A Sears “Modern” Home

By Jennifer Bissell

1916 catalogue kit home is renovated for future use

For 30 years, Luther College Professor of English Nancy Barry has called Decorah home. 
With retirement approaching, Barry decided it was time to look at her forever home in a different light and make changes to accommodate her future needs. 
That’s why last spring, Barry renovated her nearly century-hold home, adding roughly 200 square feet of space while making it more accessible.

Rich history
The nearly 1,700 square foot house is a Sears Craftsman Modern Home. The 1916 story and a half bungalow began as a kit house sold through the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue. Perched at the top of the hill on Hollihan St., it has a perfect view of downtown Decorah, spanning from the Winneshiek County Courthouse to the Luther College campus.
In 1990, Barry was finishing her graduate degree from the University of Iowa. She heard of a position open in the English Department at Luther and began her higher education career in the spring of 1991. That was what led Barry to house hunting in Decorah and finding her dream home.
“I love the house. I was drawn to it immediately. I saw it and thought it was a great place to live and a great investment,” she said.

A percolating idea
As Barry was nearing her 30-year anniversary in her beloved home, she began to think about what life would look like in the future. 
“I realized I wanted to grow old in that house. I decided one of the things I was tired of was going to the basement to access my washer and dryer and I wondered if it would be better to have a bigger bedroom on the first floor,” she said. 
In the spring of 2019, Barry attended the Decorah Home Show, where she started asking what it would take to remodel her home. After getting an initial set of drawings, she consulted with various builders before choosing Marla and Kent Klocke of Design Solutions and Klocke Construction. Barry finalized details with the Klockes, confirming a construction start date of spring 2020. 
The plan included bringing the laundry room from the basement to the first floor. What was a small bedroom was enlarged to put the master bedroom on the first floor. She added a new master bathroom on the first floor. She also decided to remodel the kitchen by switching where the stove and fridge were locating and updating the cabinets.
To allow for more sunlight, a tubular skylight was installed on the stairwell. 
“I really enjoy having the solatube. It was important for me not to lose how much natural light the house already had,” she said. 
In total, she added about 200 square feet to the home. 
Adding to the back of the house meant the backyard needed to be reimagined. Calling it the saddest part of the project, Barry noted a walnut tree was cut down. However, she asked skilled Decorah-area woodworker Paul Bauhs to help repurpose the tree into a table. In addition, a sidewalk was poured

leading to the garage.
The new outdoor reconfiguration allowed Barry to put in a circular patio. 

In a pandemic
When Barry started the project, she had no idea the world would be gripped by a pandemic in the spring. However, her remodel was able to continue.
“When it came time to get started, it was just before the pandemic began. So, I decided to go ahead with the project not knowing the scope of what the pandemic would bring. I felt very safe with having the same very small crew come in and work during the pandemic,” she said. 
The first two weeks of the project, the crew worked outside laying the new foundation. Then they moved to inside work. This was while Barry was teaching her Luther students remotely after COVID-19 closed campus.
“It was a little noisy but actually it was fascinating,” she said. “I did feel safe. It was a very small crew Kent works with. It was the same people every day that were coming to the house. 
“When they moved inside, I’d ask Kent about what the noise factor would be for the day. I could go to Luther and do remote teaching in my office on campus. The thing about it that was interesting was that I could really follow the work. I could see every day what they had done. I knew what they were working on. Kent was great to work with. He answered all my questions, which were mostly driven by curiosity. I felt as if I was totally involved in the project.
“I really enjoyed seeing the project stripped down. The house is very well built. It made me really appreciate the quality of materials that went into the making of this house and the competency of the carpenters who constructed it.”
With just a few bumps and reconfigurations along the way, the project concluded in mid-summer. The only thing remaining is a bit of outdoor landscaping. 
“Kent and Marla were tremendously helpful in taking that original drawing and helping me make the decisions,” said Barry. “I really did work quite closely with Kent and Marla and really appreciated their help.”
Now that the dust has settled, Barry is thrilled she made the decision to update her home.
“The shower is my favorite. I have a big walk-in shower that is truly a nice thing,” she said. “I really enjoy working in the remodeled kitchen. I love the big bedroom on the first floor that has a south facing window.
“I’m just thrilled with the remodel,” she said. “I think they kept to the feel and the design of the house in a really good way.”


Click here for the complete first week of the Driftless Journal’s Home and Garden special edition.


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