Purpose & Soul

Purpose & Soul
Words by Ginny Ellsworth
Photos by Brooke Bennett
You know that sneaky, middle-of-the-day office desk daydream? The one where you wish you could rip off the corporate America Band-Aid and make a living doing what you love? 

Well, take heart, because some have actually taken the plunge and found incredible success doing what they love. For young and successful Brittany Shields, the risk of launching her own venture came after an unexpected conversation that revealed her passion—interior design.

About ten days into her first semester of college, Brittany walked into her advisor’s office feeling frustrated. Working toward earning a degree in music was robbing the joy out of something she’d loved her entire life. “When you’re not playing music, what do you do in your free time?” her advisor asked. 

Without hesitation, Brittany answered, “Rearrange my room.” And there it was: Her  answer to the age-old question—“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

Most kids would ask for the newest gadget, but when Brittany’s parents gave her a budget, she bought a gallon of paint—every single time. Her room changed every few months, and we’re not talking about just moving the bed from wall to wall. Brittany would even switch out tables from the living room and other places in the house, all in an effort to refresh her bedroom’s look.

“I get so much energy from spaces that are fresh and new—and purposeful,” says the interior designer, who now owns the successful design company Penny Shields, which employs a team of aspiring designers.

For Brittany, designing isn’t only about “what works where.” In an industry that can be too narrowly focused on the newest trends, she approaches each project with one question: How can I help my clients use this space to maximize their talents? 

“I like to think of a space as being eternal. When I focus on that, it helps me decide how the space can be utilized so that people can live in it.” Nearly all of her projects focus on the marriage of function and design. “If your space does not serve its purpose, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is,” Brittany explains.

She took this approach when designing Shelley Giglio’s (this issue’s Guest Editor) home—a project that inspired Brittany to venture into quirkier and bolder territory. “Shelley and [her husband] Louie care so much for design and creative elements that give a space vision and heart,” Brittany says of the Giglios, who have grown to be more inspiration and encouragers than just clients.

Brittany prayed for a vision for their space, which has become a regular practice in every project, whether her clients are believers or not. “That day in my advisor’s office, I had no idea what God had in store, not just for my career but also for my ministry,” she says of her business, which brings purpose to spaces in a way that reflects her clients’ personalities and passions.

So why did a girl named Brittany call her business Penny Shields? Brittany was supposed to be named after her grandmother, Penelope, or “Penny” for short. However, before her mother signed the birth certificate, a friend questioned her decision of such an antique name. Then the nurse walked in announcing that she had to choose a name: “It doesn’t matter what the name is, just do not name her Brittany; we’ve had so many Brittanys this month.” Sure enough, Brittany’s mother loved that name.

Brittany never knew her grandmother, who passed away when Brittany’s mother was 18, but she always felt a connection to Penny, whose creativity and love for music was passed down to her. “There’s a soul-tie there. It just felt right,” she says of deciding on a name for her company.

Penny Shields is not just an interior design firm. Brittany recently launched an e-commerce component. Her habitual rearranging did not go over well with her husband. “When he asked me when I would finally stop rearranging, I felt like he was asking, ‘When are you going to be a different person?’” she laughs. The newlyweds came to a compromise: Brittany can change everything as much as she wants, as often as she wants, but she can’t spend money doing it.

Brittany found a way to incorporate her innovative spirit. “If I want to have something new, I have to sell something,” she explains, sharing her secret. “And a lot of times, if I want one new thing, I have to sell three things!”

You can imagine how quickly her regular yard sales became a popular place to shop. After a few Instagram battles over who had first dibs on her items, she decided to do a huge 24-hour auction, which led to launching an online resale space under the Penny Shields umbrella.

Brittany hand-selects everything in her online store, each piece representing her style and brand. She admits this part of her business is designed for fun rather than revenue; after all, her company started as a seed in the heart of a girl who liked to paint her walls—and grew into a thriving business that creates spaces with soul and purpose.