From Farm Roots to Bank Branches

Contemporary design or traditional design? Carrie Nett’s team is helping Bell Bank express the best of both worlds.

Photo by Britta Trygstad

A lot of children grow up with a playhouse. Carrie Nett took it a step further and actually designed hers. “I grew up in a farming community in North Dakota, and my dad worked for an engineering firm as a site supervisor for major projects like buildings, bridges, and roadways. He also built the house I grew up in and two playhouses for me,” she says. “The initial playhouse was small—about the size of a normal playhouse—and had cutouts, but it didn’t have actual windows or doors. When I grew out of it around age five, I convinced him to let me design a second one.”

Sitting down with her parents as advisors, Nett drew up plans for an improved playhouse that was about the size of a single-car garage. “It had a wraparound deck, real windows, and a screen door,” she describes. “My dad built it, and my mom and I did the finishing touches like furniture and curtains. I spent a lot of time in there, and it really taught me the importance of architecture and real estate from an early age.”

Carrie Nett, Vice President of Facilities for Bell Bank Photo by Britta Trygstad

It should come as no surprise that, today, Nett has worked her way up to vice president of facilities for Bell Bank, the Upper Midwest’s largest independent banking institution and one of the top 25 largest privately owned banks in the nation.

“I might sound over the top, but I love this company because it’s ridiculously awesome,” she says. “Sure, we have 1,200 employees and over $5 billion in assets, but the roots and values of Bell Bank are so simple, down-to-earth, and humble.” She goes on to explain that the company, founded by two families, was built simply by investing in the local community. “They know people value customer service, being treated like an individual, and being helped if they need it, so that’s what they’ve always focused on. And we’re not losing that as we grow.”

“We don’t skimp on the details just because it’s an employee space. We want to create a family environment where our employees can feel at home.” -Carrie Nett Photo by Britta Trygstad

To help fulfill the company’s “bottom line” mission of “Happy Employees! Happy Customers!” Nett and her team have set about refining the environments of the bank’s offices and branches. The impact that buildings, real estate, landscaping, and even lighting can have on people, Nett says, is often dramatic.

“People spend a significant amount of time in their workplace, and their work environment really can influence how they feel throughout the day,” she explains. “That directly affects their productivity, their interactions with coworkers and customers, and even their relationships with family and friends after work. So, we need to have light and bright spaces.”

Bell Bank demonstrates its compassion for the community through the company’s Pay It Forward program, which has distributed over $12 million to its employees to donate as they please and serves as a thank-you for the years of success. In the spirit of giving, the program was launched over a decade ago at a company Christmas party—with an Oprah Winfrey impersonator, no less.

When planning or revamping existing spaces, Nett starts by asking questions. Who will use the space? How will the space be used? Will the space need to change in the future? Addressing these concepts is helpful in determining what needs to be implemented generally, but Nett is quick to note that, regardless of the answer, she sees both employee spaces and customer spaces as equally worthy of the highest amount of consideration.

“We don’t skimp on the details just because it’s an employee space. We want to create a family environment where our employees can feel at home,” she says. “We obviously aren’t going to put a teller line in the back room, but we’re proud of our spaces and want to be able to take customers through them, too.”

The connection between both the people and the spaces themselves, Nett explains, is a significant driver on how her team approaches the design. This concept is something that was inspired by her mother, and she frequently applies it to her life and career. The connections, she says, “made a huge impact on how I got to where I am in my career. I surrounded myself with vendors and mentors that taught me a lot about real estate and continue to do so.”

One of the most valuable changes she and her team implemented is using offsite manufactured construction, which she says has increased efficiencies across the board by cutting down on construction time as well as cost. The prefabricated assemblies can be custom designed to include acoustic requirements and can meet the architects’ design intent. Her team has also focused on integrating technology in the architecture of the space for both customers and employees.

One of the most valuable changes Carrie Nett and her team implemented is using offsite manufactured construction, which she says has increased efficiencies across the board by cutting down on construction time as well as cost. Photo by Britta Trygstad

Along with these more contemporary changes, Nett’s team has sought to integrate elements of the company’s traditional values into its spaces. In 2013, one of Bell Bank’s beloved majority owners passed away. “He was a farmer, and he used to bring in rocks from his fields. The company would engrave the rocks and give them as gifts to illustrate the humble origins of the bank,” she says. “Every year, the company buses employees to collect stones from the farm fields. It’s become a coveted, annual tradition. We’ve now incorporated the stones into fireplaces and walls in our lobbies as a tribute to him and his family. They signify that we haven’t lost sight of our foundation and our core values as we grow.”

Epic Companies values our relationship with Bell Bank and we thank Carrie for making this partnership happen. Epic Companies is a management, development, and capital firm that aims to build and rebuild underutilized spaces. To learn more about our projects, upcoming developments, and future vision visit our company website

Smartt Interior Construction congratulates Carrie Nett of Bell Bank on this well-deserved recognition. We share Bell Bank’s commitment to creating flexible, sustainable and financially “smartt” environments for both their customers and their employees. Sharing a vision and creating these unique spaces for Bell Bank with our partnership with DIRTT Environmental Solutions has been our honor. To learn more visit