As a child, Dawn Patrick-Wout would rearrange pieces of furniture in her family's U.S. Virgin Islands home so often that her relatives looked forward to coming home to new settings.
It would take decades - including 13 years as a therapist, mental-health advocate and director of mental-health programs - before she turned to her childhood passion to start a business.
Yet she hasn't left the mental-health world completely behind. In fact, Patrick-Wout founded two Beltsville-based design companies to help people of all backgrounds feel better about themselves by beautifying their personal spaces.
"When you are in people's homes, you're in their lives," says Patrick-Wout, who founded Creative Re-Designs, a full-service interior-design firm, in 1994. Three years ago, she founded About Interiors, a design showroom.
"I'm very cognizant not only of the design need of the home but the needs of people," says Patrick-Wout. "People yearn for their home environment or any environment to reflect and nurture their inner self.
"I'm committed to doing for design what Tiger Woods has done for golf, which is to lower the walls and allow more of us as a people to feel like this as an option. We deserve to exist in beautiful spaces."
Patrick-Wout designs commercial and residential interiors, offering such services as architectural drawings, window treatments and color consultations.
Her showroom offers furnishings from the United States as well as Bali, Brazil and West Africa.
She also sponsors a recurring program called the Celebrating Family Series, which offers participants a detailed look at elements of design and examines such topics as marriage, the arts and gender equality.
There are two Celebrating Family events slated for June: The ABC's of Interior Design, a program that gives tips about color, texture and lighting, will be held in the About Interiors showroom today from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Collecting African Art and Changing Lives in Africa, a multifaceted event centered on African culture, will be held in the showroom on June 26 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
All Celebrating Families events are free and open to the public
"[Patrick-Wout] puts clients first," says Penny Shaw, creative-arts director for Homes of Color magazine. "She not only gives recommendations about designing interior space, but she's setting up clinics to help people know what their tastes are."
Diedra Marrow of Bowie hired Patrick-Wout for several renovations to her home.
"She taught me to think out of the box," says Marrow. "I love her energy and her spirit."
Before founding the companies, Patrick-Wout dabbled in design for years, decorating friends' college dorm rooms and, later, their homes.
Still, with a bachelor's degree in behavioral sciences and a master's degree in clinical psychology, she was intent on working in the mental-health field.
But she experienced burn-out in her last job - director of psychiatric rehabilitation at the Lanham branch of Vesta Inc. Substance Abuse Program.
I think my creative side was starting to die as it became extremely administrative," says Patrick-Wout.
After word spread about her knack for decorating friends' homes, Patrick-Wout was asked to design Vesta's 14,000-square-foot space in Lanham.
The experience led to the founding of Creative Re-Designs as a part-time venture. Then Patrick-Wout attended a Washington book signing by Essence magazine's editorial director, Susan Taylor, whom she told about her new venture.
"She handed me her business card and said, 'I want you to call me and write to me two years from now and tell me about your business,' " says Patrick-Wout.
"I walked out of there like Fred Astaire," says Patrick-Wout. "I said, 'This is it.' I went to the vice president [of Vesta] a week later and said, 'I'm leaving.' And I have never looked back."