1916 Sterling Homes: The Sterling System by International Mill & Timber

Other vintage kit home manufacturers were busy in Bay City, Michigan, but none were busier or more aggressively marketing their houses than International Mill & Timber Company. Their houses used what they referred to as the “Sterling System” of construction.

An interesting feature was the terms by which the prospective buyer could acquire the home. Sterling offered the first mortgages in the kit home business by selling the houses for 50% cash down. The company would carry the balance for two years at about 1 1/2% interest.

Unfortunately, International Mill & Timber ran into difficulties financially in the 1920s when some purchasers defaulted on their loans. The idea that the houses would constitute value in themselves didn’t take into account the cost of the land.

If the land wasn’t owned free and clear, the local bank foreclosed on the lot before Sterling could foreclose on the house. As a result, Sterling went bankrupt in 1922 and was reorganized with much stricter financial terms.

The Classic

The 1916 Classic by International Mill and Timber is the essence of the small cottage bungalow-style home.

Its craftsman detailing is seen inside and out in the detailing including the door and window casings, and colonnade between the living and dining rooms. It’s a small house at 1000 sq. ft. but very functional for a small family of any time period.


The Windemere

Foursquares are often typically boxy houses with boxy rooms. The Windemere departs from that formula with an open floor plan on the main floor that is very spacious with three bedrooms and a bath upstairs.

The total square footage is 1344, but little is wasted. A number of elements including the French doors from living to dining room and the staircase and fireplace in the large living room were bound to have charmed even the most discriminating home buyer.


The Van Dyke

The Van Dyke offered by International Mill & Timber in their 1916 Sterling System catalog was a classic Dutch Colonial Revival home. For the cost, it compared with many homes at the time selling for twice the cost.

The rooms are large in this 2000 sq. ft. 4 bedroom home, and would work perfectly for today’s homeowner (if they could get over not having more than one bathroom).


The Monarch

One of the big advantages of a Dutch Colonial is the amount of square footage than many had. The Monarch by Sterling was a good example of this.

Though not an expensive home, it had almost 1800 square feet of living space for a cost of $1176. The kit materials and shipping for this home would have run the buyer a scant 66 cents per square foot.


The Radcliffe

The Radcliffe model shown in the 1916 Sterling System catalog is a handsome Colonial Revival home of excellent size and proportion that would be comfortable to live in now as when it was built in 1916.

Compared with other homes in the catalog, this was about a $1.25 a square foot for materials and shipping.


The Pilgrim

The Sterling System catalog produced by International Mill & Timber in 1916 offered many different house styles. The Pilgrim model is eclectic in its design, but charming in its appearance.

The side-gabled roof covers the full-width porch across the face of the building. French doors on both main floor and second floor balcony guarantee an abundance of natural light indoors. An open floor plan on the main floor assures a free flow between living spaces.


The Manse

The Manse and the Mansion are Sterling home models that are designed to be built as you can afford them. Unit 1 is a small 2 bedroom English style cottage with half timbering and a stucco exterior. The Mansion is Unit 1 and 2 combined.


The Manseigneur

The Manseigneur comprises three units designed to be added on as finances allow the homebuyer to upgrade his home.

Unit 1 is a two bedroom home; combined with Unit 2 the home expands to 3 bedrooms with a sewing alcove; and when Unit 3 is added the home becomes a comfortable, commodious 5 bedroom, 2 bath home with a large living room, library, and dining room on the main floor.


The Elms

The Elms is a fine Dutch Colonial home of generous proportions. A stucco and shingle exterior make it a bit more interesting than many of its counterparts.

IM&T; claims in its catalog that “one cannot imagine a more attractive, a more artistic or a more original Home than The Elms.”

Interior photos show the beamed ceilings in the living room and dining room, which also has wood wainscot and build in china cabinets.


The Vernon

The classic symmetry on the Vernon makes it the epitome of Classical Revival style, which has always been a popular American architectural form. It’s a spacious four-bedroom house with two sets of stairs; the main staircase and the service staircase.

A master suite provides a full bath, walk-in closet, and a fireplace. A second bath is shared with the other upstairs bedrooms, and a 1/2 bath on the main floor completes the necessaries.

This large home is slightly more than 2250 square feet and is about the same size as the average house built in 2005.


The Meadow-Moor

This English cottage style with the faux-thatched roof of rolled asphalt tile, stucco exterior and multi-paned windows was the coming thing in 1916.

Bungalow style was still strong, but the European influence that would wash over the American architectural scene after WWI was still in the future making this home very new and fresh.


The Manor

Foursquare-style homes were popular for both their size and cost-effectiveness to build. The Manor model offered in the 1916 catalog by International Mill and Timber using the “Sterling System” of design and manufacturing is no exception.


The Silverwood

The spacious interior of this small house is characterized by the vista offered on the interior. Standing by the fireplace, one could look across the living room into the dining room a distance of 40 feet.

Though a very small house, it is laid out with virtually no wasted space.


The Joycewell

The bungalow cottage home was affordable to a class of homebuyers who wanted a home but often couldn’t get the money together to buy one. The International Mill & Timber Company offered their homes at 50% down, with two years to pay it off.

The Joycewell is the type of small house that offered the dream at a reasonable cost. It may be small at about 700 sq. ft. but had a functional floor plan that would suit many families even today.


The Cleverlay

The Cleverlay model Sterling System home is 900 square feet and small by current standards, but contains every element necessary to living a comfortable pleasant life in a tiny house.

The simple Craftsman-style detailing is modest, but the overall effect is a small cottage of infinite charm.


The Miracle

From 1910 to 1920, the bungalow style was sold across the US to thousands of home buyers, regardless of whether their means were substantial or considerably more modest.

The Miracle by International Mill & Timber using their Sterling System was one such home. It came in three models with variations of the same cottage style floor plan.


The Summit

The 704 sq. ft. Summit model was an exercise in tiny house efficiency. Simple, plain, and solid, every square inch is planned for maximum efficiency.

There are no wasted corners in this tidy little house. Its style is American farmhouse with classic style that just hints at the Colonial Revival of its larger brethren.


The Summerdale

Many houses of the early 20th century were modest cottages designed for home buyers with middle class salaries.

The Summerdale kit home offered by International Mill & Timber in their 1916 catalog is a good example of the unpretentious home that was desired by many. It’s a cottage with just enough revival styling to mark its antecedents as free classic Queen Anne.


The Charlevoix

The 1916 Charlevoix bungalow by Sterling (International Mill & Timber) may be tiny but incorporated a number of pleasant features in its small footprint.

A central fireplace in a large living room, French doors between the living and dining rooms, and built-in kitchen cupboard and linen closet were certain to have been compelling draws to early 20th century home buyers.


The Senator

The 1916 Senator is a grand house considering its modest cost. It’s a two story foursquare Colonial revival with elegant proportions that was available in two models.

Both offered a reception hall, dining room, living room and kitchen on the main floor with either three or four bedrooms and a bath on the second floor.


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