The architecture of love: Ilumin-Roth

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THEN1: Rena and Tom pose at Gas Works Park in November 1978, about a year after their first meeting. (Courtesy Rena Ilumin and Tom Roth)
NOW: They return to Gas Works on a bitterly cold January day, Rena wearing the same scarf and Tom the same sweater as in 1978. (Jean Sherrard)
From stool to stool, and house to home, their love endures
By Jean Sherrard

On the Halloween night in 1977 when Rena Ilumin and Tom Roth met, sparks did not fly. Unlike other patrons of Pioneer Square’s J&M Café, neither was in costume.

Rena had been working in a studio above the old tavern, editing an experimental film, “The Politics of Housework.” It portrayed the lives of women who worked at a job all day only to come home and do all the cooking, cleaning and childcare.

Taking a break from moviemaking, she went down to grab a drink. She was annoyed to find her regular spot at the bar was taken by a young, somewhat self-possessed architect, Tom, who after attending graduate school at the University of Washington was helping to remodel the decrepit Pike Place Market.

“You’re in my seat. Move!” Rena demanded. Obligingly, Tom shifted bar stools, but with every intention of getting to know Rena better.

His persistence paid off. Within two weeks, they shared their first date at a French restaurant. Tom suggested they drive to the property he was considering buying.

THEN2: The house that Rena describes as a shack with a huge stump out front in 1977. While remodeling, they used the interior walls as firewood to keep warm. (Courtesy Tom Roth)

“It was a clear night with a full moon,” Rena recalls. “We pull up in front of a tiny little shack, and there’s a huge tree stump out front. ‘You’re gonna buy this?’ ”

Over the next few months, with Rena’s help, Tom tore down the house and replaced it with the home they still live in today. They were married a year later.

Same location, 2022. And the stump is gone!

Tom eventually started his own architectural firm which he closed in 2005. Rena has worked as finance director-controller for a dizzying range of firms, from the American Lung Association to a French IT company.

“We have complementary temperaments,” Rena says. “We both love food and music, which are very important to Filipinos. Since we were first married, Tom’s become a terrific cook, and my family absolutely adores him.”

“And we had a prenuptial agreement,” Tom inserts.

Rena laughs. “It was written on the wrapper of The People’s World newspaper, stating that we would alternate cooking and cleaning and shopping chores week by week.”

“Another reason,” Tom says, “we’ve stuck together so long.”

THEN3: In 2018, Rena and Tom visited Hawaii with their ukuleles. “I like to think the uke contributed positively to our marriage in a big way,” Rena says. “We love playing music together, and our repertoire is HUGE!” (Courtesy Rena Ilumin and Tom Roth)

To see Rena and Tom perform their toe-tapping version of “Blue Christmas” on ukuleles, click on through. After submitting the video to Ukulele Magazine’s 2014 Christmas competition, they were delighted to come in fourth place in the ensemble division!

Now & then here and now…

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