Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sears Sunbeam in Orlando, Florida

1901 e central blvd orlando fl sears sunbeam
Authenticated Sears Sunbeam • 1926 • 1901 E. Central Blvd., Orlando, Florida
I believe that it was researcher Lara Solonickne, of our kit-home research group, who first ran across a 1993 newspaper article about this Sears Sunbeam in Orlando, Florida, and added it to our national database of Sears homes. The article ran in the Orlando Sentinel, on February 13, 1993, and told of the history of the family who bought this house, and lived there through the 1990s: Robert and Kate Brown, and their children Charles and Dorothy.  I was researching the Sunbeam a bit the other day, and ran across this sale listing for the house, on Trulia. So, I thought I'd show off its beautiful interior in a blog post. All but this next photo of the house, are from that Trulia listing.

sears sunbeam orlando florida
The Sunbeam in Orlando, thanks to Google maps streetview.
See how nicely it matches the catlaog picture below.
sears sunbeam 1925 catalog
This is the Sunbeam as shown in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, 1925.
sears sunbeam 1925 catalog

History of the Sunbeam and the Elmwood
The Sunbeam was a 1920s model offered by Sears, recognized immediately by its four big front columns, squared off and tapered down from the top, and its wide shed-roof front dormer, perfect for the sleeping porch it housed.  This is a great house for Florida, I would imagine. A little further down, here, you'll see a photo of the bedroom that the sleeping porch dormer opens off from.  It was used as a children's bedroom by the most recent owners.

Before 1922, this model was known as the Elmwood.  It had an open sleeping porch up in that dormer, whereas the 1922 through 1925 catalog images of the Sunbeam show that as an enclosed dormer, with lots of window area.  There is also a very slight difference on the first floor:  the Elmwood had a little back porch off of the kitchen, and a back door from the back wall of the kitchen, led to that porch.  The Sunbeam's design did away with that little porch, and placed the back door at the base of the staircase in the center of the back of the house, where it lead to the basement. The blue arrows on the catalog images below, point out that difference.
sears elmwood 1921 catalog
Here is the Elmwood, with its open sleeping porch in the upper dormer,
as offered in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
 Here is the 1921 Elmwood's first-floor plan:
sears elmwood interior 1921 catalog
The blue arrow points to the Elmwood's back door out of the kitchen,
leading to back porch stoop.
 And, here is the 1925 Sunbeam's first-floor plan:
sears sunbeam floor plan 1925 catalog
This is the Sunbeam, from the 1925 catalog, and the blue arrow here
indicates the changed placement of the back door.
No longer exiting from the kitchen, it exits from the landing of the stairway
that leads to the basement
(above which, is the stairway in the living room, that leads to the upstairs bedrooms).
The back door placement is the most obvious detail in the back, but you can also see that, if you get to see the interior of the house (and the kitchen hasn't been all re-done), you can note that the entry to the kitchen is different, too. Both have an entry from the dining room, but, for the Elmwood, that was the only interior entry. The other doorway just goes outside. The Sunbeam, however, has that entry into the refrigerator's nook, that leads to the stairs that go to the landing where the back door is, and to the basement.

Another difference between the Elmwood and the Sunbeam, pointed out to us by researcher friend Karen DeJeet, is the placement of the heating system's vent chimney (not the big fireplace chimney-- that's on the other side of the house), shown here (below) on the left side of the house, off of the kitchen. In the catalog floor plan, above, the red arrow points out that the chimney is placed on the exterior of the house, outside the wall of the kitchen. But, in the Elmwood's floor plan, that vent chimney is placed inside the wall of the kitchen (as pointed out with a red arrow on the Elmwood's catalog floor plan, above), so that vent chimney is not visible from the exterior of the house, as it is if the house was built during the Sunbeam years (1922 and after).
sears sunbeam visible heating vent chimney
The Orlando Sunbeam, with its heating system vent chimney visible on the exterior of the house.
The Elmwood / Sunbeam was a popular model for Sears, but it's hard for researchers to identify "in the wild", without interior views. Why? Because there is at least one almost-exact lookalike--- from the exterior. The Radford company, a very well-known plan-book company of the early part of the 1900s (plans only, not any building supplies), offered the Barnard, shown below:
sears sunbeam lookalike radford barnard
Thanks to Cindy Catanzaro for this Radford catalog image of The Barnard. She got it from researcher Rebecca L. Hunter (, and it is available in the Dover re-print book, Radford's House Designs of the Twenties ... which Rebecca has, Cindy has, and I have LOL.

