Home & Living

Newly Expanded Found Studio Shop Gives Owner More Space to Dream

Kacey Stafford is a fixture in Lauraville—a splash of Southern comfort in a Natty Boh town.
—Photography by Marlayna Demond

Stepping into Found Studio Shop, a retail gift shop in Lauraville, feels like the most genuine hug from a friend. Everything is bright, fun, and comfortable—with just a touch of sass—which is exactly how owner Kacey Stafford designed it.

“One of my favorite things to do is get together a collection of things that are beautiful and functional and bring joy,” drawls the Kentucky native. “I want people to walk in here and sigh, ‘Ahhh.’ This is the ultimate retail therapy destination.”

The shop is a veritable emporium of gifting, stocking everything from jewelry and chocolate to bath and body products, pillows and cocktail shakers, and adorable goods for babies and children.

Stafford, 45, carries an extensive collection of paper goods and clever cards and plenty of fashionable housewares. Many of the items are locally sourced from Baltimore-based artists and some of Stafford’s employees are makers themselves.

The store is the brick-and-mortar embodiment of Stafford’s personality, equal parts Southern charm and endless creativity. A mixed media artist—you may be familiar with her “BMORE KIND” sticker—Stafford received a degree in art education at Murray State University in her home state and began her career as an art teacher in public schools.

Eighteen years ago, when her husband, Scott, needed to relocate for work, it brought the couple to Baltimore, where they fell in love with the quaint neighborhood of Waltherson, in northeast Baltimore. They set down roots and have been dedicated to that community ever since.

As much as she enjoyed teaching, and supporting public schools in particular, Stafford didn’t feel it was her life’s vocation. Her father owned a furniture store and her grandfather a nursery and landscaping business. Even though she knew the challenges of entrepreneurship, she always felt called to the world of independent retail. She ditched teaching and, “decided I would listen to what was pulling at my heartstrings—I wanted a shop.”

Stafford joined forces with Carmen Brock and helped open Red Tree in Hampden in 2006—it later morphed into the much-loved Trohv—but left three years later to have her children, now ages 10 and 13. (Trohv closed in 2022.)

“When I left Trohv I said, ‘I probably won’t ever do a store again’—because it’s so demanding and takes over your life,” she recalls. But then an opportunity arose in 2019 for her to have a tiny, 250-square-foot niche shop within Red Canoe Café, right in the heart of her own neighborhood. “I thought, well, this is a good, low-risk way to find out if this is still my passion. And as soon as I opened, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve missed this so much.’ This is my passion. This is my gift.”

The little store took off. While Stafford acknowledges that retail is no joke, she says that Baltimore will turn out for the right kind of store.

“Baltimore doesn’t want a cookie-cutter world, and they don’t want vacant Main Streets or just big-box stores,” she says. “Baltimore supports and shows up for its local businesses and local artists.”

Many of the items are locally sourced from Baltimore-based artists and some of Stafford’s employees at Found Studio Shop are makers themselves.

The origin story of what is now Found Studio is as much the story of a building as it is a store. Despite the pandemic being “the universe giving me a slap in the face,” Stafford knew she would need to expand when online school ended—she was home with a kindergartener and a third grader—and the world went back to normal. And she knew just where she wanted to go: a building on Lauraville’s main street on the same block as Red Canoe and near her friend and fellow local retailer, Christina Brunyate, who owns Domesticity Sewing Studio.

The building had history; it had been everything from a pleasure club in the ’80s to, more recently, a DIY home projects store. But it had stood vacant since 2015, and Stafford had always kept her eye on it. In a twist of fate that can only happen in Smalltimore, the building’s owner turned out to be Stafford’s neighbor. It took a year—and a whole lot of that Southern charm—for him to agree to sell.

“It took a lot of negotiations and meetings, and I finally convinced him with my nice Southern drawl and a couple glasses of bourbon,” she quips.

She and her husband acquired the building in November 2022. What ensued was a frantic year of constant work. Dead birds, dust, and detritus were cleared out. Stafford secured a Project Restore grant from the state and a façade improvement grant from Baltimore Development Corporation. Although a contractor did the heavy lift of HVAC, electrical, and plumbing, Stafford and her husband did much of the work themselves, customizing every inch of the store with an artist’s eye. They painted all the floors and laid intricate patterns of tile in the bathrooms, along with designer Gary Godbey.

Almost every piece of furniture was purchased at Second Chance, through Facebook Marketplace, or is a hacked piece from Ikea. A group of volunteers helped paint furniture. The pièce de résistance is the accent wall behind the register area that Stafford painted herself in her signature mixed-media style. The paint was barely dry when Found Studio opened, just in time for holiday shoppers.

The store’s tagline is appropriately “curated by an artist.” A committed member of the Charm City Craft Mafia, where she’s been on the board since 2011, Stafford carries many things by local artists and makers. For example, she says they can’t keep Hon’s Honey products on the shelves. (The Baltimore-based social enterprise sells honey products made by survivors of human trafficking.) She carries cutting boards made by woodworker Deirdre Smith from trees that naturally fall on her Baltimore County farm, prints, notecards, and paintings by local artists like Emily Uchytil and Gertie Smith, and candles and soap crafted by Mount Royal Soaps.

The second story of Found Studio is used as a rotating gallery space for artists and for events. Local papercut artist Annie Howe has a small studio space there, too. In the future, Stafford would like to get back to her teaching roots and offer classes in the space.

“I think this vibe is very Baltimore City-centric,” she says of the store. That local edge is important to Stafford, as she finds retail to be as much about community as it is commerce. “Creating community is the part I love,” she says. “We have a lot of regulars who come in and people come here to be surrounded by beauty and to forget about their cares, if only for a few minutes.”

For all the whimsy of its wares, it is Stafford who brings the magic to Found Studio Shop.

From the number of people who volunteered to help her and Scott get the shop open, to the dedicated customers who swing by just to say hello—and Stafford always remembers everyone’s name—it’s clear that she is a fixture in Lauraville, a splash of Southern comfort in a Natty Boh town.

This piece appeared in our March 2024 issue. For more great Baltimore stories, consider becoming a subscriber.