IF YOU ASK BRITT CARTER, founder of and senior interior designer at Britt Carter & Company, to describe his feelings about 2020 in one word, you might be surprised by his answer.
“Grateful. I’m thankful every day that I come to work,” he says. “This has been such a hard year for so many people. But the blessing for us has been that people are spending more family time at home and are interested in improving their living spaces. We’re happy to help them make their dreams come true.”
Carter grew up in the “mom and pop” furniture business. His stepfather owned a number of “Happy Days-era” stores in the northern suburbs that sold everything from sofas to air conditioning units.
“As a teenager, I used to help out at the stores a lot,” he remembers. “And I’ll never forget the first time someone actually asked my opinion about a design question they had for some furniture they were buying. I was encouraged that they wanted my opinion and really trusted it.”
Fast forward into Carter’s adulthood when he was early into his 45+ year marriage to Vicki and decided to open his own showroom. “In 1980 when I was 26 years old, we borrowed $50,000 from Vicki’s parents to open our small shop in Libertyville,” explains Carter. “Prior to that when I worked with my stepfather, I realized there was a need for high-end furniture offerings that wasn’t being met. This would be—and always has been—our focus.”
In 1987, Carter moved his showroom to Vernon Hills, tripling the size of his retail space. One day, a young contractor walked into Carter’s showroom and asked him what he was paying in rent. He then told Carter he could build him his own stand-alone retail space for the cost of his rent.
“I believe people come into your life at certain times for specific reasons, and that day this young man came into our showroom and gave me the nudge I needed to build the showroom I had always dreamed of.”
That was 1994. Today, the 24,000-square-foot Britt Carter & Company showroom still stands in Lake Forest.
“I sketched out every square foot on my kitchen table and I’m still in awe of how it all came together,” Carter explains of his showroom located right on Rte. 41 that now showcases more than 30 vignettes of high-end home furnishings. “New customers and clients often come in for the first time and say they’ve driven past our showroom a thousand times never realizing how distinctive the showroom is.
Furniture industry leaders that I’ve met in High Point, North Carolina who have visited us have said there’s nothing else quite like it. We’re really blessed to have what we have here.”
When asked the secret to his long-term success, Carter confidently espouses that he and his family love meeting and helping new people and creating interiors they love coming home to.
“I started this company because I knew if I spent time investing in our customers, there would be a ‘win’ for everyone,” Carter says. “Our years of experience merchandising, laying out the showroom, and our keen focus on every aspect of the home furnishings industry has honed our passion for interior design. Our clients and customers appreciate the fact that they can experience the home furnishings first-hand, instead of ordering product sight unseen as if the case for many design firms.”
In addition to offering high-end home furnishing, décor, and accessories—Britt Carter & Company offers full interior design services. They’re the only leading professional interior design firm in Chicago with a large showroom. So often guests will arrive looking for a specific item like a sofa, dining table, cocktail table etc., but after walking the showroom they become inspired, and often ask if the store offer interiors design services. Many times, at this point, a client relationship begins.
“I can be a client’s eyes and also their heart,” he explains. “The relationships we build with our clients are truly at the core of what we do. My heart is in every project as if I were designing it for my family.”
To that end, Carter launched the Britt Carter Signature line of furniture that he has developed in response to client custom needs.
“There are times when I can’t find the perfect piece of furniture for a particular space, so I dream of what it should be, then draw it, then have it made to the highest standards,” Carter says. “My clients love it. This is the kind of thing you can do when you’ve been in the business for as long as I have and know as many people in the industry as I do.”
Carter also adds that he and his team love collaborating with other designers. “I hope designers know they can send their clients to our showroom to review products, just as if they would send them down to the Merchandise Mart. We never step on the toes of another colleague,” Carter says. “We’re here to help them do what’s best for their clients. And we’re a lot closer than downtown Chicago.”
One of Carter’s greatest sources of pride is having two of his five children working with him in the family business. His son Shaun is his right-hand in the showroom, while his son Jeremy oversees the “business side” of things.
“Shaun was our son who would come down on Sunday for church dressed to impress,” he says with a smile. “We should have known back then that he would be a natural in our business.”
Being in the furniture business for more than 40 years has taught Carter and his team the importance of creating a rewarding experience for clients and customers. “That said, we can always improve,” says Carter. “We really don’t know what tomorrow brings—but we believe it will be exciting because it’s another day to work with someone new.”
Britt Carter & Company is located at 1350 S. Skokie Highway, Rte. 41, in Lake Forest, 847-735-1180, brittcarter.net. On Carter: Brunello Cucinelli grey turtleneck, Armani Collezioni tweed sport coat, wool trousers by Armani Collezioni, Neiman Marcus Northbrook Court; Allen Edmunds shoes, Nordstrom, Old Orchard, Skokie.