If we take a look at the interior layout of Radford's Barnard (below), we see that the heating vent chimney is again not visible from the outside, because it is placed well into the interior of the house, along an interior kitchen wall (pointed out with the red arrow).  For researchers, this means that if we see a Sunbeam-style house out in the wild, and we see an exposed heating vent chimney, then it is most likely a Sears Sunbeam. If that vent chimney is not visible, it is either a Sears Elmwood, or a lookalike. If we can see the back of the house, however, we will know that it is probably the Radford Barnard, if we see a row of four small windows on the back, in the breakfast room (that breakfast room is mentioned, with excitement, on the catalog page above).

radford barnard floor plan first floor central staircase
Radford's first-floor plan for the Sunbeam lookalike, The Barnard (1920s).
The glaring interior difference between the Radford Barnard and the Sears Sunbeam or Elmwood, is the placement of the stairway up to the second-floor bedrooms. The Radford Barnard has that staircase right in the center of the first floor, so you see it as soon as you walk in the front door. The Sunbeam and Elmwood have that staircase at the back wall of the living room.
Radford Barnard central staircase
This is from a home that used to stand at 466 Phillips, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. It looked like a Sears Sunbeam from the front, but the interior views shown in this sales video, showed us that it is most probably the Radford Barnard.  The property was bought and torn down, and a new home was built on the lot.
And, here are the two second-floor floor plans of the Sears models, the Sunbeam (on the left), and the earlier Elmwood, on the right. The only obvious differences are the placement of the door into the bathroom, and the location of the heating vent chimney:
sears sunbeam floor plan vs sears elmwood
Notice the placement of the door into the bathroom, and the location of the heating vent chimney.
This also shows that, on the right side, the fireplace chimney on the Elmwood, is slightly inset into the wall of the bedroom, whereas the fireplace chimney of the Sunbeam (left), is fully on the exterior of the wall.

The Orlando Sears Sunbeam
Let's take a look at the Brown family's Sears Sunbeam, as shown in recent real estate listings:
sears elmwood interior 1921 catalog
The Elmwood's living room, as shown in the 1921 catalog. Note the staircase to the left -- that's at the back wall, and the fireplace is at the right-side wall of the house.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
And here is that same view, in the Orlando Sunbeam.
In the living room, we see two other things that point to the provenance of this home: the colonial staircase newell (blue arrow) is shown in the Sears building supplies catalog; and we have the presence of two plinth blocks (red arrows), used to connect sections of baseboard trim.  Normally, plinth blocks are used in carpentry at the base of door trim molding, but Sears offered the plinth blocks as a way to easily join two pieces of floor molding that were at angles, or were different sizes. It made for a neat-looking transition, and was easier for someone who wasn't a carpenter, to connect pieces of molding.
sears colonial staircase with plinth blocks joining floor molding
Plinth blocks as joiners (red arrows); Sears colonial staircase, with colonial newel (blue arrow).

From the 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog.

From the 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog.
You can see the use of plinth blocks shown on two other authenticated homes, in previous blog posts: this one, about an Americus in Pittsburgh; and this one, about a Brookwood in St. Louis.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
This shows the 3 front windows on the right side of the front of the house,
and the front entry door, next to them.
The dining room is on the other side, also having three windows onto the front porch.
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears fireplace mantel
The fireplace you see in the Orlando Sunbeam
matches the "Colonial Design Brick Mantel" shown in the catalogs.
sears colonial design brick fireplace mantel from 1929 catalog
From the 1929 Sears Millwork and Building Supplies catalog.

