Mail-order modern: OKC homebuilder capitalizes on vintage niche
Dustin Combs was driving through a kind of time warp, Oklahoma City's Mesta Park neighborhood, with its turn-of-the-20th-century Prairie School, Craftsman and American Foursquare architecture, when the idea hit him: If people could build such distinctive homes back then, why couldn't he now?
There was no reason he couldn't. Combs, owner of Capital Homes, just needed some vintage house plans, to update and re-create the aesthetics and feel of the homes in Mesta Park, NW 16 to NW 23 and from Western to Walker, where every house "has a certain flair to it."
He turned to the Oklahoma Historical Society, where someone told him to look into Sears Modern Homes, the kit houses featured in catalogs and sold through mail order by Sears Roebuck and Co. back in the day, from around 1908 to 1940.
Repeating for younger readers: Yes, Sears used to sell finish-them-yourself, prefab house kits, by catalog, in the olden days before the internet, way before Amazon.
Combs Googled Sears AND house plans. There's an archive here: http://searsarchives.com/homes/.
"About 20 minutes into it, I found the Winston. I fell in love with it," he said.
And he built the 1920s-era house — after having architect Rick Chambers tweak it — at 10816 Wild Horse Creek Drive, in the South Fork at Surrey Hills addition, west of N Mustang Road off of W Hefner Road in the Yukon area of northwest Oklahoma City.
"I was just blown away," Combs said of the modifications by Chambers, owner of Fillmore & Chambers Design Group. "He captured it exactly."
Capital Homes built others, too, from the 1920s, including the Avalon at 10816 Blue River Drive, and the Cooper at 11700 NW 108 Terrace, which won several awards during last year's Parade of Homes Fall Classic.
The vintage look took nothing away from its contemporary master bedroom and great room, dining room and a chef's kitchen with designer appliances, and media room with projection television, 100-inch screen, surround sound and Blu-ray, said Mike Combs, who works with his son at Capital Homes. Modifications to the original plan also included a three-car garage and other upgrades.
Capital Homes also built the vintage-but-upgraded Duffy plan at 10709 Wild Horse Creek Drive and 10837 Blue Creek Drive, which Matt and Bonnie Tyson, who are in their 30s, bought having never heard of a Sears house: "We had no idea," he said.
Tyson said the house is a comfortable mix of nostalgia with all the features of a new home, distinguishing it from cookie-cutter plans that "just seem so similar." It fits the needs and desires of the family: Tyson, a loan underwriter for Legacy Bank, his wife, a speech pathologist for Piedmont Public Schools, and 4-year-old Reagan and 1-year-old Madeline.
The kitchen, he said, is his favorite part of the house, with "cabinets to the ceiling," a space with its own definition — not another seamless "open concept" plan blurring kitchen, dining and living space.
"It was a lot of fun" to tweak the old Sears kit plans but "make the elevations look as grand," Chambers said. "They turned out really great."
Capital Homes, founded in 2006, builds about 20 houses a year, Dustin Combs said, and while "the response was overwhelming" to the Sears-type plans, he's not sure what era of the past he'll dip into in the future. He said he's always looking for old plans to adapt. Not all houses designed in the early 20th century can be be feasibly modified for the 21st. Garages and indoor plumbing can make things difficult.
He said he would love to build at least one house representing each decade from 1900 through the 1960s.
In the meantime, he said, he's about to start working on a new home for himself and his family: his wife, Sherri, broker-owner of Porch & Gable Real Estate in Piedmont, twins Cooper and Calli, who turn 10 on Sunday, and Grady, who is not yet 1. The design will be based on a century-old house in South Carolina, tweaked to suit life in 2021.