It’s not easy living in a round house. Standard-size furniture and appliances don’t fit right, and remodeling a doughnut-shaped dwelling is tricky. Floors require specialized cuts with trapezoids and tiny triangles at the edges, and cabinet makers have a tough time working with curved walls.
Another clue that it takes a certain type to love a cylinder structure: People haven’t been staying very long in a round home in Southeast Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood. But they are willing to pay a premium for the short-time experience: The property at 71 SE 90th Ave. sold June 7 for 18.8 percent over its asking price.
The new buyer offered $475,000 four days after the custom house on a 4,356-square-foot lot went on the market, according to real estate database Estately.
The 1,590-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two baths has an active sales history. It was put up for sale for $400,000 on May 11, 2017. Previously, it sold in August 2016 for $389,000 after an offer was accepted a week after the house went up for sale.
The property was purchased by investors for $186,000 in December 2015 and was soon renovated. The unconventional home with a flat roof received a major rehab after a half century of wear and tear, and a short period as a bank-owned property.
When the misfit house was being built in 1967, it was the talk of the neighborhood. Rare, curved-walls-only dwellings have their appreciators.
Dome architect Buckminster Fuller and others say annular abodes save on building materials and can be more energy efficient than rectangular structures.
After all, the oldest, most natural shelters — think yurts and teepees — have a ring-like layout.
Another perk: Since there are no view-obstructing posts, spaces really flow in a circular house. So does sound. People praise these structures for their acoustical qualities.
Here, the centered dining room has views into all the rooms in the round house.
Unlike places with sharp corners, dark halls and window-less rooms, this disk-shaped house draws natural light in all year long, thanks largely to a central atrium with clerestory windows, says Krista Meili of John L. Scott NE Portland, who represented the seller in the June transaction.
Who was the original owner of this oddball house? Widowed school teacher Edwina Schackmann, who designed it and hired contractor Hugh Womack to build it.
“She wanted something different,” says her nephew Chuck Marshall, who says the wallplates were cut from 2x12s to have curved 2x4s.
Schackmann, an English teacher at nearby Columbia Christian School, lived there with her sons Randy and Rodney. She had been widowed in the early 1960s after her husband, Mal, was killed in a car accident near Pendleton.
“My Aunt Edwina was the sweetest person, a true salt-of-the-earth lady, all 4-foot, 11-inches of her,” says Marshall.
Edwina’s son Randy Schackmann, was 13 when they moved into the house and he helped with the interior painting.
“Mom was a very adventurous woman, a school teacher who loved to learn, and a person always willing to try new things and travel,” says Randy, who lives in Dallas, Texas.
One night at dinner, she told her two sons about an article she had read about architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Over the next few weeks, she talked about how she would like to design her own house. Though she had no architectural training, she was “intent on turning out her house plan,” says Randy, who remembers seeing three or four conventional designs based on squares and rectangles.
Then, she called him over to her desk to show him a different approach.
“It didn’t look much like the house on 90th at first, but it was round,” he recalls. “We both had a good laugh and I told her that she should make it fly like a UFO. I don’t know if my UFO comments spurred her on, it was most likely just her tenacity, but within a couple of weeks, she had the round house pretty well finished.”
After drawing the plans, she talked to Womack, who told her he could build it. They met with an engineer and architect. “After study, the project was deemed feasible, Mom gave a go-ahead, and the rest, as they say, is history,” says Randy.
The second owner of the house was Hamilton McCall, the father-in-law of Terry Currier of Music Millennium LPs store in Portland. McCall lived in the house for more than 30 years, making improvements along the way.
He added a hobbit-like shed, made from rocks and parts salvaged from the Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant on Southeast 82nd Avenue and East Burnside, which was being demolished to make room for a Walgreens, according to McCall’s daughter, Karen Currier.
McCall died in 2011 and never explained fully why he was attracted to the round house, but Karen Currier says he thought it was unique and he joked that the only drawback was that he could never corner his wife.
“It was the gathering place for the family,” she says.
By the time investors bought it in December 2015, original fixtures, doors and curved kitchen cabinets had been removed. After the remodel, marketing materials mentioned that the flat roof was solar ready and “a great landing pad for aero-cars and UFOs.”
Perhaps futuristic living is the enduring appeal of this very special house.
— Janet Eastman