needs. Many people believe that they have kits houses because they see so many houses that are similar, but what they actually have is a home built from a plan. There was even a self-proclaimed “Bungalow Man,” Los Angeles architect Henry L. Wilson, who published catalogues of bungalow designs, complete with plans & specs for $10.00. Many of them are unique to the California landscape, providing a broad broad view of bungalow designs of the region, expressing what Wilson termed “artistic beauty & cozy convenience.”
This book was reprinted by Dover, is available on Amazon & other book outlets & especially should you live in California, I recommend it highly.
Please let me know about any other great resources you might discover & I’m very eager to know what your walls tell you!
TIP: I put together a collection of very informative videos to further orient you to the research process. You can watch them here.
Researching the history of your bungalow can be arduous, but I guarantee that it will be rewarding.
In addition to learning about the previous occupants of your home, you will make new/old friends, who may be long gone, but through your research you will come to understand them & the period in which they lived. Many of these people were leaders & you will discover their many accomplishments. You also might uncover why certain puzzling choices were made in your house by the original homeowner.
Solving the puzzle of a house history can be discouraging at times, but if you persist, I think that the many findings & insights that you will gain, will increase your enjoyment of your house tremendously. And future stewards will love you!
I have curated the clearest & most thorough videos that I could find. My suggestion is that you watch them to get an overview of the process, & then use the article to guide you through the steps.
LET’S WATCH THE VIDEOS!
Researching the History of Your House (9:30)
Although the narrator says “DC house” 1,642 times, the information applies to all cities.
25 tips on how to research your house history and previous owners (21:15)
Researching the History of a House (1:07:38)
American Ancestors- New England Genealogical Historical Society
A more scholarly presentation.
TIP: Read my article on why this stuff is important!
“Is it true that you could once buy a house from a catalogue?”
“Do I have a kit house?”
“How can I identify which house I have?”
During my years as a historic preservation advocate, at event after event, I think that these are the questions I have been asked the most frequently.
Though last year, nearly 81% of the American population shopped online, the novelty of a whole house arriving on a train intrigues. I find the picture of a family waiting at the station in excited anticipation of hearing the toot of the train signalling the arrival of their first home, to be most endearing. Who would not wish to be a part of this story?
Sadly, Sears, the primary outlet for these homes, destroyed their sales records during a routine corporate house cleaning, so finding information on individual houses today can entail quite a bit of patient research. Adding to the mystery, the various companies that offered these homes often copied plan elements or even complete designs with only small changes from one to other. As a result, there are a number of models from different manufacturers that look similar or identical to other models. Determining which company manufactured your home may well require extensive searching.
So much has been written on kit houses that I have chosen to just be a reference librarian here & point you in the direction of the wealth of information that already exists on the subject. Whether you are merely curious, or have the burning desire to uncover whether you have a kit house or not, these references should provide you with what you need.
BOOKS ANSWERING THE QUESTION, DO I HAVE A KIT HOUSE
The Houses That Sears Built; Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sears Catalog Homes
by Rosemary Thornton
From the author:
“When you have finished reading The Houses That Sears Built, you will be your community’s expert on Sears homes. You’ll learn how to identify Sears homes from the inside, outside and from courthouse documents. You’ll learn the interesting details of Sears homes’ construction.”
Also by Rosemary Thornton Finding the Houses that Sears Built; A Guide to the 60 Most Popular Designs
Thornton explains, “If you learn how to identify these 60 designs, [of the almost 400 designs offered] you’ll discover about 90% of the Sears homes in your community.”
And perhaps one of these is yours!
introduced by Rosemary Thornton & Dale Patrick Wolicki, California’s Kit Homes: A reprint of the 1915 Pacific Ready Homes Catalog
Houses by Mail: A Guide To Houses from Sears, Roebuck & Company
by Katherine Cole Stevenson & H. Ward Jandl.
This definitive field guide for identifying Sears homes tells their curious story & provides meticulously researched material to aid in identifying Sears houses across the U.S.
The book features nearly 450 house models with more than 800 illustrations, including drawings of many houses & floor plans & gives advice on how to return them to their original charm.
These books are available from several book sellers. I recommend searching the titles to find out who might have them currently in stock. The prices are all over the place, so my advice is to keep looking until you find one that is most affordable.
These researchers maintain the National Database of Sears Houses, authenticating each entry through public records or other primary sources data. They have a page with a list of blogs that provide information about houses in specific areas of the country.
Wikipedia has an extensive article on kit houses, including information about:
Delivery & construction
Kit house companies
with an authoritative bibliography & excellent linked references.
If all the above fails, there is a group page, The Original Sears Kit Homes Group on Facebook- Since 2009, that you can join. Should you discover that your house is a kit house, but it was not made by Sears, I invite you to start a group that covers the other manufacturers. I think that people would flock to it!
And finally, visit my playlist of curated videos on YouTube. They contain huge amounts of information & some cool images. My favorite one is presented by the state architectural historian at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Devin Colman. His in-depth, scholarly talk is very thorough but easy to comprehend, & he shows many illustrations. This is a man who clearly has a strong background in historic architecture & presents the kit house phenomenon against the culture & the technology of the times.
Historic kit houses hold an intense interest for old house lovers. The very idea introduces the possibility of getting so many questions about the origins of our homes answered. We all burn with curiosity to know: Who built it? Who designed it? When?
The fact that there were many companies manufacturing & shipping houses, & they stepped on one another’s designs all too frequently, makes this puzzle even more intriguing.
My article, DO I HAVE A KIT HOUSE? provides many references that are chock full of the most authoritative answers. I invite you to read it but I also offer you a tip-back-&-eat-popcorn experience in the form of videos that will impart some more cool knowledge.
The first couple videos are entertaining but the last one is highly illuminating, answering questions for me that I never knew I had about historic kit houses. The speaker, Devin Colman, state architectural historian at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, has obviously researched this topic well & he fleshes out the subject, enriching our understanding of the origin, success & decline of historic kit houses.
HISTORIC KIT HOUSES VIDEOS
Build your own Sears Kit Home – Life in America (8:01)
Some good information & wonderful images.
Sears Houses– Kit Houses Sold by Sears, Roebuck, 1908-1940. From Two on Two, WBBM-TV Chicago. (6:58)
Blueprints found in the attic! Neat! See inside some houses as they are now.
The Kit House! When houses were made by Sears (and others) and shipped for assembly. (8:12)
I always love to hear Brent’s take on all things old house. He doesn’t dissappoint us here!
Bungalow in a Box: Kit Houses of the Early Twentieth Century (41:19)
Historic New England
Now you’ve hit the motherlode!
Devin Colman, state architectural historian at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation speaks on historic kit houses. He explains the houses from various aspects giving you a full & fascinating education on the subject.