sears sunbeam dining room 1921 catalog
The Elmwood's view into the dining room, from the living room,
as shown in the 1921 catalog. This image shows a built-in with an upper set of glass-door cabinets (those aren't windows in the center), but the Orlando Sunbeam has a shorter buffet.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
Here are the three front windows of the dining room, and the built-in buffet,
flanked by two small windows (that is the left side wall of the house). 
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears sunbeam orlando florida
This is the same layout as is shown for the Sunbeam.
Notice that, if this were an Elmwood,
there would be a back door here,
instead of a window (and closer to the corner of the wall). 
sears sunbeam orlando florida sleeping porch in dormer
This is that wonderful, big front dormer... the "sleeping porch".
sears sunbeam orlando florida
Here is the front bedroom, with the "sleeping porch" opening up off of it. 
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears sunbeam rear view
If this were an Elmwood, that back door would be over to the right,
close to the corner, and there would be a back porch stoop off of it.
The back stoop with overhang that you see here,
are not shown on the Sunbeam's catalog image.
If this were a Radford Barnard, you would see a row of four small windows,
to the left, where the Barnard's breakfast room is. 
sears sunbeam lookalike radford barnard rear view
This is the Glen Ellyn property that we suspect was a Radford Barnard.
Note the series of small windows where the breakfast room is
 on the Barnard floor plan.
These windows are not on the Sears models.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
Wonderful screened-in front porch of the Orlando Sunbeam.
Here  you see the front door, in the center, the three front windows of the living room
(on the far side of the front door),
and the start of the dining room set of three windows,
here between the Adirondack chairs. 
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears sunbeam orlando florida

The Brown Family
The couple who built the Orlando Sunbeam in 1925/26, were Robert S. Brown, and his wife Kate. Robert worked "on his own accord" as an upholsterer (according to the 1930 and 1940 census), and Kate raised their two children, Charles and Dorothy.
The 1930 census tells us that both Robert and Kate were born in England, in the early 1880s, and both emigrated to the United States in 1906.  They must have been married about three or four years later, as the census tells us that they were 26 and 27 when they married.
Source:'s synopsis of the Brown family, from the 1930 census.
The article in the Orlando Sentinel, tells us that daughter Dorothy married in 1938 (and, so, of course, she is not shown as a resident in the house, in the 1940 census report for this address), and that she and her husband, Fred Bush, moved back into the Sunbeam after her parents passed away in the early 1970s.
From the Orlando Sentinel article.
Though the article mentions Dorothy Bush moving back into the house in 1983 after her parents had died, that may be an error, as Robert and Kate Brown died in 1973 and '71, respectively (image from
Other Sunbeams and Elmwoods
While we have a number of Sunbeams and Elmwoods on our national database of Sears homes, few are definitely authenticated. However, Lara of Sears Homes of Chicagoland, has written about one of each:
• To read about a 1917 Sears Elmwood in Glenview, in the Chicago area, click here.
• To read about a  1923 Sears Sunbeam, in Villa Park, in the Chicago area, click here.
• To read more about the Radford plan-book company, click here.

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  1. Great comparison! I got my original info on the existence of the Radford Barnard from my mentor, Rebecca Hunter, when I needed help with identifying three possible Elmwood/Sunbeams in Oakwood, Ohio. She sent me a copy of the Barnard page with her field notes on the differences. I still sometimes forget to check possible Sears models against her notes.......well......I usually forget to check possibles against her notes. Now I have two places to see comparisons. Maybe I'll do better on these now. Thanks!

  2. My house I grew up in Silver Springs, same frame , this is renavated

  3. I grew up in a house/Sears Roebuck homes, in Silver Springs, New York. I was able to look up house in Silver Springs on google pro search. They made changes. Had a small den off living room, and exstended to part of porch, made change in front bedroom window, do not like.

  4. Hi, Patricia Lockwood!
    We would love to know the address of your family's Sears house in Silver Springs, New York, to add it to our national database of Sears houses. If you would email me at, you can send me the info, there. Thanks!
    Judith Chabot
    Sears House Seeker blog


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