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Arts | NW Life | Oregon

The Lives Inside Oregon's Rummer Homes

OPB | March 20, 2014 12:15 p.m. | Updated: March 20, 2014 1:42 p.m.

Robert Rummer has described his architectural vision as “houses that bring the inside out or the outside in." Explore some unique features inside of Rummer homes.

During a 2011 interview with Oregon Home, Robert Rummer distilled his architectural vision into a phrase: “houses that bring the inside out or the outside in.”

A Rummer home, or a “Rummer,” is a midcentury modern ranch house inspired by the famous southern California builder, Joseph Eichler. At the heart of a Rummer is the natural light that comes in through the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Sliding doors throughout the house connect all the rooms, but also open them to the outside world. And then the rest varies. There are the roofs — which can be flat, single or double peaked. There are also other features like atriums, Roman showers/baths and vaulted ceilings.

In 1960, Rummer built his first development in Newberg, Oregon. From then until the late 1970s, he built nearly 1,000 homes across Portland metro neighborhoods.

A true enthusiast will marvel at the minute details still intact from the original design, like a galley kitchen or radiant heat floors. But if you ask a homeowner about their experience living inside this residential piece of art, their views are more personal.

Think Out Loud is exploring why modern style architecture built in the 50s and 60s, like Rummer homes, became so popular. During the conversation, we will talk with Robert and Phyllis Rummer, inside a Rummer home. In anticipation of the show, we toured four of the 29 Rummer homes inside the Oak Hills neighborhood and asked the owners to share memories about where their midcentury modern homes and lives intersect.

Alice and her husband Ralph have lived in their Rummer home for 41 years.

Alice and her husband Ralph have lived in their Rummer home for 41 years.

John Rosman / OPB

Alice Shoffner and her husband Ralph have lived in their Rummer home for 41 years. Over that time they stayed faithful to the original design, keeping features like the spice cabinets designed by Phyllis Rummer, Robert’s wife. Raising a family, they watched as their Oak Hills neighborhood developed from farmland into a 650-house subdivision.

Their atrium continues to be a site of many memories, like the time a peacock flew inside it and started screeching. And for Alice, it offers her the ability to see the sky change, to see the moon and the stars.

Jackie Dillion with her grandson, Will, inside their breakfast nook — a rare feature for Rummer homes.

Jackie Dillion with her grandson, Will, inside their breakfast nook — a rare feature for Rummer homes.

John Rosman / OPB

Jackie Dillon has lived in her house for over 23 years. During that time, she’s felt fortunate to be a part of the Oak Hills community and reside in a home which she still loves.

She is posing with her grandson Will inside their kitchen nook, a rare feature in Rummer homes. “I’ve been inside several Rummer homes and this area is a work room rather than an eating area with a sliding glass door to the backyard. We feel fortunate to have it because it’s really added a lot to the house.”

Ken and Barbra Swensen in front of their original Rummer "feature wall."

Ken and Barbra Swensen in front of their original Rummer "feature wall."

John Rosman / OPB

Ken Swensen's drawing that looks similar to a Rummer.

Ken Swensen's drawing that looks similar to a Rummer.

Lee Anne Barham

“When the Rummers were originally built, some of them had what Bob Rummer called a ‘feature wall.’ It was a paneling different than the paneling in the rest of the house … Ours is one of the few homes [with the feature wall] that hasn’t been touched.”

Ken and Barbra Swensen moved into their Rummer in 2007. The house is close to their daughter and grandchildren. After moving in, they quickly realized it was their dream home. When Ken was 16 years old, he drew a picture of a car from the future. Behind the angular purple car is a house that looks eerily similar to their current home.

The Schmitgalls have lived in their Rummer for 32 years. Their indoor atrium has been a favorite place to play for two generations of children.

The Schmitgalls have lived in their Rummer for 32 years. Their indoor atrium has been a favorite place to play for two generations of children.

John Rosman / OPB

“We’re not going to leave,” explains Tom Schmitgall. After living in their home for 32 years, they decided this home is the place where they will retire.

Their Rummer’s indoor atrium has been a favorite place for two generations of children, their kids and their grandchildren. Over that time, the Schmitgalls have learned to strictly enforce one rule: no playing with balls inside the atrium.

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