Shelter Collective

Shelter protects them

STORY BY Seth Putnam




Vermont made them—at least in the sense that it made the concept of “them,” rather than simply “him” and “her.” 

Karie Reinertson is a petite woman with sporadically placed tattoos and wise eyes. Rob Maddox has a hedgy beard and long, brown hair that reaches the middle of his back when it’s not tied up in a low knot at the nape of his neck. Rob was a designer at an architecture firm. Karie was an environmental educator. She traveled the world for her non-profit job, using mud and clay to construct buildings where people could learn about their native ecosystems.

In 2009, Karie took an internship at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield. Rob arrived less than a year later, and they quickly found themselves drawn to each other. One night, when they still didn’t know each other too well, she invited him to take a look at a house she was watching for some friends. They shared a bottle of whiskey together and told jokes—dirty ones—in an escalating game of one-ups. Finally, Karie told the foulest, most vulgar one she could think of. She waited nervously to see how he would react. Rob looked at her for a moment, his eyes placid as lakes. Then, very seriously, he responded with a crack of his own. It would have made a trailer-park hooker blush.

That was it. They got each other on a fundamental level, the first requirement for two people who might want to spend their lives together. And nothing, no matter how ribald, could threaten that connection.

Four years later, after they had moved to North Carolina, they were married beneath a timber frame they had made together, a symbol of the things they had built and would build side by side. They climbed up either side of the A-frame and “whet the bow” by placed springs of pine and spruce on the gable end of the roof. It’s a traditional show of thanks to the forest for providing the construction materials. “To me, it’s the moment that a structure transitions from a house to a home,” Karie explains. “For our wedding ceremony, whetting the bow was more of a gesture of gratitude to our family and friends for helping to make us who we are, and the home that we will build together.” 

In the background, their friend Winston Yu played the violin: Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be in a Good Place Now.”

Over the years, the two of them have worn many hats during their travels to that good place. Rob planned and built structures in New Orleans, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Asheville. Karie was a painter and illustrator who showed her work in galleries from San Francisco to Portland to Washington, DC, before she became involved in non-profit environmental work. 

Now, she makes bags and dresses under the moniker Shelter Protects You. Rob is the principal of his own design-build firm, Shelter Collective. “All that shit people say about life being about the journey instead of the destination, that’s real,” Karie says. “It’s all you’ve got, and there isn’t really a destination. I thought I was going to have it all figured out by the age of 24.”

Their trail together keeps winding, and sometimes it takes them back to Vermont, where Rob teaches a Home Design Build course at Yestermorrow each summer. For the pair, it’s a regular reminder of how strange—but also how rejuvenating—it can be to return to a place that once housed a version of yourself that you are no longer.

“It felt warm and fuzzy to be in a completely different kind of situation in a place we both hold dear,” Karie says, “and to have a wonderful, mellow time together and see Vermont from a different viewpoint than we’d ever seen it before.” 

It was a marker for who they were then—and who they’ve now become.


The Daytripper: A pack for brief excursions

Karie: We knew we wanted to make a backpack. So much of our inspiration comes from travels and daytrips, where you might take a light lunch, a little blanket, and a book. Or maybe you take a hike to the reservoir in the evening and carry a picnic dinner and bottle of whiskey on your shoulders. But it’s not a huge-ass bag for a multi-night trip on the Long Trail or anything.

Vermont has intense weather and requires sturdy materials like leather and waxed canvas. I’ve always responded powerfully to water, so I thought about that when choosing my color palette. I made two versions: the “Mad River” and the “Willoughby.” 

The “Mad River” was inspired by the day at the swimming holes when it was so warm that we could jump in even though it was it was October. I just felt so grateful for that experience because it wasn’t expected at all. The gray comes from the stone along the river, and the inside is red—the classic Vermont color of barns and turning maple trees. The “Willoughby” was inspired by our time on the lake at the Notch House. Lake Willoughby’s color was so crazy that I wanted to be able to create something bright and light that had the same feeling. Inside is a graphite color that mimics the mountains that hem in the lake. 

Both versions of the bag are finished with a simple, geometric wooden closure because being in Vermont is all about spending time in the woods and appreciating trees.


The Architect’s case: A leather carrier for a notebook and writing implements

Rob: I have sort of a pencil fetish—like, there are some that Karie’s not allowed to use because they’re my male nerd jewelry. So an elegant way to carry them is something I’ve always wanted. The kind I use are specifically technical, but they’re also beautiful. I might affectionately pet them, but I still make shit with them. There’s something awesome about having beautiful objects make other beautiful objects. 

As a designer, there are two things you always want with you: your camera and your sketchbook. And if you’re someone who wants to create your world, you must be constantly take note of the one you already occupy so that you can transform that invisible language into a real thing. And a pencil and paper are rudimentary things that typically won’t break on you. They offer you the power to annotate your world. 

Karie: We wanted to use leather, so we chose a tannery in New England. We also have really loved working with wool lately, and it seemed so relevant to Vermont, considering at one point Vermont was 80 percent deforested for grazing sheep. I felt like wool was so appropriate to that climate, because you basically only get three months of summer and maybe a weird week in the fall when it’s warm. So we lined the pouch with this fine, beautiful German wool from FilzFelt, an American company based in western New York.

Rob: It was during the tour of Dimetrodon that I really found myself thinking about this case. That’s exactly the kind of place and time when I would want it to be in my coat pocket, and I would have been making little sketches of details and taking notes on what Jim Sanford was saying.