Pat and Patsy Hennin founded the Shelter Institute in 1974. Pat, French born, farm raised, prep schooled, German-, Mexican-, Québecois- and Costa Rican-ized, believed a home should free you. Patsy, Long Island born, savvy about numbers, French, Spanish, and French cooking, believed that the lay person could do anything she set her mind to. And the two were naturally drawn together. The Shelter Institute history is their history, the family, life and homes that they built and their absolute belief in freedom and your competence.
Many years ago, an exchange with the power company over “philosophical differences,” led Pat with his wife Patsy to design and build the first off-the-grid, energy efficient, passive solar home in Maine. It was thoughtfully built with stone and wood directly from the land, and for less than half of typical building costs. The attention focused on this project led to many requests for similar homes—everyone wanted a Hennin Passive Solar. Pat and Patsy decided the solution was to share their experience and knowledge with others by starting a school, the Shelter Institute.
In 1974, Pat and Patsy moved to Woolwich, Maine with two young children to start Shelter Institute—a school—teaching people how to build smart, energy-efficient homes. Pat and Patsy wanted to demystify house building and make it accessible to thousands. They had no idea what kind of movement they would empower. Soon, by word of mouth, Shelter found itself featured in national print and television: from the New York Times and Time Magazine to Good Morning America and the Financial Times.
The first classes of 75-80 students were held in a two-hundred year-old flour mill that Pat and Patsy and their team renovated to accommodate the classroom activities. The early Shelter student was looking for a way to cope with skyrocketing oil prices and the need and desire to provide their own home. The Hennins developed a curriculum that fit the challenges of building over thirty-years-ago and has grown and adjusted over time with new technology and practices while preserving time-tested techniques. The Hennins taught a holistic approach to building where every question has multiple answers based on the occupant’s use of the structure, the materials being used, and it's place on the planet. While learning the fundamentals of house building (load calculations, heat loss, solar angles, finance, and more) students gained hands-on experience in the classroom and later by going out by doing it themselves or helping their peers. Pat and Patsy taught people how to look inside themselves to discover their needs and, more importantly, their strengths and abilities.
Today’s students face similar challenges, but they also want to communicate competently with architects, builders, plumbers, and electricians. They want to understand the Building Code and it's impact on each phase of the building process. They want to be in control by making informed decisions instead of relying on others or simply following convention. Demands on time have changed, so they tend to do less of the physical work themselves but find it invaluable to understand how the work is done and how a home functions. Students come to Shelter to learn new skills and acquire a foundation for a lifetime of homeownership. Professional woodworkers, builders, and weekend hobbyists call on Shelter for just the right tool or for answers to questions. Hundreds of clients have turned to Shelter for a super-insulated timber frame home or for acquiring just the right property to purchase.
The Shelter family has grown and the Institute is now on a 68-acre waterfront campus on Route 1 in Woolwich. The next generation of Hennins, along with a select group of talented builders, teachers and woodworkers are guiding students and clients through the house-building and home-owning experience, and Pat and Patsy’s goal of helping friends think, build, and live thoughtfully continues to infuse all aspects of Shelter.
Shelter continues to adapt its courses, try new tools and techniques, and help build new dreams.
Think. Build. Live. is a philosophy of finding the right solution for every challenge—mindful of tradition yet striving to find new and better answers.