Linda Rhodes launched her small, home-based business out of boredom and created an enterprise that is anything but boring. Rather, it's bursting with color and creativity.
As a new widow in her 50s, Rhodes escaped New England's harsh winters and moved to Florida, and was inspired by the bright colors she found in its natural areas.
But what to do with this exactly?
"I'm artistic," said Rhodes, who is now 62. When she was younger, she'd pursued oil painting but had to give it up when her infant daughter was sickened by the fumes. After moving to Florida, she looked for another creative pursuit, more to keep busy than to make money.
Rhodes stumbled upon it accidentally when she visited a metaphysical shop in Port Richey. A Wiccan herself, she noted the shop carried no ceremonial brooms, a mainstay of the pagan religion's marriage rights.
Buying a bare pine needle broom, she wound it with ribbons and adorned it with an assortment of silk leaves and blossoms.
The ribbon represents the joining of two lives in matrimony and the broom, according to her religion, sweeps negative energy from a household. The shop owner ordered 10 brooms. Rhodes promised that each one would be different.
"I don't do copy work," she said.
Based on that first commercial sale, Rhodes named her business Swept Away Gifts and started looking for ways to expand.
She thought back to a wreath-making class she had taken years ago that involved little more than wiring tiny bunches of baby's breath onto picks and sticking the picks into a straw wreath.
"Tedious," Rhodes said.
She could do better on her own, she thought, and started composing holiday and seasonal wreaths and table arrangements for home decor, designing to a customer's wishes or from her own thoughts. Although she bought ready-made components from craft stores, she made them unique by cutting apart silk blooms and rearranging them. She also applied stones, shells, seedpods and sparkles.
Meanwhile, she had enrolled in an online course for certification in floral design. Assignments required her to submit photographs of her work for critique. Perusing a photo album of her work last week, Rhodes pointed out a Christmas-theme wreath.
"They didn't like the bells on that one," she said.
Rhodes earned a B+ in the course. At least some customers would give her a higher grade. "I've had repeat customers," the designer noted. Two customers invited her to their homes to design whole installations.
Her hand-crafted gift to a friend in Chicago prompted other orders from that area. Rhodes' business enjoyed its biggest sales boost through a booth at the recent Hernando County Fair.
Rhodes has sold her works mainly through flea markets and thrift shops, and advertising is limited to word of mouth via customers.
"Word gets around," she said.
And her reputation has spread widely enough that her worksite — the coffee table in her living room — is all about being busy, not bored.
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]