Design insights

Talking with Jackie Millea of Shelter Architecture

Jackie Millea of Shelter Architecture, an architecture and interior design firm in Lyn-Lake, has been an architect and interior designer for nearly two decades. She’s passionate about using her talents in design to make people’s lives better. Here are highlights from a recent interview she had with the Southwest Journal.

SWJ: Your primary motto is: “We design places that help people live and work better.” How do you implement this philosophy?

Millea: We really listen to people in how they’re using their spaces. For example, we had a client who just had tons of clothes and they were on rolling racks and bins and boxes and she could never find anything — she was always frantic and hurried. So we designed a dressing room off of her master bedroom where all of her clothes were on display where she could see where everything is. Making it organized, easy to put things away, easy for her to get ready in the morning reduced her stress level. It was just a simple closet dressing but it helped her live better.

What are some of the more interesting projects you’re working on right now?

I kind of have a little favorite right now. We’re doing a little house in South Minneapolis for a couple on 55th and Harriet that was built in the ’30s. They have this porch that’s just rotting away so we’re taking the existing structure off of the foundation and building a new little modern box. There’s going to be a piece where they can hang their bikes when they come home to store them in there and they won’t track in dirt. We’ve clouded the outside wall and ceiling in metal and we have metal glass sliding doors. It’s just to create this little jewel box almost. It’s going to be open and let in a lot of light and we’re putting a green roof on it. I’m just so excited about it!

What are the first steps someone might take when starting the remodeling process?

There’s a ‘reality check’ that we offer to people that’s been super popular. For $300, we come out and look at the person’s house and listen to what’s not working for them and try to give them some ideas.


What is hot in the design world right now?

We’re seeing a lot of the modern ideas catching on. We’re still seeing a lot of open and flexible spaces. It’s almost like we’re doing all of our living and cooking and eating in these open spaces. We’re trying as humans to connect with each other because we’re getting disconnected by our phones, our e-mail, all of our electronic devices, headphones… so it’s kind of like we need that connection and open space in our homes to allow us to connect visually — and in every sense.

So with trending, I think we’re still seeing, particularly in Minnesota, a soft, contemporary feeling. It’s not stark or harsh but it’s a little softer. And people here in Minnesota love their craftsmen-style bungalows.

Do you cater your design to small houses in Southwest?

We do a wide range of house sizes. There’s a house on Harriet where the kitchen and dining room combined is only 220 square feet, so it’s tiny but then we’ll get much bigger ones. We also do a lot of urban projects with 1,000 square foot rooms so it’s kind of give and take. When we work out at the lake they’re a lot bigger.

Is it ever difficult to operate within someone’s budget?

We try to help people make value statements so that we know what’s important to them. When the dream exhausts the reality of money it’s like, ‘OK, are we able to get you what you really wanted in this budget? Where can we cut and where should we spend the money to get you what you really want?’

I think every successful project has a budget and that’s part of being sustainable. As designers and architects, when you’re working with a budget, even a small one, you can find creative solutions to fit that budget. I also think there’s a misconception that for people to use a designer or architect is expensive but I think it’s really important for people to understand that we can actually help you stay within your budget and get you all the way through the end of your project and help you meet your goals.

How much input and how involved can homeowners be in the design process?

It varies from person to person. I’ll get people who say, ‘Jackie, just do this’ and some want to be involved in the process and that’s great. We have a very team-oriented spirit here.

Can you explain your Live Better Series?

It’s a lecture series about how design can help you live better. Our first one last September was about organization so we talked about places in your house where you should spend the money to be organized and ways to organize those spaces to reduce stress and get your family out of the door in a timely manner. We had one in January on kitchens and how you can design your kitchen to be more healthy. We had a chef come in and teach how to modify recipes to be more healthy. Then we had a nutritionist come in and showed us how to stock a healthy kitchen so you always had healthy things to cook with.

How do you design your own home?

For our house [in the Windom neighborhood], we wanted a place where it could expand and contract as people were there. We take in friends or relatives that need a place to stay for awhile so it’s like, ‘OK now that there are more people here, how do we still have our privacy?’ We love to entertain so we could entertain a dinner party for six or a party for 80.

How would you describe your house?

Delightful. It works so well for us. There are a few things I would change just because as designers, we want to change things, however, nothing major. I love the fact that I feel connected to my neighbors. Even though you know there’s something different about the house when you go by it, it still fits in the context of the neighborhood really well. It makes me feel so good when I’m in there because there’s a ton of light. Every morning when I wake up, I feel like I’m up in the treetops.

What has been your role in the spring Parade of Homes?

We participate in the remodeler’s showcase every spring. We had a house in there this year with Lake Country Builders that just finished up and it was a house on Cedarwood over by Lake of the Isles. It was a mid-century modern house where we redid the first floor and did a little addition and a new bath for the kids. We’re also going to be in the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) kitchen and bath tour this fall.

Where does your inspiration come from?

A lot of the inspiration comes from the client or from the house or office. If we’re doing a workspace, we look at their philosophy. I think we see the world a little bit different as designers and architects and so really pulling inspiration from what’s existing or what could possibly be there is always the fun of it.

Shelter Architecture
Address: 2913 Harriet Ave. S.