441 || Authentic Living in a Faux-Finished World
Jennifer Allwood started her life in small-town Iowa where her father kept their surroundings to a minimum—white walls with only a few decorations. Today we call that minimalistic decor, but this was before that became a trend. The stark walls and empty home proved to be a hard environment for the ever-creative Jennifer.
She dreamed of having her own place to decorate, walls to paint and furniture to arrange.
Jennifer headed off to college, and she got to decorate own place—her dorm room.
“We didn’t have a lot of liberty as kids to decorate our space or decorate our rooms,” Jennifer said. “I remember when I went to college, I was so stinking excited to have a space of my own that I could decorate.”
But she soon quit the academic life and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. At 21 she bought her first home—an impressive feat for any young adult. Jennifer worked as an administrative assistant at an insurance company, but her mind and heart still wandered to the creative, the colorful and the exquisite.
There’s a southern phrase for her early style: champagne taste on a beer budget. Jennifer found the things she wanted in thrift stores and at garage sales. She taught herself to paint walls and stain floors—all the things she would want a contractor to do if she could afford one.
It was her first taste of the DIY life, something that soon became her full-time calling.
“I had a desk job for a long time, which was really a conflict of who God designed me to be because I’m such a creative person,” Jennifer said. “I really don’t like to be on anybody else’s schedule. … It was difficult for me to go to a desk job every day because I felt like a farce. All of these people had pagers, and they enjoyed having badges to get into different rooms in the building, and I could have cared less. For a long time, I would go to my day job, and I would literally google ‘beautiful paint finishes’ or google ‘how to faux-finish walls’ and crazy things like that. I was literally wasting the time of my employer, which is nothing I’m proud of. It’s just the honest truth. Even though I was sitting in a desk job, my heart was really somewhere else.”
Jennifer got married at 26, and headed back to college to finish her degree.
Maybe it was a conversation that led to a realization or maybe it was God speaking to her, but Jennifer says she experienced defining moments that changed her life—Jennifer’s meeting with her college guidance counselor, for example.
They had the typical what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up conversation and narrowed Jennifer’s options down. She was interested in computers—this was in the early age of the technology boom—but she was also interested in interior design.
She chose to pursue a degree in computers because the money would be good and the jobs would be stable. But inside, she was still drawn to a more creative outlet.
Another defining moment came a month before she graduated. Jennifer and her husband, Jason, went to their first home show. It was one of those set-ups with the different vendors showcasing their work.
“We happened to stumble on a painting booth of a couple who was local to the area who owned a decorative painting company,” Jennifer said. “I can remember walking into their booth, and they had all these samples hanging on the walls of different things you can do to your walls—like crackle and texture and beautiful paint colors—and they had all these cabinets that were painted all these yummy colors. I can remember my heart literally start(ed) beating really fast and my breath catching, which is always a sign that the Lord is speaking to me…”
It was the first time Jennifer realized some people make a living out of painting and decorating. So, when that couple had a painting workshop, she was ready to go.
The Magic Brush
Jennifer went to her husband with a proposition: She wanted to start a painting company. There aren’t a lot of men out there who would jump on board with an idea so far removed from his wife’s education, but Jason was all in from the very beginning.
“It’s funny how the Lord knows exactly who you need in a spouse,” Jennifer said.
He supported her dream wholeheartedly from the start, and The Magic Brush was born.
Jennifer worked nights and weekends on her new business to build up her clientele. But when she was laid off from her job as a software developer, she knew the timing was right to pursue her dream full time.
“It was totally a gift from the Lord because I don’t know that I would have ever been brave enough to quit on my own,” Jennifer said. “I was laid off from that computer job, and I boo-hooed about it for a couple of days. And then I decided to quit licking my wounds.”
She hit the phone book and started calling all the interior designers and decorators, asking them to give her a chance. It wasn’t long before Jennifer was working in million-dollar homes, telling the owners how to make their surroundings work for them both aesthetically and functionally.
When Jennifer found out she was pregnant with their first child, she knew she needed some more help. Soon her company included a handful of women.
“I found out that really my gifting, more than the painting, was in the marketing piece of it and working with the clients and figuring out what to do in the house and then having other women that I hired to actually execute the work,” Jennifer said.
Coming Full Circle
One day, Jennifer was working on a big project, ironically for the CEO of a software company that made a lucrative offer after she was laid off—she turned them down.
It was a huge job. It took eight women working six weeks straight, but the number in her bank account didn’t reflect that. They were working far too hard for far too little money, and Jennifer knew things needed to change.
It was another defining moment. Instead of growing her company to include multiple crews working in different homes, Jennifer decided to push into the online space. She wanted to extend her expertise to train other women to grow their own creative businesses.
For years, Jennifer had been answering the same questions about painting and design from her online followers.
“One day I had an ah-ha moment—I think it was from the Lord—that instead of copying and pasting the instructions to them, why don’t I just make a painting video and put it on my website for $27 or whatever … it gives them all the instructions for how they can paint in their house.”
That was three years ago.
It has proven to be a lucrative venture, earning Jennifer a six-figure salary, and has grown into a coaching group of more than 300 women. Jennifer teaches them ways to grow their creative businesses online through advertising, blogging, everything else.
Jennifer is one of those vibrant, passionate people who just makes you excited you’re talking to her. She loves the whole housing industry from touring houses to looking them up online. She does triathlons. She talks fast about the things she loves—the smell of her favorite candles in her home or the Christian music that has been playing in her kitchen for a decade. But even through those impressive, glamorous moments, Jennifer is sure to share the gritty parts.
What started as an effort to brand herself turned into a personal mission.
“I feel like that’s what I’ve been commissioned from the Lord to do,” Jennifer said. “I think that there’s so much Pinterest perfection and so many perfect Instagram accounts that often women get intimidated by that—whether they’re trying to build their business or whether they’re trying to decorate their homes. A lot of times, they kind of throw their hands up in the air and think, ‘This is too stinking hard. I don’t think I’m cut out for this.’ And they end up quitting. I feel like it’s my job to be really transparent so that I can encourage people who are coming behind me.”
Jennifer doesn’t shy away from her struggles in business, in art and in her personal life, and it’s paid off. She has almost 300,000 Facebook fans and 42,000 Instagram followers.
You can follow along with Jennifer’s (hilarious) life on her blog or podcast.