NAME Heidi Shenk
LOCATION Baltimore, Maryland
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND Bachelor Degree in English & Textual Arts, Syracuse University 2006; Masters Degree in Secondary Education, Johns Hopkins University 2010
COMPANY Row House 14
Tell me a little bit about Row House 14 & the story behind the name. How did you get started? Row House 14 is my handmade paper goods and stationery studio. I make greeting cards and stationery, imprint pencils, and illustrate both cards and prints. The name Row House 14 comes directly from my studio locale. I make everything in my home studio, which happens to be a historic Baltimore row house, numbered 14. I opened my Etsy shop in 2010, but have been drawing, making things, and doing other art for as long as I can remember.
Your collection is truly laugh out loud funny. Sexy pants? Enough said. Where do you find your inspiration for the cheeky cards and pencils? Most of my cards come from daily life interactions with all sorts of people and events. I always disliked the super sappy cards that you find at the big box stores and wished I could find a card that actually said what I was really thinking. A lot of my cards are just that– what I would actually be thinking or wanting to say in each situation. My most popular line of cards is what I call the “cute butt” series. I once had someone say to me, “Man, your husband most have a really cute butt!” And you know what? Maybe he does. ; ) In all seriousness though, he does help me come up with some of my cards, simply because we both believe in having a good sense of humor, and we love to laugh.
What were you doing before you started Row House 14? What prompted you to branch out on your own? Before Row House 14, I was a full time middle school teacher in Baltimore City. I started making cards in 2009 as a way for me to find a creative outlet from the daily stress of teaching. Teaching was was quickly burning me out, and I needed something to do to unwind and relax after a long day. I’ve been drawing and making things my entire life, so it was a natural thing for me to pick up something of this sort when I needed to get creative ideas out my system. In my fifth year of teaching, demand for my cards increased so I started to think about the possibility of this as an actual business. During my sixth and final year of teaching, I would come home from school, eat dinner, grade papers, and then fulfill card orders until 2 in the morning. At this point, I knew that I could work for myself and be happier than I was teaching. It’s been a little over a year since I quit teaching, and I don’t regret it for one second. Owning and running my business has had it’s challenges, but it has certainly made me a much happier person.
Has there been a particular moment where you felt most accomplished and validated in your career? I’ve only recently felt validated in my career. When I was dreaming about making this business a full time endeavor, I had a lot of friends that didn’t take me seriously. In fact, half a year into my full time endeavor, a former co-worker actually asked me where I was working part time. She automatically assumed that it was impossible for me to not need some sort of supplemental income. Recently, I’ve been embraced by my community here in Baltimore, and people within that community have been less dismissive. Their support is now really quite incredible. However, for me, feeling validated has a lot more to do with how I feel about my work than what others think about my work. I’ve learned to have confidence in myself and to run my business the way I want to despite what anyone else might think. I think that attitude can be the most validating thing above all. I still have a ways to go, but I’m getting there!
Your collection can be found at retail stores & boutiques around the globe. How did you get the word out about your company when you first launched? Many of the retailers that stock my cards, approached me after seeing my cards either on Etsy or on my blog. In the past, I have contacted boutiques to find out about wholesale opportunities, but I don’t spend too much time with that sort of marketing. I feel as though it’s more important for me to spend time making sure that I have a quality product that stands out. If you can offer something unique, people will find you and come back to you. Word of mouth has been a bigger success for me than any form of advertising, and I prefer it to be that way.
You design and create from your home studio. What is the best part about working from home? I love the fact that no day is ever the same. I can work at my own pace and within my own rules. It also allows me the flexibility of taking a break when I need to, setting up office at a coffee shop, or sketching outside in the park. After being in a classroom environment where everything is on a strict schedule, working at home is rather liberating!
Aside from your stationery & greeting card collection, you also hand-imprint pencil sets & recently added a beautiful collection of giclee & gold foil landscape prints (love!). This variety must keep things interesting. What does your typical day look like? I usually start with coffee and reading in the morning. I check emails and fill my orders for the day before heading to the post office. I head to the gym for a workout or do yoga at home most days before stopping for lunch. My afternoons are really different every single day. Depending on the season, I fill more orders, work on wholesale orders, make more stock of popular items, sketch new card ideas, experiment with new ideas, or work on freelance design projects.
Where might you take the company next? On a smaller level, I’ve been working on a Baltimore series of greeting cards. On a bigger level, some day I’d love to have my own studio with a storefront here in my own neighborhood. Community is really important for me, so I love to dream about being a part of my direct community in a bigger way.
What is your favorite item in your shop? That’s a tough question! Right now, I’m really happy with my new landscape prints because they turned out just as I had envisioned. I love so much of what I produce that I think it changes based on what I’m working on at the time. I definitely use my Holy Shit Balls and Hustle pencils daily though, so they are probably some favorites, too.
Guilty pleasure? I’m a huge music nerd, but outside of my better judgement, I love belting out Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover every now and again. Shit. I probably shouldn’t have disclosed that info. ; )
Sugar or salt? Both. Ice cream and tortilla chips are my weakness. Separately of course. I mean, who’d eat those together?
Favorite Pandora/Spotify station? I don’t usually listen to the stations, but some of my favorite playlists on Spotify are round ups of the top songs of the year from my favorite local radio station WTMD.
What is one thing people might be surprised to know about you? I was classically trained on the cello. The other night, I played for the first time in probably a year, and I wasn’t too bad if I must say so myself!
Daily breakfast? The food part changes regularly, but coffee is always a must.