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Furniture History Deep Dive: The Dueling Department Stores Sears and Montgomery Ward Part One

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In today's drop we are offering a Harmony House set for the first time.  Of course, I had to look up some information about Harmony House and was surprised to find that it was actually produced by Sears!  This led me down a deep dive into the history of two dueling department stores: Sears and Montgomery Ward. In part one we will focus on Sears.

Newly Listed Harmony House Dresser 

First, let me take you back in time:

Imagine that you are a new homeowner in the 1960s.  You want to purchase a bedroom set, bedspread, curtains, etc. that all coordinate with the color scheme that you have in mind for the room. But you need it to be affordable, because you just  purchased your first home and you are on a budget! 

Sears' Harmony House

Pretty relatable, right?  Well, Sears had this great idea, which they named "Harmony House".  Harmony House was a decorating scheme which Sears launched in 1940 and remained in use until 1968.  According to the Sears archives, in the beginning Harmony House included 4 main colors schemes but later expanded to 18 color schemes in response to customer demand!  The Harmony House offerings included pretty much anything you needed to furnish and decorate your home from carpeting to draperies and dinnerware to all of your furniture needs - all coordinated by color!

Photo from Old House Online of Sears Harmony House in Mint Green and Sunshine Yellow

So you can understand why this would be popular.  Think of a nervous husband being sent to the store to pick up a dining set or draperies for the home. His stylish wife could be confident that he would get the "right" thing because she had already selected the "Tuscan Rose" Harmony House color scheme for the dining room and the sales clerk could direct her bewildered husband to those specific items.

A Brief History of Sears

Sears was founded in 1886 by Richard Sears as a watch company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the 1890s the company began to expand beyond watches and jewelry.  In the 1920s Sears, Roebuck and Co. began to open stores in cities and offering mail-order merchandise under names that we still recognize today like Craftsman and Kenmore. In the 1930s Sears began to design their stores around their merchandising plans and layout.

In 1962 Sears even commissioned actor Vincent Price to curate a wide selection of original art to be purchased by regular consumers.  It was first offered in Denver, Colorado and later expanded nationwide.  "The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art" included original works from notable artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Rembrandt as well as contemporary artists.

We believe that a large original piece that we sold last year was part of this Sears offering.

Sold Large Harper Oil Paintin

Sears also made other furniture lines like "Pacesetter" - often mistaken for Broyhill Brasilia.

 

Sold Example of Sears Pacesetter 

Sears was pretty ingenious when it came to making itself a one stop shop for their customers' needs.  I remember walking into the local Omaha Sears at the Crossroads (now demolished) to buy a garden hose for our first home in 2016.  Sears still had "everything".  I think I also bought a scarf and browsed their clothing, while Jeff perused their lawn care section and proudly showed me the high quality hose that he was going to purchase.

If you are interested in learning more about Sears, I would recommend checking out their archives site. There is a lot of history there.  Really, we are witnessing the end of an era, as these types of long-time retailers fade out of existence. I mean, this isn't meant to be a dig at NFM, but really where can you go and get a house full of furniture and tools AND clothes and have them actually be good quality all in ONE place?

See this cool video from Recollection Road on YouTube

Photo of Sears Store in Omaha Demolition from Brad Williams Photography

Now, why did I call Sears and Montgomery Ward dueling department stores?  Well, Montgomery Ward was a major competitor to Sears from as far back as the 1890s! Montgomery Ward also was a major seller of furniture and home decor in the 60s.  But we'll talk about that in part two 😉.

Thanks for reading!  We would love to hear your memories of Sears.  Do you still have anything that you bought from Sears?  Did you know Sears produced Harmony House Furniture?  Let us know in the comments.


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