Post Image
Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Yowie; Design: Apartment Therapy

Design Changemakers 2022: Shannon Maldonado Is Proving That “Designer” Can Mean Many Things

published Feb 14, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Credit: Apartment Therapy

Apartment Therapy’s Changemakers Class of 2022 is made up of 15 of the most talented and dynamic people (or duos or trios) working in the design world. This year’s honorees are all about connecting, collaborating, and disrupting the industry to steer the collective design conversation towards innovation and a better future. See the rest of the list here.

Who: Shannon Scott Maldonado, founder & Creative Director Yowie
Where to follow her: Instagram at @helloyowie

Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado

YOWIE founder Shannon Maldonado might be the consummate multi-hyphenate. A fashion designer/curator/shop owner/decorator/hotelier based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Maldonado brings a cheerful, colorful approach to all aspects of her work—picture a shop with a sunshine-yellow display table paired with sleek plywood shelves or a cobalt blue spindle chair against a graphic black and white rug in a hotel.  “With YOWIE, I get to do everything or at least try stuff and see if I really am interested in it,” she says of her Philadelphia-based boutique that acts as the home base of her many creative endeavors. “We make what we want, and we buy what we want when we want to.”

This serendipitous combination of creativity and control has not always been the norm for Maldonado, nor is her multi-concept shop typical in her city. Maldonado began her career as a designer in the fashion industry and spent a decade working for brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, American Eagle, and Urban Outfitters. Maldonado started YOWIE in 2016, first as an online shop functioning out of her two-bedroom apartment; soon after, she introduced pop-up-style shops. “I knew after our first pop-up that having a physical place for people to meet was very important to me,” says Maldonao.

Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado

So in 2017, she opened a brick and mortar in the Queen Village neighborhood. “I think we’re one of the first shops in Philly to feel like a true concept shop, where we sell all different kinds of things,” she says. “We do events that are across different ideas or subject matters. Philly’s just starting to come around to our very modern, postmodern aesthetic.”

Along the way, she was introduced to Everett Abitbol, a Philadelphia entrepreneur. “Everett was enamored by some of the products and the displays of our pop-ups, and we started talking about working together,” says Maldonado. In late 2018, Abitbol reached out about designing the space that would become The Deacon, a boutique hotel. Formerly an African Baptist church that was slated to be demolished, Maldonado recalls, “I basically told them I have no idea what I’m doing, but I love design, and I’m a really hard worker. I would love to do this if you’re okay with me learning with you,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Hey, we haven’t ever opened a hotel, so let’s jump on this boat together.” 

Once she dived into interiors, additional projects quickly followed including Ethel’s Club, a Black-owned wellness club in Brooklyn, and The Dye House, a hotel and event space in Providence, Rhode Island. Heading into 2022, Maldonado and Abitbol are partnering once again for a new iteration of YOWIE, a much larger and even-more-hyphenated space. Read more about Maldonado and the future of YOWIE below.

Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado

Apartment Therapy: Are there any projects you have upcoming in 2022 that you can share with us?

Shannon Maldonado: YOWIE’s new and much larger space. We will have a hotel component, a studio component, a kitchen, and a store and cafe. My dream scenario is that we can create some kind of program where an artist from another city can come stay with us, host a workshop in the space, maybe have a meetup with other creatives in the cafe — like really show the mixed-useness of the building. 

The part of YOWIE that feels like a community center is really important to me and something that I hope we can expand in the new space — COVID be damned!

AT: Where do you draw inspiration from now?

SM: I went to school for fashion design, but I’m a self-taught interior designer. So I feel like I’m doing a library education about designers and architects. I really recently fell in love with the art of Will Barnett. His paintings are very simple scenes of people with their cats or people in their rooms, but the way that he renders them and the color palettes that he uses are just so pretty and romantic. 

I’ve also been learning more just about Philadelphia architecture researching for our current project. The neighborhood that my shop is in is near a lot of colonial homes, so I’ve been looking at Federalist-style design and how to interpret that for a modern audience. 

AT: What words would you use to describe your work or style? 

SM: Warm, modern, colorful, nostalgic.

Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado

AT: What makes you feel at home in a space?

SM: My book collection and my art and poster collection are things that I really value and cherish and that make me feel really happy at home. I have so many books that I love and that I’ve been collecting forever. 

The first space I designed [The Deacon hotel] I thought ‘Ok, why don’t I curate a kind of library?’ Each room with three to four books that are not typical hotel books that you would expect to see. Now I do that in every project — books just add personality to the space in a really sweet, thoughtful way.

AT: What would you say sets you apart from your peers? What do you see as being your special thing?

SM: Curation. I think people don’t know how much time or effort it takes to really narrow down to the things that you think are the most perfect things for a space or a project. There is a thoughtfulness to truly curating that can often be overlooked, but it’s my favorite part. 

AT: What legacy do you hope to leave in the design world?

SM: When I was younger, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me that did what I wanted to do, so, all of my idols were white men. Now as an adult, I’m seeing more and more diversity in the design field. But even today when I go to a trade show, for example, there’s very few people of color on the buying side of shops.  

I’m always so moved when a young person of color comes into the shop, and we’re chatting, and they’re like, ‘Wait, is this your store?’ I can see that they’re thinking, “‘Oh, wait, people like me can do this too.”  Likewise, I opened a hotel with partners, but less than 1 percent of black women own hotels. I really show my city what’s possible; I think that’s like the driving force behind everything I do.

Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado

AT: Where do you see the design world going in 2022?

I think things are just going to continue to become more collaborative, and I think and hope that more people that are at the beginning of their practice will get opportunities. My hope is that things continue to be collaborative. I really love seeing unexpected pairings between designers and brands and more of a sense of community creation versus individualism in design. So much of our strength at YOWIE is in how we work with and amplify others. I also would love to see more heritage brands give opportunities to those in the beginning or start of their practice or for people in different creative mediums to be given a try at creating new forms. For example: When I worked at Urban Outfitters, I was designing knits though I was historically a wovens designer; because it was a foreign medium, I looked at it differently and created new ideas. I’d love to see that in furniture and lighting and interiors. I want to see the gates continue to be opened up!

Interview has been edited and condensed.