HUB OF INNOVATION

Richardson’s vision for new design center cultivated on campus

by Jeff Dodge, Illustration by Bonnie Bladen Palmatory

Nancy Richardson’s passion for giving – and collaborating on design projects – was nurtured from an early age, but really blossomed during her time at Colorado State University.

Richardson, who graduated in 1982 with an interior design degree, went on to co-found OtterBox and Blue Ocean Enterprises with her husband, Curt. The couple recently pledged $8.1 million toward the construction of the new Richardson Design Center, to be built between the new on-campus stadium and the Gifford Building.

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The facility was designed to reflect Nancy Richardson’s commitment to an inclusive, multidisciplinary design approach. It will be a state-of-the-art hub of innovation for students and faculty in programs across campus, including interior design, design and merchandising, landscape architecture, art, engineering, product development, entrepreneurship, and construction management. Its open, welcoming layout – with reconfigurable spaces and walls of glass – is also symbolic of Richardson’s desire to involve design professionals from the private sector.

“I see the Richardson Design Center not only benefiting the students, but also pulling in industry, and that’s huge because these students are our future designers and thought leaders,” says Richardson, who has been a guest speaker for CSU interior design classes herself. “Industry will have the opportunity to teach these students, too, so when they go out into the world they’ll be familiar with the products and the field.”

Some of the glass walls will serve as large, pivoting windows that can be opened – another inviting feature that creates a seamless flow between inside spaces and landscaped courtyards.

“Indoor/outdoor relationships are very important to the design of the building, whether it’s fostering collaboration with private industry or taking advantage of the great weather we have in Colorado,” says CSU architect Mike Rush, adding that the facility’s design accommodates evolving needs. “You can build for the times, but you also want to build for the future that you can’t predict. It will be readily adaptable.”

Planting the seeds

Richardson’s parents instilled the value of philanthropy in her.

“At Christmas, my mom would have us gather some of our toys for people in need,” she recalls. “That had a huge impact on me, that amazing feeling it is to give. Often, we are the ones who get the greater benefit from it. I really feel like it’s in our DNA to give back to those who have supported us.”

Her first taste of interior design came from her father, who was a manufacturer’s rep for high-end kitchen and bath fixtures.

“As I got older, I worked for him, so I was exposed to a lot of aspects of building,” Richardson says.

While she always loved drawing as a kid, Richardson didn’t really discover her creative zeal until she chose interior design as her major at CSU.   

“It was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “It was my sweet spot. It really was CSU that reignited that passion for creativity, tapped into that part of my soul, and brought it out.”

Her philanthropy work with the Delta Delta Delta sorority chapter only solidified her appreciation for giving back – and the value of having multiple voices at the table. Helping organize the sorority’s fall carnival for local kids gave her the opportunity to work with businesses providing in-kind donations.

“I learned how collaborative it can be,” Richardson says.

Varied viewpoints

Her desire to promote that inclusive approach was reinforced as she and Curt planned their headquarters for OtterBox several years ago. They brought all the players into the discussions – from architects and landscapers to interior designers and construction contractors.

The Richardson Design Center was planned using the same process.

“There’s been a lot of input from many different people,” Richardson says. “It’s also included a lot of student feedback, because they are the ultimate consumer.”

It’s an approach that is sure to be ingrained in the students who will be taught there.

“It taps into everyone’s best thoughts,” Richardson says. “Often the most difficult challenges become the most creative outlets. Students today have such a collaborative mindset, and the workforce is changing in that way. This new center will be a good platform to learn about other fields and use each other’s strengths.”

Perhaps the next OtterBox story – which began when Curt created his first waterproof technology case in the couple’s garage – will get its start in the Richardson Design Center.

“What we’re trying to do is inspire that next generation of professionals coming out of CSU, and encourage that cross-collaboration,” says Blue Ocean interior design team manager Annie Lilyblade, who holds CSU degrees in interior design and construction management. “To have those dialogues as a student is incredibly beneficial.”

“We want to be seen as a world-class design center,” Richardson adds. “It’s going to be an amazing recruitment tool to bring in the best and brightest students. I think this will elevate the greatness we already have.”

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