After a full weekend in Tryon, NC horse country and dreams of my future farm, I thought of an equestrian property feature that is owned by a favorite equestrian inspired accesories brand. 

Giddy up and go check it out… 

Profile: Rebecca Yuhasz Smith of Rebecca Ray Designs via Traditional Home

While 2014 may be Year of the Horse according to the Chinese calendar, it’s a label that has fit every year of Rebecca Yuhasz Smith’s life. The handbag and fashion accessory entrepreneur virtually grew up perched on a horse’s back, and now raises award-winning driving horses and pint-size ponies (along with champion English Setter dogs and a dozen English Lop rabbits) on a farmstead near Cleveland. She’s a woman who built a new barn before renovating her house.

Rebecca’s animal- and tack-inspired leather bags, belts, and pillows—sold under the name Rebecca Ray Designs—were a natural outgrowth of her lifelong relationship with all things equine and canine. 

Rebecca as a child in the saddle.

She was just weeks old when her parents sat her on her first pony, and Rebecca rode competitively from the time she could saddle up. At the equestrian club at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Rebecca met her husband, Derek, and they continued to ride, even as they moved around the country for Derek’s career as a software executive.

While they were living in California, Rebecca began making handbags that appealed to the horse- and dog-show crowds, using vintage fabrics and bits and pieces of old jewelry. It was shortly after the family, now with daughter Lizzie, moved back to Rebecca’s hometown in Ohio’s Chagrin Valley that her business shifted into high gear and high style.

Knowing that she couldn’t keep making all the products herself and hoping to support traditional artisanship, Rebecca recruited Amish seamstresses and harness makers in nearby Geauga County to craft the increasingly sophisticated designs.

Her designs are sold at rebeccaraydesign.com. The silver cuff (below) commemorates Traditional Home‘s 25th anniversary and is stamped inside with the magazine logo.

The Amish make Rebecca’s leather designs on foot- and air-powered machines and with the same traditional tools and techniques used to craft horse harnesses and saddles. Nickel bridle bits adorning the leather belts are the same weight and quality of a functioning bit a pony would hold in its mouth, Rebecca explains.

Many of Rebecca’s bags and home accessories are adorned with colorful glass-domed rosettes that look like miniature portraits. Historically, the rosettes were attached to a driving-horse’s headstall to showcase its owner’s status and style. Antique rosettes were reverse-painted on glass and are highly collectible. 

“We couldn’t decorate with the originals because of the cost, so we created replicas and incorporate them into the designs, ” she says. Rebecca’s rosettes, while not reverse- painted, depict classic motifs, such as horse and dog profiles, fox faces, and letter initials. 

This year, Rebecca’s status in the horse world won her the honor of making gift bags for the Kentucky Derby, which were filled with goodies and presented to VIP guests.

About two years ago, the family moved to a nearly century-old 35-acre farmstead in the Chagrin Valley, allowing them to indulge their love of animals more directly.

“I had always had a lifelong dream of raising Percheron horses, and that’s really why we sought out this property, ” Rebecca says.  

The Chagrin Valley farmhouse (as it looked in 1949 and as it is today) was built in 1924 by prominent Cleveland architect W. Dominick Benes as a summer home for his family.

The house was far from Rebecca’s dream home. “I cried the first few weeks we were here, ” she says. “It had not been occupied by a family for 10 years, and that takes a toll.”  But after months of stripping wallpaper, tearing up carpet, and painting inside and out, the Smiths have made the place cozy and charming. They hope to embark on a renovation soon. “The addition will maintain the integrity of the historical house, ” Rebecca says, “but just make it a little better for a modern family—air conditioning would be key here!”

Spacious stalls accommodate the large Percheron mares in the barn. 

So far most of their efforts have gone toward cleaning and clearing out brush on the property, and building a new barn, kennels, and miles and miles of fences.

Antique settees were re-covered with a vintage Scalamandré silk fabric Rebecca found in New York. Old carpets were removed to expose original floors, and walls were painted with Benjamin Moore’s “Revere Pewter.”

Rebecca’s animal-inspired collections fill the family’s home. 

Animal motifs make an appearance in the dining room. 

Transferware from Villeroy & Boch dresses the dining table.

Rebecca’s days are spent tending to livestock, taking 11-year-old Lizzie to riding lessons, and handling business at home and in her Chagrin Falls office. Still, there is often time for an evening carriage ride. The clomp-clomp-clomp of horses’ hooves has become a familiar sound around the conclave of rural houses. “Our neighbors used to think we were crazy, ” Rebecca says with a laugh. “Now they just wave.”

Camlyn takes the Smiths for a ride.

Photography: Tria Giovan

Here are a few of my favorite Rebecca Ray Designs products…

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