Saturday Tweets: Root Simple’s Miscellanies

Chicago Kit Houses

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Root Simple reader Nicole H sent me the Midwestern equivalent of the Pacific Ready-Cut kit home catalog I posted on Monday: the Chicago Wrecking Company’s 1913 A Book of Plans. They later, and wisely, changed the name of the company to Harris Brothers Homes.

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The catalog contains Wrightian styles like the one above.

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As well as the 1913 version of a tiny house.

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Need a barn? They’ve got you covered.

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Want to open a store? They’ve got a plan for that too.

The catalog contains customer testimonials such as this one from an early house flipper:

Dear Sirs:
We received the material for the house and was [sic] greatly pleased with the same. Everything was exactly as represented in your catalog and the lumber was of far better quality than I could have gotten here at a higher price.

Before we had the house nearly finished, a gentleman bought it and we realized a neat sum for our work. He now likes his cottage home so well he would not take double the price he paid me for it.
(signed). LILLY H. DAY

It’s interesting to see the subtle similarities and differences between these houses and the ones in the Pacific Ready-Cut catalog.

Between and Google Books, there’s a whole universe of copyright free literature to read.


108 Artist/Maker Federico Tobon


Update: Federico wrote up a blog post showing some of the things we talked about.

Our guest this week on the Root Simple Podcast is artist Federico Tobon of WolfCat Workshop. We talk about a lot of things including Federico’s art, adventures in extreme “makerdom,” sharpening tools, knots and even how to train cats!  This is an episode that you’ll want to follow along in the show notes so you can see Federico’s amazing work. Here’s some of the things we talk about:

You can follow Federico’s work at WolfcatWorkshop and he’s @wolfcatworkshop on Instagram. Make sure to sign up for his newsletter.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.



The Kit Houses of the Pacific Ready-Cut Home Company

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I’ve noticed that in ads and Hollywood movies, when it comes time to symbolize the values of comfort, family and domesticity the style of architecture chosen is almost always a bungalow built between the years 1900 and 1929. In the popular culture’s subconscious, Victorian houses are the haunted domain of serial killers and modern Dwell-style abodes house unhappy hipsters. The ur-North-American-house is a pre-cut kit house built between WWI and the crash of 1929.

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The Pacific Ready-Cut Home Company, like other kit houses manufactures such as Sears, milled and cut everything at a large central facility and shipped to the building site on the back of a truck or train. You hired a contractor to finish the home or you did it yourself. Like modern tract homes, you could customize your house with cabinet, door and window choices. I suspect that our house was a kit as there’s an almost exact copy a block away.

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Headquartered in Los Angeles, Pacific Ready-Cut was the largest kit house company in the United States. Looking through the 1925 catalog I spotted many familiar homes in our neighborhood. My friend Colin, who tipped me off to the catalog, found his own home. While I didn’t find our house, I found one suspiciously close, “Style #48,” whose floor plan is a mirror image of ours.

For those of you who own homes from this period, the Pacific Ready-Cut catalog can help solve restoration questions. I have a rule for restoration work around our house: if it’s missing replace it, if it’s broken repair it. When it comes time to replace missing features a kit house catalog can be invaluable.

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As an example of a typical repair, I blogged about fixing our built-in ironing board. Thanks to the Pacific Ready-Cut catalog I now know that it had a sleeve board and a tiny shelf. I can now add those items to the repair bucket list.

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When fixing our living room floor I discovered that what we thought was the front bedroom had a large doorway opening into the living room. The bedroom was actually a dining room with a curtain, probably like this one in the picture above.

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In our neighborhood, house flippers have taken to ripping out all the walls and built-in cabinets in old houses in a misguided attempt to make them conform to the current vogue for everything mid-century modern. As a real estate agent once told me, “people like an old house on the outside and a new house on the inside.” Let it be known (and you heard it first on Root Simple) that the mid-century modern trend is over. Soon, Eames chairs will be tossed out on the parkway to join unwanted 1970s Mediterranean headboards. The Pacific Ready-Cut Home catalog will become a kind of sacred scripture guiding us all back to sensibly constructed homes with solid and modest cabinets.

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Kidding aside, I really think we need a small house movement rather than a tiny house one. Why not just start building these perfectly good early 20th century houses again?

A big thanks to Colin for the tip on the catalog and on a article in the LA Times about the Pacific Ready-Cut Company. Which, before its demise switched to manufacturing surfboards! The Times article notes that there are thousands of Pacific Ready-Cut Designs not shown in the 1925 catalog I linked too.


Saturday Tweets: Wood Chips, Embroidery and Tempura