Walking through a renovated 10,000-square-foot warehouse tucked between a doggie day care and an auto shop, Scott Tucker explained how he and his wife Melani Dowdy could have leased a smaller spot, but they wanted a collaborative space that provided more.
Raunjiba Design Center in Remington is their way to pursue their individual passions — fashion and interior design — and also be a resource and hub for artists, designers, builders and creatives. Scott acknowledged they’re not bringing something entirely new to Baltimore, which has thriving arts and culture communities. But he said they want the center to contribute to the creative momentum that already exists.
“We just want to be a part of that and help be an energizer to support that,” Scott said.
Scott and Melani opened the design center in August 2021 after renovating the warehouse during the pandemic. Lumber prices were high then, Scott said, so much of their wood was salvaged from vacant rowhomes and purchased at Second Chance, a nonprofit in South Baltimore.
Scott, originally from Brooklyn, New York, has been a professional designer and creative director for over 15 years. He attended the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C., and the Fashion Institute for Technology in New York City, in addition to studying abroad at the Winchester School of Art in Winchester, England.
At his workshop inside the design center, he creates furniture designs, renderings and prototypes for clients internationally. What the workshop lacks in tools, it makes up for with technology that can help turn ideas into reality, he said.
The center has a CNC, or computer numerical control machine that provides precision cutting on different surfaces like soft metal, plywood and solid wood. Raunjiba can support 3D, virtual reality and augmented reality ideas. There is also stage and studio space for photographers, podcasters and influencers to book.
“This is a town of ingenuity … there’s a lot of makers in this town,” Scott said.
Melani is one of them. The Baltimore native, who graduated from Morgan State with an electrical engineering degree and spent much of her career working in IT, has always had a passion for fashion. Her studio, mellibelli, has the look of a small storefront, which Scott likens to something you might see in SoHo in New York City.
Strolling through her boutique and passing a black-and-white photo of her mother and grandmother next to a sewing machine, Melani expressed her love for denim and T-shirts. Her grandmother, who passed away in 2008, taught her how to sew when she was younger. Now, Melani fills the studio’s clothes rack with upcycled creations: handbags, skirts and an army-print jacket embroidered with wings — her signature added touch, she said. Melani also makes jewelry and wants to launch her own line of body chains.
It was important to provide a creative environment in Baltimore, Melani said, because Charm City can evoke very linear and jaded thoughts. Tapping into the arts and youth is a good way to change the negativity.
“There’s a lot of art in this city, and there’s a lot of need for the youth to have opportunities to inspire them to want to figure out what motivates them, what will be their livelihood,” she said.
Scott and Melani are crafting internship opportunities and hope to get workers soon so that they can open the design center regularly during the week.
The gallery space is free to exhibit work, but there’s a process that curators must go through to present artists. Currently, the Bishop Gallery is showcasing the artwork of a Brooklyn-based visual artist, Sophia Dawson. From now until December, the design center expects to host viewings for four different exhibits, six artist talks and three live performances.
Scott said it’s not a rental space for events. It does, however, offer tours for kids and adults and holds in-house creative programming, such as “Wine and Design” outings where people can paint, sculpt and build.
“Bringing people together and unifying people and letting them see things they didn’t expect to see is something that I enjoy,” Melani said.