Topic: When it comes to delivering something beyond your wildest imagination, Barbara Butler is able to imagine, design, build, and deliver it! Play structures to tree houses, she and her team are responsible for keeping the dreams of little ones alive.

Guest: Barbara Butler – President and Lead Designer of Barbara Butler Artist-Builder, Inc.
Phone: 415 864 6840

3 Points for Success – Barbara Butler:

  • Be passionate about what you do and commit yourself fully to it.
  • Don’t compromise on the quality.
  • have a team around you that shares your vision.


Podcast Transcript

James [00:00:00] So good to have you with us for another episode of CareyBrosPros. Hi I’m James Carey.

Morris [00:00:06] And I’m Morris. As professionals were always looking for ways to give our pro listeners great information that will help them work smarter instead of harder. On this edition, we’re going to talk to Barbara Butler president and lead designer of Barbara Butler Artist Builder Inc.

James [00:00:26] Boy that is a mouth.

Morris [00:00:27] Yeah.

James [00:00:28] And there’s lots to share. Hello Barbara and welcome to CareyBrosPros.

Barbara [00:00:32] Thank you. I know that name is a bit of a mouthful but I did it 20 years ago because I didn’t want to be building shelves. I wanted to get the point across that I’m an artist and a builder an artist.

James [00:00:44] And now you are in the state of California. Yes. And you’re a licensed general contractor are you.?

Barbara [00:00:51] Yes.

James [00:00:52] OK. All right.

Morris [00:00:53] Now are you also a licensed artist? [laughs]

Barbara [00:00:59] [laughs] There’s no license there.

Morris [00:01:00] That’s right. Well. All kidding aside Barbara tell us a little bit about what Barbara Butler are trust builder Inc is and how to get and how it got started.

Barbara [00:01:12] Well first it was Barbara Butler who is an artist and didn’t know what she wanted to do. And I worked a little bit with my brothers who were both remodelers and I really like it. I liked construction. My parents were horrified. They wanted me to be a lawyer. I had majored in political science in undergrad. Well I didn’t want to be a lawyer and I was sort of like well let’s see and then I did some construction and then I had a little company doing artistic backyard with a friend and then a client asked if I could do an unusual play structure. And that was it. I did the first play structure and I told everyone this is it. This is what I want to do. I was hooked. And everybody said you can’t do that. And I’ve been doing it for 30 years.

James [00:01:59] So for our pros listening although you have a background in residential remodeling you morphed from the day in day out kitchens baths additions remodeling and all of that to building something a little different for typically little people. And you have play forts, play houses, theaters, play structures and let’s not forget the beautiful, beautiful treehouses.

Barbara [00:02:32] Yes. Thank you. Yeah. Anything for kids basically and mostly outdoors. I’d mostly like working outdoors in the yard in the trees. Public and private.

Morris [00:02:44] I know that you don’t have an artist license but you do have a kid license you’re number six out of eight kids. Gives you that gives you a kid license.

Barbara [00:02:55] Exactly. And I my whole family says I never grew up. I just got kept going.

James [00:03:00] Did you eat dirt as a kid like we did.

Barbara [00:03:02] Oh yeah. And my brothers I’m sandwiched between all the boys in the family. And so it was like survive you know. And they would dare me to do everything and I’d try it. I mean I fell out of many a tree and broke arms and and they told my mom they were going to rename the emergency room after us.

James and Morris [00:03:21] [laughs]

James [00:03:23] That’s funny. So I’m really wanting to know a little bit more about I’m sure you didn’t start with all of these different structures you probably started with. Yes. The tree house wasn’t it wasn’t a tree house is that was that the Genesis structure.

Barbara [00:03:39] It was a play structure.

James [00:03:40] Play structure.

Barbara [00:03:41] First. Yeah. Okay. And I think it was six years before someone said hey could you do a tree house. And I was like Sure. But the first place structure I did carve and stain the poles. And I wanted to do something very unusual and artistic. And my client was Bobby McFerrin of Don’t Worry Be Happy. He was just kind of becoming known and the budget kind of expanded a little bit. I got a chance to really do something fun. And that was it. I was hooked. Once I did the first one and I realized I want to build for kids and I want to do high quality building.

James [00:04:22] So you do this for individual clients like Bobby McFerrin but we need to say that your service and the products that you create I’m going to see the art that you create is not just for the rich and famous and beyond that you also do some community work. So let’s talk a little bit about that.

