If you’ve driven around Portland, Oregon you’ve seen them. There are at least a couple hundred scattered throughout the residential neighborhoods that surround the city. Their sleek, gabled rooflines, clerestory windows, vaulted entranceways illuminated by globe pendant lights, and carports that sometimes house swanky vehicles like old Mercedes SLs, Dodge Dart Swingers, and maybe even a Nash Metropolitan. Yes, I’m referring to the amazing midcentury-modern homes designed by architect Robert Rummer.
The Home of Tomorrow
Influenced by southern California architect Joseph Eichler, Rummer built an estimated 750 of these homes throughout Portland between 1959 and 1975. There were 16 different models, each with it’s own unique features– but always in a very authentic, Rummer-esque way. The homes were also appointed with amenities that made them futuristic and highly desirable to those looking for a “Home of Tomorrow.” They came with radiant floor heating systems, Thermador stainless ovens and cooktops (just like the Brady household!) and beautifully tiled Roman shower/baths.
Rummer even established his own sales team because he felt that conventional realtors of the era were not able to properly sell the uniqueness of his modern home design. Once word got out, there was no shortage of buyers interested in calling these space-age pads their new home. With each purchase, Rummer also included a 1-year warranty as well as a 15 page service manual, covering things like roof maintenance, appliances, heating and flooring. What a swell guy!
David and I first discovered these incredible time-stamped retro temples when we began our Portland home search in spring of 2014 and we fell in love. Randomly tucked away inside neighborhoods full of Craftsman bungalows and 3-story Victorians, the modern one-level Rummer homes were unique and different. We also found Rummer home pocket-developments like Oak Hills in Beaverton, showcasing about 23 Rummers, and Vista Brook in SW Portland, which contains a whopping 62 Rummer homes. It is also said that Robert Rummer himself lived here as well. And lucky for us, this particular neighborhood was within walking distance from where we lived at the time, so we made it our business to take weekly dog-walks up and down those streets, drooling over the bold colors, the manicured landscaping, and the streamlined architectural features of each unique property.
Strolling a street where every single house reflects the atomic architecture of the 1960’s was practically a miracle in a place like Portland, where developers are rapidly altering the face of our historic neighborhoods with condos and commercial builds. I felt like knocking on doors and congratulating every single one of these Rummer homeowners on preserving the style and integrity of the era by keeping their home so perfectly original.
And then promptly asking them if they’d like to sell it to us.
The unique character of these amazing homes has created a strong cult following over the years, and there are killer social media feeds like the Rummer Network that give you the latest scoop on these great homes. And great sites like Modern Homes Portland, Portland Homes & Living, and Portland Midcentury help you keep your finger on the pulse of all things Rummer, with neighborhood reports and complete up-to-date listings of the ones that are currently available. Browsing these sites was on my weekly to-do list.
Unfortunately, the one thing that stood between us and a Rummer was property size. The design of these homes was intended to “bring the outside in” through the use of open floorplans, vaulted ceilings with skylights, glass walls and centralized atriums, which meant that a building them on small lots was ok and likely to feel less cramped than a more traditional home. But we wanted more property than house, and just couldn’t find a Rummer on the market with a backyard fit for barbecues, badminton and big doggies.
And eventually we found the Retro Ranch, happily trading our midcentury-modern dream for a midcentury-modest reality. With its original aqua appliances, sparkling Formica countertops and sprawling property, we immediately knew it was the one for us.
Outside of realtor open houses or scheduled viewings, it’s rare to get the opportunity to tour these iconic homes. But fortunately for us retro enthusiasts there are organizations like Restore Oregon, a local non-profit focused on historic preservation, that occasionally hold events like last year’s End of Summer Rummer Tour so we can all marvel at the midcentury magnificence without feeling compelled to give plausible time-wasting excuses.
To this day, whenever I see a Rummer appear on the real estate market, I still have to snoop at all the listing photos, picturing our furniture placed in each of the beautifully designed rooms, and wondering what it would’ve been like to be the first owner of such an amazingly iconic piece of midcentury architecture.