“I think a house, any building, should go with the land, not violate the land. That to me is a great sin. As a matter of fact, on my wall in the studio there I say that a house should be like an outcropping of the land, a rock formation, to belong to the site. That’s the way I feel.”
Edward Humrich was born in Chicago in 1902. He was trained as a musician but began his career in real estate selling co-op apartments, financing and developing North Shore properties. He later found work designing houses for Chicago architects Robert Arnold and Robert Seyfarth. He left Seyfarth to work in the office of Chester Walcott and then formed a partnership with Harry B. Clow before opening his own independent architectural office in the late 1930s. Humrich’s work was almost exclusively residential and in the Organic/Prairie School idiom. Most of his commissions were built in the Chicago suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s. Humrich died in Zion, Illinois, in 1991.
Humrich was chosen by steel magnate Edward L. Ryerson to be the recommended architect of Riverwoods, IL in the early 1950’s as the town was being created. Ryerson owned forested property along the Des Plaines River, and wanted to create a unique area of homes that did not intrude on nature. Humrich designed and built over 40 homes there, low-slung, wood and glass houses that are reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses. Practically every suburb from Evanston North to Lake Forest has at least one Humrich house. There is one home in Olympia Fields, and others dotted around the Midwest.
Humrich trademark details: post and beam construction, passive solar siting, radiant heat in stained concrete floors, horizontal cedar or redwood siding, board-and-batton cedar ceilings and/or walls, multiple fireplaces, exquisite craftsmanship with custom millwork including many storage closets and built-in furniture (desks, bar, bed, headboards, etc). Custom wood French doors with full panes of glass and brass hardware create window/walls in main rooms. All the doors are operable and swing open to merge the home with the outdoors. Kitchens and bathrooms in Humrich homes always features custom cabinetry, many had travertine marble counter-tops and showers, double sinks, Crane and Grohe fixtures.
Other design trademarks are the use of circular spaces, angled spaces, and long hallways to connect them, with storage closets along the hallways.
Many Humrich homes have 7′ ceilings, but that is usually not an issue as the homes feel spacious and open. Mr. Humrich was a small man, often dressed in a cape and beret, and had his own ideas about human scale. He felt the low height “spreads the interior of the room out a bit.”
In the Art Institute of Chicago Oral History Project, Humrich speaks about how he became an architect without formal training; architects with whom he trained; features of Humrich-designed residences; clients and commissions; competitions; the role of nature in Humrich’s designs; the Chicago Architectural Club; his philosophy.
Interview Excerpt_”I think I would tell [someone who wants to be an architect] to forget schools, take the books and throw them away. I remember the thing that affected me more than anything else in my youth was that I ran across something by [Frank Lloyd] Wright. He was denouncing people who copied and trying to establish schools…He said, ‘Never copy anything. Try to find out the principles involved and then work out your own answers.’ It’s a very hard job when you’re faced with a problem, especially a design problem, to stare at a blank piece of paper for hours and sometimes days and nights. Nothing comes and you begin to think you’re going a little batty. I remember one time I was working in the studio and I knew if I put pencil to paper I’d be lost, I knew that. I worked one way or another in my mind, in my imagination, but nothing came. I think I worried over that for three days and three nights. It was a beautiful night and at about five o’clock in the morning I went out to get a little fresh air and I happened to look up and here is Orion….That solved my whole problem.” (pp. 54-55)
Link to Oral History Project: