Designing Dreams: Courtney Petrin’s Inspiring Shift from Psychology to Interior Design
By Myra Stacey
Courtney Petrin’s journey from a seasoned clinical psychologist to a self-taught interior designer is inspiring. With a master’s degree and 12 years of experience in psychology, Courtney’s career transition was fueled by a deep-seated love for interior design. This shift wasn’t just about chasing a new profession but about aligning her life’s work with a passion that refused to stay in the shadows.
Her foray into the design world began modestly within the confines of her own home. Alongside her husband, Courtney dipped her toes into real estate, embarking on buying, renovating, and flipping houses in Massachusetts. This practical experience in design and renovation laid the groundwork for what would soon become a more serious venture. As their family grew with the arrival of their daughter Savannah, Courtney and her husband reached a crossroads: continue their life in Massachusetts or leap into the unknown to pursue their dream. They chose the latter, beginning an extraordinary journey into the heart of interior design.
Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My journey into interior design marks a significant shift from my first career in clinical psychology. After getting a master’s degree and working 12 years in the field, I found myself drawn towards a long-held passion that had always simmered in the background – interior design. It was more of a dream than a tangible goal, something I admired but never fully embraced.
My initial steps in design were modest, dabbling within the walls of my home. Then, my husband and I ventured into real estate, buying, renovating, and flipping two homes for profit in Massachusetts. This experience naturally extended to helping friends and family with their design needs. Discussions with my husband about starting our own design and renovation business gradually became more serious.
The real catalyst for change came with the pregnancy of our daughter, Savannah. We faced a crossroads – either stay put in Massachusetts or pursue our dream. We chose the latter, selling our house for a significant profit and relocating to Florida. This move wasn’t without its challenges, including living in a travel trailer for seven weeks with our newborn daughter. It was a time marked by both hardship, including the loss of one of our dogs, and resilience as we built our business from the ground up in that tiny space.
We established our first investment property, handling everything from renovation to design, and successfully sold it above the asking price. This success led to another property, and soon enough, our work started attracting attention from the local community and real estate agents. People began requesting our services for their homes, a possibility we hadn’t actively considered before. What started as a side interest evolved into a full-fledged client-based service.
Today, we no longer focus on investment properties, especially in the current market. Still, our business in full home renovations and design is thriving. Despite having no formal training in design or architecture, my experience and intuitive approach have been my greatest teachers. My background in psychology gives me a unique edge, particularly in customer service and understanding clients’ needs. Interior design, to me, is 75% about understanding people and 25% about the design itself. Understanding clients’ likes, dislikes, unspoken needs, family dynamics, and emotional connections is critical in creating meaningful designs.
We’ve been in business for five years now. It’s been a challenging journey, far from conventional, and certainly not something I could have ever planned. But it’s been incredibly rewarding, bringing together my skills in psychology and my passion for design in ways I never imagined.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the creation of your current company?
The pivotal moment that sparked the creation of our company was undoubtedly when I found out I was pregnant with Savannah. At that time, we were already a couple of months into contemplating our future, knowing deep down that we’d venture into this new path one day. But the realization hit me profoundly – Savannah would grow up quickly, and I wanted to establish a stable business and a nurturing environment for her as soon as possible.
This was more than a business decision; it was a life choice. I wanted to blend my family life with my professional aspirations. Working alongside my spouse, creating a unified family unit that thrived at home and in business became my new dream. This vision stood in stark contrast to my previous career in mental health, where I worked with at-risk youth. While the work was meaningful, it was also incredibly demanding, often resulting in long hours away from my family and significant stress.
The desire for change wasn’t just about reducing stress or seeking a better work-life balance; it was about steering my life’s direction on my own terms. I yearned to be at the forefront of my life decisions, shaping my lifestyle and business according to my vision. The entrepreneurial path appeared not only as a route to professional success but, more importantly, as a journey toward personal fulfillment and happiness. It offered an opportunity to live life on my terms, not dictated by the constraints of a conventional job, but molded by my aspirations, values, and the future I envisioned for my family.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
What truly sets our business apart, I believe, is a blend of our unique aesthetic sense and exceptional customer service. Being a small business allows us to maintain a personal connection with our clients. My husband, our team, and I offer a deeply personal touch in all our interactions. This approach is largely influenced by my background in psychology; we understand that our work goes beyond mere aesthetics, like choosing a paint color. It’s about creating spaces that resonate on a deeper level.
Each project we undertake is imbued with a sense of timelessness. Our design isn’t about chasing trends; it’s about crafting spaces that feel homey, grounded, and calming – spaces that invite you to relax and be at ease. Our New England roots heavily influence our style, bringing in elements of rustic charm and expert craftsmanship. Even though we’re now based in Florida, our designs take a unique approach to coastal themes, setting them apart from the typical Florida coastal style.
