More than a century has passed since the Harris Brothers Company first offered a kit house which today is both admired and disparaged. Known variously over the years as Design No. 6, No. K-2013, and No. J-6, the kit house had a facade which continues to evoke a wide range of emotions. Was it the result of a clever marketing strategy or merely a reflection of its time?
As evidenced by both the stated number of purchases and the physical number of surviving houses , the J-6 kit house by the Harris Brothers Company was a big hit across the nation. Appearing in early 20th century Harris Brothers catalogs, the house ceased to be offered by 1920 or thereafter. Its distinctive corner turret was a Victorian-era holdout, and a bit old-fashioned even when it debuted. Its gabled front was similarly behind the times, but comfortably familiar. The Colonial Revival detailing of the front porch was similarly safe in contrast to the concurrently popular, but edgier, Craftsman and Prairie style designs.
It’s no surprise that the house appears to have been wildly popular in small towns and rural areas throughout the Midwest; the center section of the country has long been noted as a region in which changes in style or fashion take longer to be embraced. As a composition, the house flaunted a little bit of Queen Anne pretension while still maintaining a conservative air – the perfect compromise for prevailing tastes in the center of the nation. The slightly old-fashioned form paired with a stylishly dignified porch made it a winner in areas which were slow to keep up with the times. I can’t help but wonder if the house was not designed to appeal to the sensibilities of Midwesterners just as the center section of the country experienced rapid growth. Personally, I think it was brilliant and calculated marketing strategy.
A few rural examples of surviving houses follow period catalog images:
And now, some surviving examples in the heart of “flyover country”: