“I’m excited every day to get out of bed and come to work,” says Britt Carter, founder of and senior interior designer at Britt Carter & Company. “No two clients, no two projects are ever the same. This is one of the many reasons I love what I do.”
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 40-plus year marriage to Vicki and decided to open his own store.
“We had to borrow $50,000 from Vicki’s parents to open our small shop in Libertyville,” explains Carter. “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 guy came into the store and gave me the nudge I needed to build the showroom I had dreamed of.”
That was 1994. Today, the 24,000 square-foot Britt Carter & Company showroom still stands in Lake Forest.
“I sketched out every inch and I’m still in awe how it all came together,” Carter explains of his retail space located right off of Route 41 that now showcases more than 30 vignettes of high-end pieces. “New customers and clients often come in here and say they’ve driven past our storefront 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 and clients’ desires, there would be a ‘win’ for everyone,” Carter says. “Our years of experience merchandising, laying out the showroom, and keeping up with every aspect of the home furnishings industry has honed our passion for interior design. Our clients 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 furniture, décor, and accessories—Britt Carter & Company offers full interior design services. They’re the only leading interior design firm in Chicago with a large showroom. “If someone wants to come in and buy a sofa, we can help you. Or if you come in looking for lamps for your bedroom, we can help you with those, too,” he says. “But if you come into our showroom with the desire to create an enduring design change, we can offer professional interior design services that will inspire. Custom window treatments, wallcoverings, and area and broadloom carpeting have always been part of the services we offer. I can be a client’s eyes and ears and also their hearts. The relationships we build with our clients is 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 needs.
“There are times when I can’t find the perfect piece of furniture for a particular need, so I dream of what it should be, then draw it, then have it made to the highest standard,” 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 that I do.”
Carter also adds that he and his team love collaborating with other designers. “I hope they know they can send their clients here to review products, just as if they would send them down to the Merchandise Mart. We never step on the toes of another designer,” 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, Route 41, in Lake Forest, 847-735-1180, brittcarter.net.