What has been your favorite moment in your career so far?
It would have to be our feature in Architectural Digest – it was a surreal and exciting achievement. But beyond these high-profile moments, what truly fulfills me are the smaller, more personal experiences. Seeing our daughter on job sites, watching her explore and grow amidst our work – it’s challenging, sure, but these moments of blending family and work life remind me why I embarked on this journey in the first place.
What measure do you use to determine success?
Through my journey, I’ve come to understand that success, for me, is deeply intertwined with balance. It’s about harmonizing the crucial elements of my life: self-care, professional achievements, happiness, and quality time with my family. Financial stability is important, but my true measure of success isn’t quantified in monetary terms. It lies in the equilibrium of my life’s aspects, in feeling content, fulfilled, and at peace. When everything aligns perfectly, that’s when I feel most complete. And if ever things tilt off balance, it becomes a signal for me to pause and recalibrate.
I’ve learned that life isn’t about chasing a permanent state of happiness or perfection. Instead, it’s about embracing the ebb and flow of peace and balance. This equilibrium provides the space to appreciate and focus on the moments of joy when they do come.
What piece of advice has impacted you the most?
The most transformative advice I’ve ever received came during my grad school days, from a professor whose words became a turning point in my life. I was facing a challenging phase at work, feeling out of sync with the perspectives of my superiors. My thought process seemed to diverge from theirs, and I couldn’t quite see eye to eye with their approach.
It was during this time of struggle that my professor offered a simple yet profound observation: “Maybe that’s a good thing.” This statement made me pause and reconsider my viewpoint. Until that moment, I had operated under the assumption that authority figures were invariably correct and that deviating from their thinking was a mistake. But this comment shed new light on my situation. It suggested that thinking differently wasn’t a flaw but perhaps an unrecognized strength.
This insight was revelatory. It prompted me to acknowledge and embrace my spirit. I began to see my ability to think differently not as a liability but as an asset. This mindset allowed me to approach problems with a big-picture perspective, to think outside the conventional box, and to value my unique insights. It was a lesson in the power of embracing my individuality and the potential that lay in not always conforming to the crowd. This advice didn’t just change my professional trajectory; it redefined my self-perception and bolstered my confidence in my unconventional approach to challenges.
What message would you like to give to anybody who has a plan of creating something of their own and making a living through it?
If I were to impart a message to anyone poised to embark on their own entrepreneurial journey, it would be this: Embrace your passion wholeheartedly. The path to creating something of your own, something that not only stands as a testament to your creativity but also sustains you, is fraught with challenges. It demands hard work, relentless dedication, and immense sacrifice. You must commit to your vision with every fiber of your being. It’s essential to love what you do because this passion is what will carry you through the toughest times.
I’ll say something that might sound unorthodox: discard the notion of a backup plan. When you’re building something from scratch, it’s an all-or-nothing game. This approach might seem extreme, perhaps even reckless to some. When we took our leap of faith, moving to a new place with no safety net, many thought we were out of our minds. But in my heart, I knew it was a journey of do or die. There was no fallback, no safety cushion to soften any potential falls. It was about setting a course towards success, however, one defines it, and not entertaining the possibility of failure.
To truly succeed in bringing your vision to life, you must be invested completely – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Every ounce of your being needs to be aligned with your goal because what you are creating is not just a business; it’s an extension of yourself, your values, and your dreams. It’s your brainchild, a manifestation of your innermost aspirations. Therefore, the commitment must be total, unwavering in the face of obstacles, driven by the conviction that what you’re doing is not just a job, but a calling. Remember, in the realm of creating something uniquely yours, the only path that leads to fulfillment and success is one paved with undiluted passion and an unyielding belief in your vision.
Courtney’s narrative serves as an inspiring reminder that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, to pivot in a new direction if your heart so desires. Her success is not just a measure of her skills in design but also her ability to connect with people, understand their needs, and create spaces that resonate with their lives. For those dreaming of carving their own path, Courtney’s story is a beacon of possibility, demonstrating that with passion, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace the unknown, you can turn even the most distant dreams into tangible realities.
More About Courtney
Courtney views design as a highly emotional and personal experience. Her background in clinical psychology has provided her a unique perspective in pairing design with people. She believes home should reflect people and be an experience rather than solely a pretty space. Courtney loves channeling her clients style, needs and lifestyle through her perspective. The beach is her happy place but is a true homebody. Reading, and personal and physical wellness are where she can fill her cup. She’s enthusiastic about both fashion and design. She loves cooking for her family and being a momma to Savannah.