Leesa Jo Schenk has been creating and designing handcrafted products since she was young. Schenk has made a career of designing unique gifts and home décor for customers looking for something special.
The Florida-native is gearing up for an exciting spring. It is the time of year Schenk finds her creativity renewing and blossoming. Schenk has designed a number of imaginative gifts for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Each item gives customers the chance to add a one of a kind gift to their home or to give to a friend.
Schenk continues to grow her business with each year. She believes 2019 will be the biggest year yet for her Etsy shop. With so many great new products in her shop and more already sold to customers around the world, Schenk touched base with Totalprestige Magazine about her plans for the year.
Leesa, you are well-known for your ornate handmade décor. Can you tell us about some of the special Easter holiday and spring items you have in-store for customers this year?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Sure, Easter and spring is a really great and fun time for calming colors of pastels and vibrant colorful decor as well. For something special to decorate a wall or front door, I had fun making this 24” inch shatterproof ornament wreath in pastels for “Happy Easter”. I prefer the wall above the piano and security of indoors and I will enjoy it until it sells.
I’m expecting my little wire Easter Trees to sell out this year, they did well last year and my hand blown real eggs covered in sequins make unique ornaments to add to the trees.
A favorite of mine is the glass cubes made into decorative holiday lighting. A friend suggested I make them and I improved on the design by making the beautiful bows removable and interchangeable. My customers purchase one glass cube or block lighting and can change the bows with the holidays by purchasing extra bows for all the holidays they love and simply store the bows they are not displaying.
Of course, before Easter is St. Patrick’s Day and you have a unique handmade wreath in your store this year. Is spring a time of great creativity when it comes to your designs?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Yes, in the spring I spend a great deal of the time making up the Christmas designs that were popular and sold and I was able to get supplies at Christmas time to make this St. Patrick’s Day 24” inch shatterproof ornament wreath. This is my new addition! I had so much fun putting it together like a puzzle. I love a good challenge that way. When I finished it, I did a little Irish jig and claimed “it made me want to get my Irish on”. It too will be enjoyed on the wall above the piano until it sells.
Schenk points out there are certain times of the year that are busier than others. The holiday season is her busiest season as customers regularly contacting her for the unique items she makes. Whether it is custom orders or something already made, Schenk’s shop thrives during the holidays.
Stopping by your online shop, it seems Christmas and Easter seem quite busy. Do you find there is a certain time of year in which customers reach out to you more than others?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Yes, I think that is pretty normal for a gift shop to be busy starting in November and going through Christmas. I was very grateful, and this past year, I had quite a few custom orders that required my attention during this peak time of year. I did well managing time with no stress. I’m looking forward to Easter. This year, it’s in late April and for many years, I have closed rrdesigns561 Etsy shop for vacations in March to travel and snow ski the U.S. with my husband and that does affect my Easter sales. This year we are taking no vacation. Home base is the place!
How do you come up with the items you create? For example, your Winter Wedding Snowflake item is unique. Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Inspiration for me evolves from past materials I’ve collected or been given over the years. Blessed with dear friends, it is a pleasure to receive fabrics and other notions and on a parting note or word they say like, “I can’t wait to see what you do with this”. I’m moved into action by visual simulation. I rarely look at what other designers create, so they truly are designs of my creative thought process. It’s like working with what you got to work with and making the best of it. The Winter Wedding theme block is just a result of this. I did venture out and purchase new materials for a Winter Wedding Centerpiece Tree this year that I’m featuring here for the first time and I’ll be posting it on my Facebook page with an article I wrote on “The Beauty of Winter Weddings”.
The centerpiece tree is now available and custom options are available to that special customer at rrdesigns561 Etsy Shop. I was inspired a year ago to make this St. Patrick’s Day glass cube decorative lighting theme block and it is one of the most re-pinned designs on the DIY site Pinterest. But no one purchased it and it is still available today. My Pinterest account claims I have 23.4K monthly viewers, last time I checked, and has claimed 62.3K at times. This is bittersweet at times, since my sales do not reflect this. I must look to the bright side, “I inspire many”. I must feel privileged and honored to be at peace.
One of the special elements of Schenk’s work is the custom gifts she makes to order. Many of the custom orders she works on have special meaning to her clients. Schenk’s work magnifies the sentiment customers have and it gives her a feeling of satisfaction to make gifts so heartfelt.
