When Paul Kirkman first laid eyes on the house he bought last year, he knew it was a rare find: a 1917 Arts & Crafts bungalow with all its original woodwork and charm intact.
The house, in Minneapolis' Bryn Mawr neighborhood, had all the features that bungalow fans covet: dark built-ins, wainscoting and moulding, coffered box-beam ceilings and even an Inglenook fireplace.
"I said, 'This is perfect -- the one,'" recalled Kirkman, who had been searching for just such a home for seven months. "I like bungalows, and in my mind, this hits the pinnacle of that kind of architecture. The living room is about as original as you can get."
But Kirkman's bungalow is something even rarer: a Sears kit house, one of about 75,000 sold by mail order between 1915 and 1940.
There were 370 models, representing many styles, but Kirkman's house, the "Ashmore," is one of the least common, with only a handful of known surviving examples, according to Rosemary Thornton, author of "The Houses That Sears Built."
Advertised as "the Aristocrat of Bungalows," the Ashmore was among the largest (2,800 square feet) and most elaborate of the Sears kit homes. "It's a beauty, with a lot of nice features," Thornton said.
And it definitely defies any stereotype that mail-order homes are low-rent, said Tim Counts, president of the Twin Cities Bungalow Club. "Some people think of kit homes as ricky-ticky, slap-it-together, but often they are very high-end homes, and that one is a perfect example."