Martin Penny '03
I took a big leap of faith when I graduated from FRA and decided to travel about 660 miles north to Virginia for college. After college, I settled in Richmond and have been here ever since. I have two boys in the eighth grade, and manage being a mom, a business owner, and a wife along with all of the things that come with everyday life
I got my start in corporate America, working for a then credit card company and now, Capital One bank. It was an amazing foundation for understanding how business works. I got to wear so many hats that allowed me to gain experience and the confidence to start something on my own.
Starting my own company was not a goal I had set for myself, but rather, it came about from personal need. When I got pregnant with my twin boys, I thought that was a perfect excuse to sidestep my career and stay home with them. But I realized that I was a much better mom, wife, friend, and human when I had something other than just my family to focus on.
I knew I wanted work to be a part of my life, but I didn't want to give away my life to work. That got me thinking, “Wow, I’ll bet I'm not the only person feeling this way.” But at the time, there were no resources to help me navigate this new world of professional work and motherhood. I stayed at Capital One for about a year after a four-month maternity leave, navigating the waters independently and figuring it out on my own. Then, I left to start a business that helped women find professional, part time, and flexible job opportunities.
I had to figure out how to help myself so that I could help others be thoughtful, effective moms and employees at the same time. We ended up building a multi-city company that educated people on the value of hiring the right person and managing a work-life balance. We were recognized on the Inc. 500 Fastest-Growing Companies list, received some unique recognitions, managed it to an operational status, and then decided to switch gears and move on to something else.
I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. I did not know that I liked building and figuring things out. I enjoy following my curiosity, and when I feel like I've accomplished that, or when things get to a place where it's just managing a process instead of building a program, that's when I start to look at different ways to navigate.
Art for the Home is my current venture that started with a personal passion for art and a grand appreciation for the work that artists do. I've been surrounded by art my whole life. My grandmother was an artist. My mom, who worked hard to provide for us independently, always figured out a way to bring original art into our space. I was surrounded by the beauty of art and wanted to bring that to other people who may have beautiful homes and a great design but whose walls are blank or don’t reflect their taste.
It started off with a blog that was meant to help a few friends find art for their homes. I am not a talented artist, but I do see the beauty that the artist brings forth, and I wanted to share those stories with others. And so, Art for the Home is a business that focuses on not just bringing visual interest into someone’s space but by finding art that tells people's stories and the stories behind the art.
I get to know the artists, understand their inspiration, and analyze the energy they put into it by bringing the pieces into our house or corporate spaces. Art for the Home has evolved over the last two years, and we’re especially busy now. People have been spending a lot of time at home, and they want something pretty behind their Zoom calls. It’s been a fun experience during this time where we are home bound and thinking about our spaces differently.
It's not just about the transaction of art. Instead, we start by discovering what the homeowner wants their space to feel like. Then we find art from various artists across the country that will help tell the homeowner’s story and connect to their space.
I have met thousands of artists and love sharing their stories. The connection between artist and collector is special, and I get to bring those two worlds together by making art accessible to anyone who aspires to have it in their home.
Unlike a chef or a musician who gets to see their audience react to their music or food, a visual artist rarely gets to see where their art ends up. So for me, Art for the Home not only fills space with beauty, but tells the story from inspiration to installation, helping people see the connection between the inspiration and where it goes.
I also talk about color theory with my clients, because it’s important to understand what makes their space feel calming and comforting to them. We talk about whether they prefer to be inside or outside, at the beach or in the mountains. Those preferences don’t necessarily show up directly in the art that’s presented to them, but it might be reflected in the colors or in the artist’s identity.
What I loved about being a student at FRA was that we had the opportunity to do and explore everything. So any time I had the chance to try something, my curiosity led me to give it a shot. I was super involved in student government, and I enjoyed volleyball, basketball, and the comradery of being on a team. Truthfully, everyone was influential to me in some way. That's the uniqueness of a small environment. Everybody knew everybody in a loving, caring, supportive way. FRA is like family, and I look back on my years at FRA so fondly. They were pivotal and transitional years of personal growth and figuring out who I was in the midst of teenage angst.
Homecomings and game days are some of my favorite memories. I remember the varsity girls would play before the varsity boys teams, and we would always cheer for each other. The guys would watch our games, and we would watch their games. It was just a part of what we did.
Growing up with a Christian foundation as a student at FRA was helpful and continues to play out in my life today. The encouragement to try anything and the opportunities that FRA gave me have been embedded in my other experiences, from what I chose to do in college, to wearing different hats in corporate employment, to starting my own business. Following my curiosity took root at FRA.
I would tell a current student at FRA to follow their joy, which is slightly different than following their passion. Your joy does not have to be found in a career, but can be found in supporting the things you want to do outside of work. And then, I would also say, trust in the unknown.
If you trust that the right things will unfold, and that God will not lead you where He doesn't want you to go, just put one foot in front of the other, and you'll end up on the right path.
I read a quote once, and I think it’s true, that says, “Home is not where you live, but it’s where you got your start.” And that's how I feel about Nashville. Nashville, no matter how many years separate my living there, feels like home. And my business, Art for the Home, has launched in Nashville, which is special to me.
Whitney (Kazmerowski) Forstner is the founder of Art for the Home in Richmond, Virginia. She attended FRA from 1988-1994 and was captain of the varsity volleyball and varsity basketball teams, student body secretary, and a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, YoungLife, Yearbook, and Girls Service Club. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Randolph-Macon College and a master's degree in higher education administration from The College of William & Mary.