Before starting her own architecture firm in September of 2015, Nicole Delmage had a great understanding and idea of what starting her own firm would look like. The original direction and culture of the new firm was to be founded on building valuable relationships and providing exceptional design. Since opening the door to ShelterBelt Design, that vision has come a long way, evolving and expanding to many more horizons than initially anticipated.
Opening and operating solo for the first few months was a challenging test but well worth it. Nicole had all the knowledge and potential to gear up and get the firm started but realized the lack of creative support became arduous. "I quickly rediscovered that I really thrive when I am around other creatives," the new firm owner explained. "Having the extra support, a sounding board for ideas, and ideas other than my own is more fun and productive." It began when she started to work with co-conspirator Satto Rugg, who has his own architecture firm, Bodhgaia Architecture, in Santa Fe. Similar to Nicole's aspiration, Satto pushes to have a more collaborative approach to his practice. The two of them began to work closely and bounce ideas off one another and the need for more than just herself was quickly apparent. Nicole hired her first full-time coworker, Rebecca Laszewski in April 2016. This new addition adds creativity and organization in equal parts and Rebecca has shown amazing initiative for building the firm. Similar to how a shelterbelt requires more than one tree to successfully do its job, a design firm is stronger and more efficient when there is collaboration between multiple people - coworkers, colleges, and clients alike. In the near future ShelterBelt hopes to grow their firm and its synergetic energy by adding another person and by seeking out other collaboration opportunities.
Currently, ShelterBelt Design is ever so slightly ahead of their original goals. Aside from their zealous work ethic, they give tremendous credit for their progress to their two page strategic plan that they use as a living document. "We review it weekly, update it monthly and are amazed by how much we can get done if we stay true to our goals and keep it lively." Also, since the day Nicole moved to Denver she saw its potential. That potential is exploding now, not only in Denver but along the front range and throughout the state. "To our benefit this is a great place and time to be starting a design firm."
The firm knows what their dream project is and what niche market they want to target in the next few years. "I have been saying out loud, because out loud is what seems to make intentions come true, that my dream project is a nature center." Nicole's four years of experience on the board of directors for Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center and working on a combined classroom and bunkhouse project for the CalWood Outdoor Education Center really opened her eyes to the potential of projects that combine education and nature. Community comes together and our natural environment comes back into focus. These ideas lead to their tag line, "The Inside Spaces That Support Outside Experience," and to their mission statement, "Work collaboratively to influence a beautiful and smart built environment that uplifts the human spirit and is founded on connections to the great outdoors."
ShelterBelt is anticipating the many years and projects that lie ahead of them. Just like planting a seed to grow a tree to grow a forest (or a shelterbelt), Nicole planted the intent to grow a firm, to grow improved communities and to grow exceptional connections to the great outdoors.
ShelterBelt Design is planted.
On a final note, here is how "ShelterBelt Design" came up with their namesake:
The name ShelterBelt initially came from travels with my husband in New Zealand. Rows of trees edged all the fields and pastures. We got curious and starting looking up the types of trees, the ideal height and thickness, and how to create a perfectly flat top. I did have a couple other names in mind but I knew I didn't want to name the firm after myself. "Lookout Architecture" was one of the contenders. My informal market study of friends and family told me that the metaphor of a 'lookout tower' or the statement "lookout, here we come" was not nearly as obvious as, 'Lookout! you're about to crash!" or "Danger!" ShelterBelt came out on top because the word combination is interesting. Shelter refers to architecture. Belt refers to a geographic region. Also, the function of a shelter belt, to protect land, translates into a great metaphor for a practice that is all about sustainability and the outdoors.