Barbara [00:04:44] Yes. I’ve been fortunate through the years to have the opportunity to do public parks and I do work with several developers to do affordable housing play structures. My recent obsession right now is the magical bridge playground. It’s a new type of community playground that really focuses on being super accessible to kids and adults of all abilities. So there’s no barriers. It’s wheelchair accessible. It’s designed for people with sight issues hearing issues mobility issues autism. We’ve tried to bring it all to the table and make sure the park welcomes everyone.

James [00:05:26] The magical bridge playground was inspired by a meeting that you had with the Lincoln Villareal.

Barbara [00:05:31] Yes yes. She found me at a road event that I had donated a playhouse for. And she came up to me and she said How come you don’t make your playground wheelchair accessible and for kids with you know different abilities. And I was like stopped in my tracks and said good question Who’s asking. And she’s like Well I have this idea for a magical bridge playground. And we ended up joining forces and we’ve worked on it for five years before we built the first park. And now we’re just breaking ground on the second park.

Morris [00:06:03] I’m dying to know about some of the details which makes this magical bridge playground different.

Barbara [00:06:11] It’s a little hard to see when you first get their. But in the design team you know which I’m a part of. It’s amazing how you have to really think I like OK. No barriers that a wheelchair can’t get to. So we have ramps and we try to have exciting features and whenever you make anything you think can a wheelchair get on this. Can a kid that has walkers or needs a little help can they get on this still and you know what about a kid with autism you know can he or she like you know retreat a little too kind of to regroup and then join the fun. So now I’ve made these things called retreat huts that are on the edge of the playground. So we’re trying to listen to the community of people who have kids with different abilities and try to incorporate that into the park. But it’s a little hard to see it. It just looks like a really fun park packed with kids when you go there.

Morris [00:07:08] One question what about when they come down off the slide. How is it different?

Barbara [00:07:12] Oh so we have these dignity landings they’re called a link actually invented them and named them and the play structure slide companies are now making them so that at the top of the slide the kids in wheelchairs transfer from their wheelchair to the top of the slide. And then when they get to the bottom of the slide they just scoot over a little until their caretaker comes around with the wheelchair and they can get into the wheelchair. So we call that the Dignity landed that gives them a little place so that other kids don’t pile up behind them on the slide and it’s little things like that that really make a big difference that you know people from all over come to this park so that their kids can play with you know if their kids get a wheelchair so there’s this families that have one kid who has different abilities and needs a little extra thought. And so the whole family can finally play together. There aren’t any barriers so it’s really so exciting to go there and watch it. And just see kids playing together. And another feature they have is called the kindness corner where they they just have words of kindness on the corner and it’s all about coming together and they have these kindness Ambassadors that are high school kids that try to just make sure everything’s going well that there isn’t any bullying and that kids with different abilities are being welcomed into play circle. So it’s actually just so sweet and adorable you wouldn’t believe it.

James [00:08:43] Who would have ever thought. Who would have thought a tree house-

Morris [00:08:46] Well now wait a minute, wait a minute. Twenty years ago there were no ramps on curbs. All right. You know and somebody said let’s put Rahm Ryan curbs. And at first everybody said What a waste of time. There’s only one person in wheelchair out of a million.

James [00:09:01] Right.

Morris [00:09:01] Well as it turns out everybody was wrong. And now there are ramps everywhere.

James [00:09:06] Yeah accessibility is for everyone.

Morris [00:09:09] Everyone.

James [00:09:09] So you find ourselves in. Certainly you’ve been in the remodeling space but Morris and I in our design build remodeling firm constantly you’re sensitive to accessibility and creating solutions for folks who are looking to get out of there in an accessible situation and have comfort in their homes where they don’t have to leave their home that they love and the same is true as you create and those solutions for children you’re doing it privately and you’re doing it publicly. So I want to circle back there a couple of things that I want to ask you. I said earlier are these structures reserved in the private sector for the rich and famous like Bobby McFerrin. Or is this something that most people can enjoy that is number one and number two you’re in the Northern California area but we understand for are pros and friends listening who are in other parts of the country that they can acquire plans from you and build their own structure so would you address both of those please Barbara.

