Charles Atkins guides homeowners through design and construction
Come Easter Sunday, most families gather together for a feast centered on the traditional Easter ham. Not so at the Atkins house. At least, not an Easter or so ago, when Chuck’s wife Marie thought that she’d grab a ham from their downstairs meat freezer. Ram, as Marie learned, cannot be prepared the same way as ham. So, while it looked appetizing, Chuck says, “our Easter Ram was such that even Daisy, our Weimaraner, turned her nose up at it.”
Such is the life of Chuck Atkins, an outdoorsman, hunter, husband, dad, and custom home builder.
When not designing and constructing custom homes in the Knoxville area, or attending weddings – “I think I’ve been to about 30 of them!”—Chuck can often be found doing two of the things he loves most; getting to bond with people and enjoying nature, which is why he is especially fond of hunting. “But not trophy hunting,” he says. “We always respect and honor the animals that become our food.” His hunting travels have taken him many places, accompanied by a wide variety of companions, from school principals and coaches to church pastors and business associates…even his son Jonathan, age 14,his daughter, Brooke, age 12 and his youngest son Nathan, age 6.
“You know, when you spend hours in nature with someone, it provides a great backdrop to get them out of their normal routine and build deeper relationships, regardless how the hunt turns out,” he says. “It can be revealing and, for me, that’s the real joy in it. What happens when you actually come face to face with an animal is really just a small part of the experience.” A favorite hunting story of his involves Brooke. “A deer showed up and it was about 10 degrees outside. I looked at Brooke and I asked her, ‘do you want to shoot that deer?’ And she said, ‘What do you mean, Dad?’ I said, ‘Well, you have two choices. You can shoot that deer, we can honor it, we can take it to be processed, we’ll use the meat… that’ll take about two or three hours. Or, we can just look at that deer, smile, and be at Starbucks in about 15 minutes.’” You can probably guess what they did.
Chuck sees his business in the same way he views everything else in life. “Mine is a relational business, not a transactional one,” he explains. “Building a home is an emotional experience so, while I could probably design and build twice the number that I take on each year, that’s not something I want to do. Each project takes such a tremendous emotional investment. And, you know, a project can sometimes last 18 months or longer!”
Charles Atkins, Inc., Chuck’s firm, was born just about three decades ago. He started off pursuing an interest in business and economics, receiving his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State. He was in his 20s and bounced between jobs in residential and commercial real estate, land development, and home building and construction.
It was the experience he had with a local builder that focused him on his current vocation, an experience that taught him about more than what it takes to design and build; it taught him one of those life lessons that has truly shaped who he is. “I was fortunate enough to have a mentor,” Chuck recalls, “and looking back I see how important and influential that experience was. The company went bankrupt, you see, and I took over the projects that were still in development at the time. It had a profound effect on me. Your definition of success can really change when things go from wonderful to bad.”
That life lesson gave Chuck much to think about. Here he was at age 29, not without experience, but feeling somewhat like he was without direction. “I spent a lot of my 20s trying a lot of different things and, while that was in many ways beneficial, I needed to focus.” Chuck concluded that adding one more experience to his many just might give him the direction he sought and, with that, he journeyed to England to receive his MBA from the University of Cambridge. He spent a year studying and consulting, which gave him the opportunity to “sit back and reflect on who I was and who I wanted to be.” That reflection led Chuck to an epiphany of sorts: “I’ve always looked for work that gives me a feeling of being engaged,” he explains. “Work that gives me a sense of purpose and of serving a need. Work, to me, has never been about money. Instead, it’s always been about challenges, and taking on just as many as I need in order to do what I do well and enjoy it. That’s what I’m always looking for; not just in my work, but in my life.”
Chuck decided that he was destined to wrap all of these interests and experiences into a business of his own and in 2001, started his own company, Charles Atkins, Inc. “I suppose it’s not surprising that I chose a direction that combined my experience in home building and construction with my interest in business. And, with an artist/craftswoman mother and a civil engineer father, I have no doubt that my career path was influenced by the interests that I inherited from my parents.” Chuck’s dad gave him his ability to take a vision, one that starts out as just a rendering, and make it happen by putting a complex variety of pieces together. His mother gave him his creative bent, as well as his entrepreneurial spirit. “As a youngster,” Chuck recalls, “I would help my mother prepare for and run holiday craft shows. We did this across three states before I was even a teenager. It was like a traveling road show, going from place to place with the crafts my mother made. For me, looking back, that took a tremendous amount of focus and courage, not to mention a lot of creativity. I really believe that the way I view a business – that is, being committed to your customers and being flexible enough to adapt when you need to – is founded largely on that experience.”
Today, Charles Atkins, Inc. is an almost-20-year-old Knoxville custom home building company with numerous recognitions, such as Cityview’s Best of the Best Contractor-Custom Homes over $1 Million and Contractor-Custom Homes over $750,000. Chuck has no desire to be the biggest builder in Tennessee. In fact, that’s pretty much what he doesn’t want. Perhaps that’s why you’re much more likely to find him on a job site than in an office.
“The first thing I ask a client is, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ I’ve mentioned how building a home is an emotional process. It’s a journey, really. For the project to be successful and the process to be one that we can enjoy, a real commitment has to be made. If a client could find the home that truly reflects who they are and how they live, they wouldn’t be coming to me, so I know right away that they’re searching for something special. I need to know what that is.”
The journey that Chuck takes with his clients demands a relationship built on honesty and trust. “When you invest in people and relationships, and you’re building for them, they already know you can build. What they want to really be sure about is that level of trust.” And this is an area where Chuck, according to past clients and industry colleagues, truly excels. Says one client: “I would recommend Chuck to anyone interested in building a beautiful home and more importantly, to someone who wants to work with a great individual.” Another says: “When people ask me if I liked working with Chuck I tell them, yes, I did. In fact, he’s on our Christmas card list!” Colleague Jonathan Miller of Jonathan Miller Architecture & Design, who has partnered with Chuck on more than one occasion, couldn’t be more laudatory; not just of Chuck as a professional, but as an individual. “What can I say about my good friend Charles Atkins? Chuck’s never-ending energy, eye for interior detailing, craftsmanship, and quality construction always make our homes look amazing!”
Now, those are endorsements that are hard to top.
What does the future hold for Charles Atkins, Inc.? “Right now, that’s hard to say. I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing. How do you grow a business that’s relational and not transactional? I suppose that would mean finding a few people who share my vision, who understand that our focus is on relationships, not buildings. But for right now, I’m just going to continue to love what I do.”