A lot of your clients contact you to create custom Items. Many times, these pieces have special sentiment to them. What is it like to work on a product in which the buyer has already placed special sentiment on it?
Leesa Jo Schenk: It’s very important that I get it right and take care to listen to my customer and make notes. It may require many messages and Etsy has a great communication system for that. I may have to do an immediate photoshoot of fabrics for them to choose from. A photo may be needed for final customer approval.
For example, a customer contacted me about a round fabric covered storage box to hold her mother’s memorial and keepsakes in after she had passed. As we messaged back and forth, I learned her mother loved pink roses and birds. I went to my fabric well and pulled my floral prints with pink roses and took pictures of four different prints I had scraps of. She chose the print she liked best for her mom’s box and I added a little bird to the bow on top. She was pleased with it in the final photo and I shipped it. To me this is what custom is all about and I’m honored to have had her contact me. So, it is rewarding in the sense that it has such a special intention and purpose to the buyer.
Can you tell us about the angels and stockings you created for a client out of their mother’s wedding dress? Did that touch you in a way other custom orders haven’t?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Absolutely! These lace Angels are sentimental to me as well. A craft that my dear mother-in-law handmade at one time in her life. I can remember her sitting at her table putting them together. Most of her materials for these angels I now have. Betty is still with us today at 93-years old. Mom loves it when I tell her I sold another angel. I welcomed this custom order and worked to complete five Angels for the girls in my customer’s family and four stockings made for the men in her family.
I‘d like to take credit for thinking of this sentimental gift idea myself, but it never occurred to me to cut up a wedding gown to make precious Christmas mementos for families. I’ve got a new customized priceless gift. I regret not keeping my wedding dress it would have been perfect for Easter items Mom and I didn’t start out loving each other and my wedding to her son was the first wedding I ever attended. It happened to be mom’s wedding anniversary date that we all now share. You could say, I have a wedding faddish. Mom got the opportunity to read this story I wrote when she was in her 80s and I was happy to hear she approved.
Being married at 15-years old and eight months pregnant, I relied on my mother-in-laws monetary help for my wedding dress and the whole wedding in fact. We went shopping together and the end result was a mint green gown with pink roses on it. Funny, how God works out your life even when you have weak faith and think you know it all. After attending my first wedding that wasn’t mine, I began thinking ungrateful thoughts and holding huge pity parties, because I regretted my wedding. I wanted to be thin and wear a white gown and have my father give me away and all our family members together celebrating our day. The whole pity party was futile, a bad frame of mind that Satan delights in; not God. Nothing could be any different than it was, my lack of support from my broken family is a fact. It could not be changed. But, our father God collected up my tears and listened to my cries.
During my career as a professional model, I had opportunities and was hired several times to show the most beautiful wedding gowns on the planet. You could say that I became known for wedding runway events in the local high fashion scene. I could throw those wedding dress trains and land them with perfection and it got noticed by the bridal shops. It was a good reputation to have. There was to be this big bridal fashion show event held at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida and I got hired. I had six gowns to show along with eight other models. We each had our own dressers behind the scenes; which in most cases, were the shops, store owners and representatives. One of the other models was overcome by the stressfully quick pace of the show and got light headed. She was to wear the finale wedding gown.
It caused quite a commotion behind the scenes. Her bridal gowns came from Miami and the owner was present. The owner approached the owner of The Bride Beautiful & Tux shop on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. It was shop I was representing. He said, “please, can I use your model for the finale gown?” Maureen agreed right away, then turned to me and said, “would you mind?” I calmly said “not at all.” Inside, I was jumping for joy. This wedding gown had been the talk of the dressing room. The price tag was not comprehensible to me. We walk together over to his section and his two dressers transformed my frame into another bride. Much to my surprise, the gown was very heavy due to all of the embellishments and that made me a bit nervous at first. But the show goes on rather quickly!
The lights were dimmed and the final moments of the show had arrived. I walked out on to the runway and the guests gasped and awed at the beauty in view. I played it out and timed it perfectly. I hit my mark and threw the train and rushed forward and landed it perfectly and the guests cheered and clapped. It was surreal. I felt so joyous and fortunate to have had that experience. Today, people come into my home for the first time and think the photos they see are my actual wedding photos! I laugh now and tell them how I got married eight months pregnant in a mint green gown with pink roses on it bought by my loving mother-in-law. God wasn’t done yet, over the years, I’ve had the honor of being in three different weddings that my beloved girlfriends have asked me to share with them. Today, I rarely ever find myself in a bad frame of mind and I try hard to never have pity parties anymore. Thanks be to father God, whom has his own purposes for our lives. Even when we are clueless, our father never is. I Trust in him.