Barbara [00:10:17] Yes I would love to. Yes. Well first off we make all different sizes and shapes. We have playhouses that start at 4000. We have two story structures that start at 9000. I’m sure that’s a little more expensive than you know things that are mass produced but it’s still very accessible. And then we also have plans for sale and we provide support too, phone support and you know it really is just we’re not a mega corporation. It’s my family. You know it’s my sisters my brother my husband and it’s my niece and you know and all our carpenters. So you know when you call in you actually talk to us.

James [00:10:55] So but I’m curious to know. So when you install when you do a design and then you do an installation we know that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has some very rigorous requirements as regards to safety surrounding place not only with regard to the construction of the play structure but also with regard to the area beneath and surrounding the play structure that’s incorporated in your design. So if somebody falls off.

Barbara [00:11:27] Yeah.


James [00:11:27] They don’t fall on the concrete as an example right.

Barbara [00:11:31] No. You have to have it’s a recommendation for residential and it’s a requirement for commercial to have what we call resilient surfacing material so that when kids fall they don’t get debilitating injury. They still might break an arm. You know it’s not going to wipe out all injury but what you want to avoid is anyone having a debilitating you know neck or head injury. And my whole goal has been to we want kids to get out there and try climbing and take risks but we don’t want them to get hurt when they’re playing. We just want them to fall and brush themselves off and get back up.

James [00:12:09] I just want to say one thing that you may visit Barbra’s Web site. It is Barbara And of course we’ll post a link at our website and also we want to encourage you to donate to the magical bridge Foundation. And that is

Morris [00:12:33] Barbara here on CareyBrosPros we like to ask our guests to share three points for success. Could you share yours?

Barbara [00:12:41] Well I think that by my first thing is just be passionate about what you do and commit yourself fully to it. You know it’s it’s important to me that I realized early on I wanted to do play structures. I wanted to treehouse. A lot of times adults asked me to make it for them and I’m like I’m sorry. I’m more interested in kids playing and adults and kids playing together. And so that’s my vision and I’ve just sort of stuck to it and that sustains you when you go through hard times. You know that you have this goal you have this vision so that I think is you know been a really important tip for me for success.

Barbara [00:13:21] And the second one is you know especially when you deal with kids and safety but pretty much anything it’s just don’t compromise on the quality. You know everybody wants the price to be a little cheaper but you can’t always do that without compromising on the quality of it. And I just won’t do that. You know it’s like well we can make it a little smaller make it less simpler but we can’t make it you know not out of great quality materials and great labor too.

James [00:13:50] And finally?

Barbara [00:13:51] And then the last one I think is make sure you have a team around you that you know that shares your vision you know. I have so much of my family working with me and I think it’s great. Like you guys my sister and my husband are business partners. I mean I started 30 years ago but I drag them in about 20 years ago when I started to get too busy and then my brother James joined also and my niece Gabrielle. So you know I brought in different people but even the people that aren’t related to me I think it’s very important to create a team atmosphere where if anybody sees something that’s unsafe or dangerous everyone feels free to speak about it and bring it up. And that is we have this team thing where we’re all here to make sure we’re getting a great safe product safe for the workers safe for the kids and that it’s beautiful top quality.

James [00:14:44] You know I’m just feeling Barbara as you were giving your three points for success and particularly the last one, the team I was thinking a little bit about Mr. Rogers and what you do is. Much like what Mr. Rogers did and very much in the way that he did it because he had a team and he didn’t.

Barbara [00:15:07] I love him.

James [00:15:09] So I I think that you can take that as a huge compliment.

Barbara [00:15:16] Thank you. I do. I think he’s amazing. I do take that as a huge compliment and I think it you did a lot of you know advice out there like you got to be tough at the top and he’s a great example of you know always maintaining his humanity and and making sure that you know everyone you know is you know is cared for really and is listened to you know. And so that’s what I try to do here too and obviously it takes it takes some effort you’re busy some days everybody. You know we’ve just been on a long string of deadlines and everybody’s nerves are a little jangled that I’m and I was just saying yesterday everybody is like Hey everybody I know we’re all tired and you know but let’s just keep our eye on the ball.

James [00:16:02] Yeah.

Barbara [00:16:03] We’re getting through these deadlines and let’s let’s go.

James [00:16:06] Our thanks to Barbara Butler. She is the president and lead designer of Barbara Butler Artist Builder Inc. And you may visit her web site appropriately named

Morris [00:16:23] And remember you’ll find our guest information as well as additional podcasts videos and articles on our Web site at

About The Author CareyBrosPro Staff

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