Mini Mystery on the Majestic Maggy: SOLVED!

Subtitled: How Time Changes Old Houses

In a few weeks, I’m taking a road trip to visit a Sears Magnolia. In preparation for the trip, I’ve been studying the floor plan, and happened upon a little mystery that has had me (and many others in our Facebook group) stumped!

Take a look!

*   *   *

Floor plan shows

This is the 2nd floor of the Magnolia. The image is reversed (flipped) for reasons that will become evident later on. The mystery is that oval within a square in the dressing room (center room on the front). The dressing room was off the Master Bedroom, and there's a spot for dresses and hats, but what does the oval/square represent?



At first glance, it looks like a sink but why would there be a sink so far from the rest of the plumbing (kitchen and baths)? And on the front of the house? The bathrooms (second floor) were on top of the kitchen (first floor) to conserve plumbing runs, which is typical. Plus, I studied several exterior photos of different Magnolias and couldn't see a vent pipe in the front roof area. That, coupled with the odd placement (far from kitchens and baths) ruled out plumbing. This dressing room is directly over the entry foyer, which ruled out laundry chute. Chutes were usually found in common areas (hallways, bathrooms).



And then I found the answer is an unlikely place: The Ascetic Cinderella. This was one of the simplest little houses that Sears offered in their "Honor Bilt" line. It had only one bedroom, but it recommended that fold-away beds be used in the living room and dining room, and included a dressing room for stowage of beds.



The 1921 catalog featured a two-page spread on this simple bungalow.


sinking feeling

And there in the corner of the dressing room (which housed the fold-away beds), was a tiny corner sink.


plumbing runs be damned

The Cinderella was a very low-priced house, and yet, they ran plumbing lines from at least 25-feet away (the kitchen) to a lone fixture at the front of the house.



In fact, a close-up of one of the images in the 1921 catalog shows the dressing room with that corner sink. Presumably, Miss Cindy Lou (aka "The Little Lady") has rinsed out her unmentionables in the small sink, and is preparing to hang them up on the closet pole to her immediate left.


All of which leads

All of which leads me to believe that the mystery oval within a square shown on the Magnolia's floor plan is indeed a sink. In fact, judging by the way it's drawn, I'm guessing it'd be a pedestal sink. After all, if they can stick a wee tiny sink on the front corner of the Cinderella's dressing room, then it seems likely they did the same (with a better sink) in the Magnolia's dressing room.


And take a look at this thing.

And take a look at this thing. It's literally up against the door frame that leads to the front balcony. What a curious place for a pedestal sink. And the wall behind the sink is a little extra thick, which probably provides a chase for the plumbing to run over to the bathroom lines and join up there.



If we place Miss Cindy Lou in the Master Bedroom of the Magnolia (she likes the Magnolia a lot better than that CLH above), you'll see that she has quite a hike over to the family bathroom. And you'll see that these two front bedrooms are isolated from each other, so she can't even take the short cut through the other bedroom and into the bath. And maybe she has "unmentionables" that she needs to wash out each night that she doesn't wish to have seen in the family bathroom.



Years ago, I had an opportunity to see a Magnolia with a second floor that had been "frozen in time" after World War II. Upstairs, they had created an apartment by taking out a wall and installing this prefab kitchen sink. The door on the right leads out to the 2nd floor balcony and the window to the left is the small window that originally was part of the bedroom closet. This photo was further affirmation that there was a sink in that dressing room. This kitchen sink is placed just where the old pedestal sink would have sat. If you had to add a kitchen to an old house, you'd pull out the pedestal sink and stick in your new (1940s) kitchen unit. Which is just what they did.


house house

The red line represents the placement of the wall that was removed in order to install this kitchen sink.


What they did

If you turn that floor plan around, so it's facing in the same direction as the image above, you can get a better idea of what's going on above. The Master Bedroom is to the right, and if you walked into that dressing room, you'd have a hat shelf on the left side of the dressing room and your pedestal sink would be on the far right - right up against that balcony door (which is a really quirky design). The blue line represents the placement of the 1940s pre-fab kitchen sink and the pink X's show the wall that was removed, creating a walk-through between the two rooms. The red star shows where I was standing when I took the photo above. 🙂


house house house

Comparing these two images, you can get an idea of how it all went together. The red line on the left shows the placement of the 1920s wall, and the blue square shows the placement of the modern sink.



And if you look at the molding above that small window, you'll see that it's missing a corner. I suspect that it was built that way, to accommodate the extra-thick chase wall there (between the bedroom closet and the Master Bedroom dressing room).


house house house

This is an original "Family Bathroom" Sears Magnolia pedestal sink. Most likely, this was the same sink that was present in that Master Bedroom dressing room. Note how the plumbing lines come up out of the floor, rather than through the rear wall.


The Magnolia was only offered from 1918 - 1922.

The Magnolia was only offered from 1918 - 1922 (1918 catalog shown above). We know of only eight Magnolias that were built, and one of them (in Nebraska) was razed in 1985.


house house house

Here's a real live Magnolia in Canton, Ohio, and it's in beautiful condition! Photo is copyright 2011 Janet Hess LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


In conclusion, I’m now confident that the “oval within a square” shown on the floorplan is a sink. And apparently, placing a small sink in a dressing room was not uncommon in the 1920s.

If any readers know the reasons behind placing a small sink in a front bedroom, I’d love to know!

To read more about the Magnolia, click here.

Interested in learning about the Cinderella? Click here.

*   *   *


  1. ShariD

    It wasn’t uncommon in the much nicer homes of the day to place a “lav” in a bedroom.

    I’ve seen a few floor plans that have these types of sinks placed in bedrooms where they would be convenient to use to either get oneself ready for bed at night – dressing room, and the like – or to get ready for the day.

    Especially in a very large house, when there are likely to be many people in residence, and relatively few other facilities available for everyone’s use.

    Could sort of be seen as a replacement for the washstand, with pitcher and bowl, that most every bedroom had before the advent of modern plumbing.

    I’ve also seen a few movies set in the early part of the 20th century, showing such facilities in bedrooms. I’m getting ready to re-watch one of them right now, just to verify a source.

    If I find I’m recalling the right movie, I’ll let you know which one it is.

  2. ShariD

    Yep, it’s the movie I thought it was. If you get the opportunity to watch “The Actress” with Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy and Teresa Wright, you’ll see where Jean’s character has a friend who lives nearby, sick in bed, and she goes to visit the friend when she got a particular parcel in the mail.

    There are several shots of the bedroom, with a sink set up in a cubbyhole in the bedroom by the bed, with a mirror above it. It’s a very nice house – the kind where servants take care of everything.

    The movie takes place in the early 1900s.

  3. Rita

    Since the sink was in the dressing room, it would seem that it was placed there as a convenience for the lady of the house to put on her makeup in privacy, refresh her hair when putting on a hat or just plain washing her hands after a day of fun in the sun with the kids while she changes clothes for dinner.