In Our LivingRoom: Meet Christen Carter of Busy Beaver Buttons

Meet Christen Carter of Busy Beaver Button Company

Busy Beaver Button Company, a thriving small business, was looking to grow their space, open a museum, and stay close to their original location on Armitage in Logan Square. With the help of Annie Coleman, Managing Broker of LivingRoom Realty, they purchased the perfect empty building sitting on a double wide lot a few blocks west of their original location on Armitage.

We asked them a few questions about their journey to expanding their headquarters.

LivingRoom Realty (LRR): Tell us about yourself?

Christen Carter (CC): I am a small business owner - Busy Beaver Button Co., and co-curator of the Button Museum. Right now, my life is mostly around buttons since I’m also working on a book about cultural history told through buttons.

I do love fixing up old buildings that need love and kinda like having property - it’s part of my retirement plan. I also like decorating and nesting into places, this has become a hobby of mine.

LRR: Tell us about your property?

CC: It’s a double-wide storefront with two apartments above. When I bought the building, it was just a blighted shell that suffered a couple of fires. But the beautiful yellow brick and personality were there! Plus, it has “good bones” as they say. The location is 3407 W Armitage, just west of Kimball. There’s also a big backyard and 3 car garage.

LRR: What were the deciding factors when choosing your area and property?

CC: We knew that we needed a place to expand, since I’m hoping this will be a 10+ year place for my company, Busy Beaver Button Co. And the big back yard will let us build out when we need to.It’s also walking distance from my house and close to the homes of many people who work here. And only a block away from our old location, so we wouldn’t lose any employees because of the distance. Being only a block away was very handy during construction - we could meet a tradesperson on a dime, since it took 2 minutes to walk from our previous location. 

The two apartments above help pay the mortgage and give us a cheaper property tax rate, those two things really help! Plus, for security sake, it’s nice that people are here during the day and at night, too.

I feel connected to Logan Square having lived and worked here since 2004, so I wanted to stay nearby. Plus, I remember when this building had two separate fires, the building was empty for years and it needed some serious love.

LRR: What’s your favorite thing about your property?

CC: The feel is just so nice. It’s pretty spacious and can display the Button Museum and accommodate the visitors. My brother, Joel found all this beautiful salvaged doors and interior windows, people can hardly believe that this place was a burned shell before we got it. You can really tell in all the details that a lot of love and consideration was put into it - this is mostly because of my brother!

LRR: What would you tell someone who is embarking on the buying process for your type of building?

CC:I always tell people to expect the project to cost at least 50% more than quoted by a GC and also about twice as long. The city can take awhile and things always come up.

We had to re-zone but that was the easiest thing - we had a good lawyer. That’s the other big thing - the professionals that you work with must honestly respect you and what you’re doing - trust is key. Some of the people we worked with were great, but some really made our lives more difficult than it needed to be. I learned a lot and now have developed what a “trusted partner” is, this helps us recognize red flags to change course. Have a good idea of what's important to you in terms of property characteristics, but also keep an open mind about what's going to work realistically, and be honest about your lifestyle needs. Obviously, finding the right agent is also crucial!

LRR: Tell us about any improvements you made or plan to make and why?

CC: I’d love to expand out the back to make more space for the button production. I also want to fix up the garage, not exciting, but we ran out of money with everything being over budget. Hopefully all of this within the next 3 years!

Thanks to Christen and Busy Beaver Button Co.  for letting LRR into their living room! Visit Busy Beaver Button Co. where you can order custom button, magnets and more. Do you have a button fan on your gift list? Consider picking up the Button Box  which contains one hundred colorful postcards featuring over three hundred buttons from the collection of the Busy Beaver Button Museum.


Hey look! We were featured in the ReBuilding Exchange's newsletter!


Jeremy Kirk, owner of Kirk and Sons Construction, Elise Zelechowski, Executive Director of Rebuilding Exchange, and Annie Coleman, Managing Broker of LivingRoom Realty recently sat down to discuss Jeremy's recent restoration of a turn-of-the-century home in Hyde Park. Using salvaged and reclaimed materials, from the Rebuilding Exchange and other area reuse stores, while also upgrading the house with modern amenities, he combined a vintage and modern aesthetic to achieve a beautiful, unique, and "green" remodel. An excerpt from the interview is below.

Elise: Jeremy, you recently renovated a single family home in Hyde Park using mostly reclaimed and salvaged materials.  Were you motivated by potential cost savings or were you looking for a certain look for your remodel?

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Jeremy: You can’t totally go into this just thinking you're going to save money.  The problem is that you might save money on the purchase of the reclaimed materials initially, but it will likely cost you more in labor to install those materials. This project is different then a lot of the creative reuse projects we’ve undertaken or seen. I don’t think there is a thing in the renovation that we put in just because it’s an old thing.  Reuse is not necessarily always about a reuse aesthetic movement.

Elise: Interesting. To that end, I think it’s really critical to bring a contractor into the project early when using reclaimed materials.  An integrated approach to the renovation process is key!  You have to openly communicate your vision early on, and then develop a relationship of trust, because your contractor will likely need to make a number of creative decisions on issues as they come up real time.  No one wants to micromanage! Or have a bunch of change orders.... Using reclaimed materials mandates that kind of openness.

Jeremy:  It’s true.  As a contractor, there are questions 10 times a day where you need to let the materials guide you towards a solution, letting the materials sometimes decide outcome.  Sometimes you don’t even have the materials yet, but you have a vision and a range of options.

Annie: What do you think are the benefits of using reclaimed materials?

Jeremy: Quality is number one.  We are very fortunate to be in Chicago because there is so much quality material around here, local manufacturing that has been around forever.  Take Chicago Faucets, for example. You can find a 100-year-old faucet that is about the same as the ones they sell now. It looks the same, it works the same, nothing is different.  You can still get the replacement parts. They cost about $380 new. You can get the same quality in a reclaimed one...and it’s never ceased to function.  There is almost something almost metaphysical about it. A quote I like is "historic renovation should maintain the integrity of the building's passage through time".  So you’re not trying to fix the building to when it was done.  If the building was built in 1890, it doesn't matter if the thing we are putting in there is from 1890 or 1910 or 1920, it is all part of what’s accumulated in the history of the structure.

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Annie: So, do you feel that you ‘restored’ the property on 52nd?

Jeremy: I guess it’s hard not to call it restoration, but what you're really trying to do is bring out the qualities that were always there hidden through linoleum, wallpaper, and paneling.

Elise: There's quite a bit of research demonstrating that neighborhoods with maintained or restored older buildings tend to have better economic sustainability potential long-term.  Which makes sense when you consider how the built environment, and component building materials, act as cultural and historical assets, and make up a part of the fabric of our communities.

Annie: And in the case of a restoration or remodeling project, there’s something very special about a house where every part has been deliberated upon and the quality of each piece maximized.

You can find more photos of this project in our previous post.

Eve Fineman on her 2012 LivingRoom Exhibit: Objects In Space

Recently Eve Fineman wrote this lovely piece about her show at LivingRoom last year. It was a very well received show and we are delighted to have played a part! "Rather than displaying a series of independent pieces on pedestals, I was curious to see what a grouping of furniture and objects, all designed in Chicago, would look like together in one functional, unified space."