Do you work on a lot of custom orders from clients and how different are those items than the ones in your online store?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Custom orders were the idea in the beginning. I did local home decorating, made window treatments, cornices, valances, you name it, I made it all custom work. I love working in variety. I admit, I’m thrilled when a customer appreciates my personal style of designs and purchases. One example is “Scraps Teddy Bears Collection” a popular personalized custom item with sentiment. I recently made an old Laura Ashley vintage fabric into a new keepsake namesake teddy bear for a baby girl shower basket. I can make these bears out of any fabric or clothing provided to me and tag them with the meaning of the name a client chooses.
I recently helped my friend Nancy. She wanted help making some teddy bears out of her late husband’s blue bathrobe for their grandchildren this past Christmas. She came by and got the craft magazines I had with small patterns in them and decided to make all the bears from a handmade pattern she drew herself. She did all the prep work, cutting, pinning, and when she was ready, she came by and I machine stitched each bear for her. She called me when they were stuffed and done. We cracked up on the phone and she had me in tears laughing. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she came by to show me how they turned out. I loved them, each a little different, just like people! Precious and priceless forever gifts. The kids love them. Definitely different from my online custom teddy bears in the most sentimental of ways. I titled them “Beloved Blue Bathrobe Folk Teddy Bears”.
Recent years have seen Schenk’s work grow artistically and commercially. She has reached new customers and expects her store to continue its growth in 2019. Thanks to changes to Etsy as well as new interest in the website as a whole, Schenk believes her work will touch new lives very soon.
In 2017, Totalprestige Magazine originally spoke to you about your RRhomedecor business. What has changed since then and how has the business grown?
Leesa Jo Schenk: I added a vintage section to RRdesigns561 gift shop on Etsy rather than opening another shop. I’m investing in Facebook advertising this year for RRdesigns561 and I can be found here at this link on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeesajoSchenk/. The worldwide shopping platform Etsy is now running and some TV commercials is good news for all its sellers and shoppers. Being discovered is half the battle. Etsy now offers ‘guest’ checkout which is a big plus for many sellers and people that do not want to create accounts everywhere they shop online due to the increased e-mail marketing that occurs. I’m grateful and love what I feel privileged to do. I’m expecting this year to be the best yet! Thank you all at Totalprestige Magazine for inviting me back and giving me this wonderful opportunity to tell my story in the Weekly Digest magazine!
All of your products are handmade which means they are exclusive and one of kind. Many times, you create just one of these items. For whatever the reason, is there an item you made and sold that you wish you still had?
Leesa Jo Schenk: Honestly, no. I enjoy each piece or item until that perfect person purchases it. I’m happy it found the right home. And I can always come close to reproducing anything I make just by looking back at photos I’ve taken, provided I have the same materials. Because many of my designs come from my well of fabric scraps from past jobs or inherited materials, that limits what can be made. So, yes some designs are originals and can never be duplicated. I laugh because I make the “Vintage New”.
As a successful creator, designer, and seller, what is next for you RRhomedecor?
Leesa Jo Schenk: This year, I’m hitting the sewing machine hard. Getting organized really gets my creative juices flowing. Sorting out fabrics, I now have a pile of premeditated design ideas. Looking forward to designing some new modern silk floral centerpieces and some modern pillow designs. RRdesigns561 shop on Etsy is now full and I’m casting my cares and enjoying the ride. I plan to work more on my writing from my journal of life. People need to be enlighten and uplifted and inspired and know the love of God and I hope to help them! “She laughs without fear of the future,” I like this translation of Proverb 31: 25. It describes my state of mind well. Thanks again, this invite was like a happy birthday blessing. I turn 56 this month and plan on visiting Dave and Joyce Meyers Ministries Conference in Orlando to wrap up the party! I wish Totalprestige Magazine all the best in 2019.
Schenk’s work continues to showcase her creative and artistic abilities. Every item she makes has a piece of her inside it. They are items made from the heart and handcrafted like no one else can. When a customer buys one of Schenk’s great gifts, they know it is handcrafted from the heart.
Journalist and author. Contributor