Friday, April 07, 2006

The genius of the place

When Barrie Oblinger bought a run-down, almost-hundred-year-old house near his own home in Mebane to restore and resell, he didn't know what he was in for. As he started to poke around, he found that the pieces of lumber were numbered, as if there were some order to them or something.

There was. It was a "kit house." With a little research, he found out exactly which kit house it was: "The Standard," from the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, as seen in their 1917 catalogue.

aladdin standard house

Though the Sears & Roebuck kit houses may be better remembered today, Aladdin was in business longer: till 1981. Around 1996, a lucky thing happened. Someone bought a warehouse full of thousands of Aladdin documents, 15,000 drawings, the catalogues, business records, and made an anonymous gift of them to Central Michigan University.

Barrie visited the archives. With all of that history in mind, he and his partner proceeded to take the house apart and put it together again for the 21st century. They returned the color schemes, outside and in, to the muted earth tones of the original designs, reflective of the arts and crafts movement of the early 20th century. Prior owners had added a room off to the left of the front, nicely done with a fireplace. Barrie and Kevin knocked out the back wall, turned the pantry space into a spacious kitchen, and turned the kitchen into a dining room.

aladdin 1
The "new" room with fireplace.

aladdin 2
Barrie in the new kitchen. The light fixture is made from a heating grate on the floor of the foyer.

aladdin 3
Going up.

aladdin 4
The view from the old kitchen.

Kit houses were houses for average Americans: not everyone could afford or even wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright production. Still, they reflected the quality and craftsmanship of their time. Aladdin offered $1 for every knot that was found in a piece of exposed lumber. Almost a hundred years later, there was no rotten wood in the Mebane house.

dollar a knot

The sales tag was that an Aladdin home could be "built in a day." Maybe not, but happy customers testified to the ease and economies of its construction.

Aladdin's plans were ambitious. By 1920, they were offering to build whole towns. While not making a go of those diversified efforts, or their home furnishings line, they did manage to keep their core market for a very long time. The Standard model in Mebane has a new lease on life. It should be good for another hundred years or so.

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