A midcentury house by Robert Rummer becomes a couple’s dream home - Curbed
Every New Year’s Eve, Kamissa Mort and Elizabeth Edwards have a tradition of making plans to complete a project for the next year—summiting a mountain or adopting a puppy.
But in 2017 they decided their project would be selling their 1890s farmhouse in southeast Portland, Oregon, and finding land on which to build a new home in another part of the city. “We looked around our 1890 house and realized that we were decorating it like a modern home,” explains Mort.
As the best laid plans often do, the couple’s strayed from the expected path when they went to an open house for a residence designed by prolific Portland builder Robert Rummer.
Rummer and his wife Phyllis, now in their nineties, are fixtures of Oregon architectural history: In the 1950s, Robert Rummer was an insurance adjuster who dabbled in design. Initially influenced by what Joseph Eichler was doing in Walnut Creek, California, Rummer built over 700 homes in the Portland area over the next two decades, classic post-and-beam designs with soaring atriums.
“As soon as I walked in, I was like, ‘we need to buy one of these,’” Mort recalls. “Forget the build-a-house plan. We need to find one of these.”
Edwards and Mort, who is a furniture buyer at Rejuvenation, reoriented their search, deciding to focus on finding a historic Rummer home like the one they had toured, with preserved details and in a Portland neighborhood. They knew it was a lofty goal, and after connecting with the realtor they had met at the open house, they found out that only seven Rummer homes go on the market each cycle. The Vista Brook/Bohmann Park neighborhood has the largest collection of them in the city—over 50 in total—and it just so happened that one popped up right as they sold their farmhouse.
“We just got really lucky that this house came on the market [and that] the timing worked out as well as it did,” says Mort. They snapped it up, as they were relieved to find it had the features they felt their farmhouse lacked. For starters, there were 76 years of improvements in home construction. The couple was also drawn to the home’s orientation on its lot, which lets in ample natural light and offers privacy from the street.
“We basically had our blinds drawn [all the time] at the old place. And now, here, because of the way that the windows are designed, the windows are open all the time,” Mort explains.
Rummer homes, Mort explains, weren’t exactly modular but they followed a bit of formula. While each was modest and affordable for many middle-class home buyers, some were a bit more top of the line, as Mort and Edwards is built with cedar and outfitted with copper pipes.
Their A-frame Rummer home, built in 1966, spans 1,800 square feet, and comes complete with the atrium the couple sought. The interior sports beamed ceilings and walls of windows, as well as an open-plan great room anchored by a brick fireplace. The airy floorplan includes a dining area, spacious kitchen, three bedrooms (each with sliding glass doors that lead outside), and two bathrooms. Landscaping inspired by Japanese gardens surrounds the house, providing ample space for lounging outdoors.
Luckily, the house didn’t need any renovation work. “The previous owners had lived here for 10 years and my understanding is that it was a pretty big project for them,” explains Mort. “They put in new floors, moved some walls around, put in a new kitchen and a new bathroom.” They did,however, keep details from the period, like handles and pulls. “It speaks to how meticulous they were that they kept the original hardware,” adds Edwards.
Mort and Edwards did, though, update lighting throughout the home, starting with the installation of a vintage George Nelson bubble pendant lamp in the living room. “That was sort of our first opportunity to change the nature of the space, to find a statement light for the living room,” says Mort. The cool color palette of the couple’s furnishings, a mix of midcentury modern and contemporary pieces, keep the space feeling open and calming.
The windows frame the home’s surroundings, and a mirror from Rejuvenation hanging on the fireplace reflects additional light into the living room. Artwork by Mort’s father takes up residence in the couple’s bedroom, a painting by Renee Hartig watches over the dining room, and two large, abstract pieces by artist Max Gore hold court in the kitchen and the living room. The house is sparsely decorated for a reason—Mort says they’ve had a hard time “putting holes in the walls” because the house is such a gem.
And the lot surrounding it is just as special. “The prior owners mostly worked from home and were able to observe the patterns of the sun and plant these lovely gardens,” Mort says. The different gardens, each with their own distinct personalities, really allow Mort and Edwards to live their lives outside during Oregon’s dry summer months.
When it came to creating a home whose interiors foster a sense of peace and closeness to nature, the couple explains, Rummer knocked it out of the park.