New year reflections: two decades of Shelter

In the fall of 2004, Shelter consisted of three folks in a small room on the upper floor of a renovated mansion one block South of Minneapolis’ Loring Park. With sparse Ikea furnishings, a passion for making people’s lives better, and a belief that design could be the tool to use our natural resources more efficiently, we hung out our shingle.

So here we are, nearly 20 years later. And what have these last two decades taught us?


Sustainability is an endless topic to explore.

We initially founded Shelter to bring more sustainable building practices to single family homes. Building science and measuring energy performance, while not the only factor we consider in sustainability, do play a critical role in our approach to design. One of the early tools to quantify how a building will perform was LEED, which we were introduced to years before while working on the Science House project. At the time, LEED was about to roll out certification for new home construction. Over the years, in addition to LEED, we have seen the advent of multiple approaches to analyzing and quantifying sustainable construction. Passive Home, Minnesota’s B3, Living Building Challenge and the AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence. All of these inform better approaches to sustainable construction and push the team to think critically about the work we do.

A team-based culture and design process is an incredibly powerful tool.

Hyper collaboration is not necessarily how every architecture or interior design firm operates. From the very beginning, Shelter believed that the more ideas we could bring to the table and the faster we could explore them, the better off our clients’ projects would be. We’ve found that the group brainstorms and bringing as many wild ideas as possible to the table serve our process well.

Designing in different arenas is a great way to grow.

As our team has evolved throughout the years, it’s become evident that creative interests, outside of the daily design work we do, sparks innovation. Sometimes it directly applies to the work we do for our clients, but more often the innovation comes from allowing for a fresh perspective. These sources of inspiration outside the studio bring a team of talented individuals with a wide range of valuable perspectives to the table. Looking across the current Shelter team today, we have people with hobbies and interests in:

  • Woodworking
  • Beer brewing
  • Jewelry making
  • Painting
  • Public art
  • Theater
  • Filmmaking
  • Car racing
  • Sailing
  • Dance
  • Cooking
  • Music
  • Baking
  • Pottery
  • And more!

Beth Halstenson, Shelter’s Director of Architecture, donning her handmade POMfetti earrings.

Artwork by David Jensen, one of Shelter’s Architectural Associates, displayed in our studio.

Kurt Gough, Shelter Founding Partner and Lead Designer, behind the scenes on a film shoot.


Time goes by fast.

When we set up our Ikea furniture in that old mansion twenty years ago there was a little boy and baby girl there with us; playing in empty boxes and napping under desks. That boy is now a college graduate making his way in the world and the little girl is a college sophomore.

As we set upon this journey putting together our first office in the fall of 2004, many of the current Shelter team were running around the elementary school playground or were teenagers just starting to discover their passion for design that would eventually lead them to join us. And we are so grateful that they made their way here.

Read more about Shelter’s history.


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