Budget Breakdown: This Sears Kit Home in Houston Originally Cost $1,299. It Just Got a $368K Glow Up

A family expands the 1920s prefab with a two-level addition, introducing storage solutions, a primary suite, and a powder room painted a punchy blue.

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Michelle White was recently at a neighbor’s dinner party when another guest—a visiting architect at Snøhetta—asked to see her house. Michelle and her husband, Haden Garrett, had spent more than a year renovating their Houston Heights residence, which dates back to the 1920s. They long suspected it was a Sears kit house—sold via catalogue from Sears, Roebuck and Co. and shipped to the buyer via railroad boxcars. Michelle’s neighbor, who lived in a Sears kit house almost identical to hers, had done the research, finding old advertisements that led everyone to believe their homes were the Josephine model: four rooms total, including two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom, retailing for $1,299, not including cement, brick, or plaster.

"I knew a bit about Sears houses and their history," says Michelle. "We live a block away from an old rail line that would go to the factories. The train would stop off here—this is the first suburb of Houston to the north of the city—and dump out houses."

White-painted shiplap, added by a previous owner, gives the original living room a heritage feel. White oak flooring throughout the house fulfills Michelle’s penchant for modernism and nods to the Scandinavian design in the inspiration images she sent architect Marisa Janusz.

Photo by Divya Pande

The post-dinner tour revealed an updated residence, but one that didn’t stray too far from the spirit of the original. An addition doubles its square footage, a simple palette of white paint, oak flooring, and millwork blending with the details of the original house; the couple wanted to keep it from appearing ostentatious or overly designed (a rising problem in the neighborhood, they say.) "We loved the home and wanted to preserve it as much as possible and expand in a way that felt modest and in keeping with the neighborhood," Michelle says. "It was important to keep the proportions sensitive to the original profile."

"We changed the light fixtures over the island," Janusz says of the Dutton Brown pendants. "We used simple shapes like squares and balls. We repeated globe light fixtures throughout, so you see them in the kitchen, the dining room, the laundry room, as well as up the stairs." Her team also added cabinetry around the refrigerator, but otherwise left the kitchen as it was.

Photo by Divya Pande

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The family room that connects the original home with the addition has a new porch, built from wood Haden repurposed from another deck on the property.

Photo by Divya Pande

Michelle and Haden purchased the 1,000-square-foot house from friends in 2011, shortly after getting married. Four years later, they had their son, Oliver. The house worked for the family when Oliver was younger, but as he grew, Michelle and Haden wanted more space. In 2016, the couple contacted Marisa Janusz of local firm Janusz Design about remodeling. The architect already knew the home, since she’d discussed a renovation with the previous owners. "It helps save a little money on design when the architect is already familiar with the house," says Janusz, whose fee totaled $30,000. It was 2020 when Michelle and Haden were finally ready to pull the trigger on the project, which Janusz describes as "a budget-friendly approach to adding square footage and building a calming space for the parents to escape at the end of the day."

Janusz opted for a vaulted ceiling in the family room. "To transition from the single-story space, we used a change in volume relative to the new flat ceilings," she says. The built-in bench was a request from Michelle.

Photo by Divya Pande

The gallery, finished with white oak floors, includes a built-in bookcase painted in Farrow & Ball’s Hay.

Photo by Divya Pande

Aside from moving the laundry out of a nook behind the kitchen, Janusz retained the footprint of the original kit home, adding square footage off the back of the kitchen. The new two-story addition has an informal family room that connects with the main living space, a utility and laundry room, a gallery space, a garage, and a primary suite upstairs.

By the time Haden and Michelle started their project, the pandemic had hit, and labor and materials costs were much higher than the initial estimate, adding about $150,000. "Construction costs were the biggest," Janusz says, "and even to cram that into the budget, we had to make some cost-cutting choices." Structural elements (the foundation, framing, siding, and insulation) ate nearly one-third of the budget, coming in at a little less than $100,000. Millwork, including built-in bookshelves and storage, was the second-largest cost at $38,240, with wall finishes and paint taking a close third at $37,000. "Modern millwork was important," says Michelle. "We also needed storage and wanted it to feel integrated. After the renovation, we weren’t going to have money left over for new furniture, so we needed to get as much aesthetically out of the build as possible. I told Marisa, no hardware [for cabinet pulls], just holes. We were looking for ways to save money and make it look simple but well-designed."

