Oregon developer, and World War II veteran Robert Rummer got his start building homes in and around the Portland metro area after forming Rummer Homes, Inc in 1959. Some say the inspiration for his famous homes was derived from the notable California builder Joseph Eichler. While it is undeniable that these homes bear a striking resemblance to their Northern California counterparts, Rummer homes were the first of their kind in the Pacific Northwest and have a special place in the hearts and minds of Oregonians. With a fresh sense of optimism and a booming economy, the American mindset during the period when Rummer homes were first being built was optimistic and forward thinking. Like elsewhere around the country, people were ready to take a chance on bold new innovations in the way they lived. The timing was right for these quirky new modern homes to take off in the Willamette Valley.
Rummer homes weren’t your typical cookie-cutter homes of the post-war era. The design, which typically included a sloped or pitched gable roof, post and beam construction, floor-to-ceiling walls of windows, and open floor plans, paid homage to the emerging atomic-era modernist movement that was sweeping the nation in the 1950s. While there were a few different models to choose from with varying identifiable features, some of the more prominent characteristics that you’ll find in Rummer homes include central atriums and courtyards, vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, tongue and groove ceilings, and radiant floor heating.
It is estimated that somewhere between 750-1000 Rummer homes were built around the Portland area during the late 1950s through the mid-1970s. Some of the highest concentrations of Rummer homes can be found in the Portland suburbs. Rummer neighborhoods are typical post-war style subdivisions with curvilinear streets, large lots, and lots of open green spaces. In Beaverton to the west you’ll find Oak Hills, one of Oregon’s first planned communities, and a prominent Rummer neighborhood that was recently recognized on the national register of historic places.
So just what is it that has led to the enduring popularity of Rummer homes in the Portland area? Today’s home buyers seem to be drawn to these homes for many of the same reasons that made them attractive to buyers of past generations. In addition to being aesthetically interesting, Rummer homes offer enhanced livability for their inhabitants. They are great for entertaining, open and airy, and full of natural light which is crucial in the northwest climate. Plus, they are often listed at prices that are considered reasonable based on the average medium income of the region. Though just adding the name ‘Rummer’ to a single-story ranch home in Portland may increase the listing price by $20,000-$30,000, buyers of Rummer homes know that they are getting something truly special. They get the benefit of living in a home that is an exceptional specimen of mid-century modern architecture. It sets them apart. Luckily, Rummer homes pop up on the market with some degree of frequency so if it’s your dream own one of these gems some day, chances are you’ll be able to get your hands on one sooner or later.
We had the opportunity to speak with Jack Hendrickson, a Portland Native who we feel is uniquely qualified to speak on the significance of Rummer Homes in the Portland metro area for not only does he currently own a Rummer Home, he also grew up in one.
What was it like to grow up in a Rummer House?
The things that I remember the most from my childhood that made our home unique was the atrium and the low slope/flat roof. Other than that, I never thought too much about the house itself, it was a little different but did not seem odd because we were in a small development of similar Rummer homes (Cynthia Terrace) and the surrounding houses were the same style. Over the years our atrium was host to several different activities. The opening always had a translucent cover so it really acted as a three-season room. I remember at one point my father had a pool table in the atrium. I distinctly remember the flat roof as being intriguing. Flat/low pitch roofs are uncommon in the area but in our neighborhood, there were a number of them. As a kid, it seemed like a unique experience to be able to walk around up on the roof and see down into the neighborhood. In a traditional steeper sloped roof this is not accessible, and therefore compelling to a curious young mind.
How did you become interested in Mid Century Modern?
I became very interested in Mid Century Modern design, architecture and furnishings about 7 years ago, when I purchased my former home and began to remodel (undo) previous updates. I had always been interested in architecture, home improvements and renovations but mostly focusing on older homes (pre mid-century era). When I purchased my prior home, I recognized the unique design of the open beam structure and dove headfirst into studying the era of design and architecture through books, magazines, websites/blogs, home tours and whatever else I could get ahold of. I really learned a lot throughout the process. Once the renovations were finished, I started looking for my next project to serve as my long term home. At that point there was no way I could live anything that was not MCM architecture.
What led you to buying your current Rummer home?
I wasn’t specifically looking for a Rummer home but always kept my eye out for a mid-century modern house on a large lot. I purchased my Rummer house from the estate of the original owners. The house had never been on the market and it was a matter of timing, persistence and patience that made the deal come together. The owners had passed away about a year prior, and their daughter was working on cleaning up the estate at a slow pace. At the initial meeting, we did not discuss details about me purchasing the house but instead focused on her parents, who had the house custom designed and built by Rummer for them in 1964.
After about 8 months of patiently working through the process we finally struck a deal. I offered to buy the house ‘AS-IS’ with everything that remained inside. And it was full of stuff! There are several furnishings and housewares that I kept with the house. The biggest project has been cleaning it out. As far as future renovations are concerned, the house is in such amazing original condition that it may just have to remain this way with minimal updates. It is a real treat to be the second owner, I have some old pictures of the house and even the original construction plans, as well as a lot of history and stories about the former owners. This is one of the neatest aspects for me.
What are some of the benefits of living in a Rummer Home?
I think there are numerous benefits to living in a Rummer home. Foremost, the expansive floor to ceiling glass lets in tons of natural light. Winters in the NW can be dark in gloomy, but with all the natural light it is always bright inside. It also contributes the indoor-outdoor feeling of the house. On cold winter days you can be inside and see everything that is outside. The other obvious benefit is the open floor plan. Other than the bedrooms and bathrooms, the whole main part of the house acts almost as one.
Have you come across any specific pitfalls living in a Rummer Home?
One of the most problematic areas for these houses are the roofs. The flat portion of the roof is the weak point with a potential to leak in our wet northwest climate. The problem isn’t necessarily the design, but the incorrect installation of materials. If a flat roof is installed correctly they are great, but when they are not it is an expensive repair. The other aspect that is both a blessing and a curse is the expansive use of glass. The original glass used in these homes were uninsulated single pane. Insulated glass units (IGU) would do a lot for thermal efficacy but are expensive to install.
What do you love most about Rummer houses?
What I enjoy most about Rummer homes are their unique design. I often think of how lucky I am to not live in just a house, but in a piece of art. I also really enjoy the expansive use of glass as mentioned above. Lastly, one of the attributes of many Rummer homes that I love are the sunken roman tubs. Not all models have them and unfortunately mine dose not, but they are so cool!
What do you feel is the legacy of Rummer homes on Portland?
For me, I think that the biggest impact that Rummer homes have had on Portland is the public’s exposure to Mid-Century modern houses. With the numerous tours put on by Restore Oregon in the past few years, it has really brought a lot of attention to Rummer homes in the area. They have developed quite a cult following. When talking specifically to other Rummer owners and hopeful owners, I’ve noticed that these homes really attract a special type of person. I have had several people attempt to purchase my house, and have heard of people never wanting to move once they get into one.
To see more great pictures of Jack’s current and childhood Rummer homes, you can follow him on Instagram.
Rummer’s iconic homes have firmly cemented his place in Portland history. He did an exceptional job of tapping into the feeling of optimism that defined a generation. He was able to embrace an aesthetic that was characterized by a minimalist approach to living. Clean lines, open spaces, and a connection to nature are just some of the attributes that make these homes so appealing both then and now. He has left a lasting legacy of magnificently crafted modern homes that are as relevant today as they were almost sixty years ago.
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