When Shannon Maldonado set about designing Ethel’s Club, the first social and wellness club for people of color, she had a specific goal in mind: to create a space that felt as welcoming as stepping into your grandmother’s home—after all, it was named after founder Naj Austin’s grandmother Ethel. “I wanted the space to evoke the feeling of a very warm hug,” Maldonado says. “The ones that are full of so much empathy and unconditional understanding, where you immediately feel grounded and seen.”
As the owner of Yowie—a home and lifestyle shop that curates small collections from local and independent designers in Philadelphia—Maldonado has built her career on cultivating community through design. That’s why she was Austin’s first pick to bring her vision to life.
In her quest to infuse community and inclusivity, Maldonado started with a sample floor plan and began piecing together her inspiration by exploring architecture in her city; looking at Vogue Runway for color palettes (she was immediately drawn to the power of red); and researching African architecture, Persian rugs, and Japanese silks at the library. She was inspired to pull from artists and contexts of the past to design “a space for people of color to feel comfortable, to be seen, and to thrive.”
After all, it is a place made intentionally for them and their well-being. “When working through the zones, I felt it was important that each area felt like it had its own personality but that they spoke to one another,” Maldonado says. “This ethos was rooted in how unique every person of color is.”
The result is a cozy, multi-use space that features a vibrant, ’70s-inspired palette with nostalgic accents (like retro Marcel Breuer chairs) set against inviting earth tones. There’s plenty of room for members to socialize and collaborate, thanks to the addition of comfortable sofas, open breakout spaces, and Sphinx-inspired stadium seating crafted by Egyptian artist Safwat Riad. Maldonado also worked closely with Mark Pearson of D.A.P. Artbook to curate a diverse reference library. “I pictured our members seeing art by people like them and connecting to those books,” she says.
To strike a balance between work and play, Ethel’s Club also features a meditation center. “The idea of wellness and therapy is something that is still stigmatized in our community, so we felt it important to lead with the idea that’s there’s nothing shameful in seeking help,” Maldonado says. “The area can be used for one-on-one treatments or for small groups looking to meditate or connect in an intimate setting.”
As a biracial woman who once struggled to find her place, Maldonado—like the club’s members—has now found a space where she feels at home, can connect with other creatives of color, and recharge. “We wanted it to feel less about coworking,” she says, “and more about sharing space and creating community.”
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