Alumni Highlight: Kaeli Nolte

Mountain Connection, January 23rd, 2023

These days, Kaeli Nolte, SMS class of 2009, can usually be found in Portland, Oregon, where she is the Principal Founder and CEO of Zone Design Group, an architectural firm focused on creating sustainable, solution-based structures that merge what we commonly think of as distinct ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’ spaces. As Kaeli states, “My practice specializes in integrating habitat and equity into spatial designs. We offer both consulting and architectural design services for all scales of projects.” She started her practice in August of 2022, and the very ambition of the company exemplifies her love of the outdoors, her appreciation for personal connection with others, and her passion for innovation. She adds, “My hope is that my projects can push the architecture industry to close the common disconnect between buildings and the environment.”

         Kaeli credits her time at SMS as instrumental in helping her to qualify her passions at a young age. In particular, she notes the emphasis on personal interactions that characterized the school experience for her. She states, “Beyond the incredible traveling and outdoor pursuits that I will always hold as dear, many of my favorite memories revolve around the gathering times and spaces around school. Sitting with friends in the main building or enjoying the more individual company of fellow classmates in Margi’s office or the computer classroom; it was these moments, full of joy and learning through social engagement, that I remember most.” While a student at SMS, Kaeli sought out ways to impact multiple aspects of the school. She excelled in the classroom, produced artwork, churned out yearbook spreads at all hours, and committed her time to volunteering to improve the look and function of the campus. At home, she designed and built a new backyard for her mother, including plants and aesthetic features. Likewise, the deep connections she shared with faculty were instrumental in developing her perspective as a professional. She notes, “Both Trenia Sanford and Sandy Graves taught me so much about creativity, process and perspective. They both are strong women of conviction, and they helped me foundationally in my creative pursuits.” Whether recalling writing detailed annotations for a map on Jim Linville geography final or hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Kaeli values the experiential applications of her SMS schooling. In line with her own architectural pursuits today, the time and attention she devoted to developing comprehensive knowledge in the interior classrooms of school fostered her appreciation for the people and lifestyles she observed in the exterior classroom of the larger world.

         Kaeli adds, “I just want to express my gratitude for all the work that goes into keeping the school going and creating such unique and enriching experiences for the students who attend. Whenever high school comes up in conversation, people’s eyes widen with awe when I share my experience. The understanding of how lucky I was to have attended this one-of-a-kind school never fades.”

         Aside from her business pursuits, Kaeli has been actively involved in an architecture elective course with SMS upper school students during the current term, which explores how best to use campus spaces. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, renovating her house, and spending time with her dog, partner, chickens and friends.