$40,250
Foundation
$58,450
Structural
$36,960
Wall Finishes
$15,200
Flooring (wood only)
$9,000
Roofing
$5,000
Hardware
$20,000
Electrical
$19,200
Plumbing
$12,500
HVAC
$22,000
Landscaping
$4,000
Kitchen & Bath Fixtures
(excluding tub)
$10,000
Lighting
$38,240
Cabinetry
$4,600
Countertops
$22,000
Windows, Doors & Mirrors
$9,100
Tile
$1,100
Metalwork
$7,000
Furnishings & Decor
$1,500
Permitting
$30,000
Architect Fee
$2,000
Waste/Debris Removal
Grand Total: $368,100

Custom built-in storage was a splurge for Michelle and Haden, as was the Fireclay Tile in the laundry room. "It was out of our budget," admits Michelle, "but it was so dramatic, and we saved so much by using inexpensive white tile in the bathroom."

Photo by Divya Pande

A bent-steel stair railing, painted with Fallingwater Red by PPG Paints, a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, brings a jolt of energy to the neutral gallery space.

Photo by Divya Pande

The kit house maintains its finishes, and aftermarket touches like shiplap walls that nod to the Houston suburb’s vernacular. Michelle’s inspiration images were mainly Scandinavian-inspired design, full of light wood, white walls, and clean lines. In the new addition, however, Michelle and Janusz used color—via paint, tile, and a bent-steel stair railing—wanting to create personality. Michelle, who’s the senior curator at a museum in the city, the Menil Collection, brought in a former colleague, exhibition designer Brooke Stroud, to consult on hues. "I wanted it to feel different through color," says Michelle. "It ended up being a cost-saving measure; because we knew we were painting, the type of wood we used in some places saved money."

They ended up with a primary color composition, choosing complementary tones that wouldn’t appear too much like an elementary school paint palette. Stroud painted large sheets of paper with various yellow and blue options, moving them around to test the interaction of light at different times of the day, keeping in mind that the walls would pick up hints of colors from their surrounds—from the oak floors to the trees outside the window. "We landed on that earthy yellow with green undertones because it would bring warmth and depth," Michelle says.

The new addition’s laundry area and powder room are awash in shades of blue. Wall paint was color-matched to Fireclay Tile’s Blue Velvet tile, invigorated by a turquoise color for the grout and powder room.

Photo by Divya Pande

The powder room has a wall-mount sink the couple found at a salvage yard, an American Standard in Regency Blue. Janusz color-matched the paint for the room.

Photo by Divya Pande

In the gallery, Farrow & Ball’s Hay, a light buttery-yellow tone, covers a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcase that opens to a large laundry room with a powder room off to one side. Color-wise, this room is the pièce de resistance—shades of blue abound. Michelle found an American Standard wall-mount sink at a salvage yard and Janusz color-matched paint for the powder room. She also custom-matched paint in the laundry room to the tile they chose, Blue Velvet by Fireclay Tile.

To create a visual connection with the original home, Janusz used white-painted shiplap, oak flooring, and globe-shaped pendants. Details like vertical oak trim in the hallway add refinement. "I thought it was important to mark transitional spaces," the architect explains.

Photo by Divya Pande

The primary bedroom, which Michelle wanted to be a calming oasis, has a minimal palette of oak wood and white paint. "It’s nice to have a private space to read for the first time ever," Michelle says.

Photo by Divya Pande

The primary suite’s dressing area is painted the same soft yellow as the gallery downstairs. To save, Michelle and Haden opted out of hardware for the cabinets, instead going with round holes that serve as pulls. An opening above the counter looks over the stairs.

Photo by Divya Pande

The primary bathroom includes oak cabinetry and quartzite counters. Michelle found the bathtub, a salvage piece from Rejuvenation, for $900 on Nextdoor. It had a small scratch, but paint covers it up.

Photo by Divya Pande

The couple saved further where they could with odds and ends, without sacrificing style. Michelle and Haden found a Rejuvenation bathtub (with a small scratch) on Nextdoor, spending $900 instead of the $10,000 it retails for; they repurposed wood from another deck Haden had built on the property to create one off the family room; and made use of Kohler hardware leftover from a project at Haden’s job, where he works as a facilities manager for a landscape design firm.

"We had a limited budget," Michelle says, "but I didn’t want it to feel like that when you look at the house. I like modernism and the idea of staying to materials. It’s refined but not pretentious, and now we each have a lot more space."

Illustration by Tim Lohnes

More Budget Breakdown:

Budget Breakdown: A Houston Family Nearly Doubles the Floor Plan of Their Beloved Bungalow for $391K

Budget Breakdown: With $89K, an Architect Expands His L.A. Home for Three Generations of Family

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Janusz Design  / @janusz_design

General Contractor: Color Houses / @color_houses

Structural Engineer: CRAFT Structural / @craftstructural

Civil Engineer: Geoscience Engineering

Color Consultant: Brooke Stroud

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