Coming of Age: The Court Atkins Group Turns 12
Author: Paula Magrini
Realizing these architects have taken the road less traveled, I began my interview with a less conventional approach. “On the topic of launching your business, maybe there are some funny anecdotes you’d like to share?”
With little hesitation William Court volunteered early memories of the now thriving Court Atkins Group. “We set up our original office in James Atkins’ guest room,” he recalled. “When our client roster began to grow, we expanded into the dining room, burying the table with renderings and plans. About that time, James’ wife suggested a real office.” He laughed, “We were actually kicked out.”
Court and Atkins have no regrets about the home office or taking a chance on their talents. They met as interns at two Hilton Head architectural firms and developed a friendship which later turned into a partnership. “In the same year I quit my current job, became a dad, built a new house and opened a business – clearly I was committed to this path,” Court reminisced.
Twelve years later, the inaugural Bluffton office has mushroomed into two architectural studios and one interior design center. Employees number 30 at the Court Atkins Group, while residential and corporate projects continue to multiply in the coastal Lowcountry as well in surrounding states and destinations as far north as Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The distinctive Court Atkins Group footprint is prevalent in the award-winning community of Palmetto Bluff, where some 70 homes have been designed by the firm. Other area communities including Oldfield, Spanish Wells and the Sea Pines Resort proudly feature homes reflecting Court Atkins Group’s unique brand of architecture, inside and out.
“Fortunately our growth has been a steady phenomenon,” Atkins said. “When other companies were struggling through the downturn in the economy, we managed to evolve.”
Not only did their talented staff of designers and project managers expand, so did the firm’s menu of services. While they shaped the residential neighborhoods of Palmetto Bluff, the Court Atkins team also steered commercial projects to enhance Bluffton’s town-scape.
“Why the investment in Bluffton?” I asked.
Atkins readily fields this question, noting the firm’s work on landmark venues including The Cottage, Corner Perk, Old Town Dispensary, Fat Patties, CoastalStates Bank, Salon Karma and others. “We recently designed the town’s newest fire station and Station 300 on Buckwalter Parkway,” he said. “We have a stake in this community, because we live, work and play here. Our connection with Bluffton is both professional and emotional,” he added. “So our staff genuinely cares about the shape of things to come, both downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods.”
-501 South Studio is home to the firm’s interior design duo.
-Striking interior view of Longfield residence at Palmetto Bluff. Photography by John McManus
Two members of the Court Atkins Group staff are dedicated to the firm’s interior design component, 501 South Studio. Deborah Van Plew and Adrienne Warner juggle projects around the clock, while meeting and greeting clients at their upscale new studio, adjacent to the firm’s headquarters in Plantation Park in Bluffton.
Van Plew acknowledged the advantages of designing homes and businesses that are exclusively Court Atkins. “Our goal is to provide the most seamless experience for our clients, while maintaining the firm’s high design standards,” she said. Ambassadors for the Court Atkins brand, Van Plew and Warner also welcome interior assignments outside the architects’ portfolio.
This past spring the Court Atkins portfolio expanded further to include a Hilton Head Island studio, spearheaded by a well-known Lowcountry architect, who is no stranger to world-class design. Tom Crews merged his business with the Court Atkins Group in April, granting Hilton Head clients the convenience of a local office plus depth of client service that has propelled business for the Court Atkins team in Bluffton. When I asked Crews what his new title would be, he kidded, “I guess you could call me a senior designer…or that guy with the big old Rolodex.”
The addition of Crews to the Court Atkins Group is one more reason the partners decided it was time to update their branding. Formerly known as the Court Atkins Architects, the team refreshed its iconic logo and added “Group” to convey the depth and range of their talent. “It makes good sense to offer a broad palette of design resources under one roof,” Atkins said. Adding his two cents, Court said, “Our clients expressed interest in a more comprehensive set of services, so we’ve listened and diversified.”
Growth and diversification seem to be the keys to high performance by the Court Atkins Group. Yet I know there’s more to this story so I press on. “At the end of the day, what sets you apart from the rest? What is your true signature?”
Court reminisced again. He vividly remembers the day several years ago when he sat face-to-face with prospective clients at Palmetto Bluff and underwent an interrogation of sorts.
“So, tell us why we should select a larger, busier, more established firm? We see your projects everywhere. How are you able to handle so many jobs at once? Who would really be doing the design work on our home?”
The couple’s questions were an epiphany for Court as he realized he and Atkins were no longer the small, hungry, upstart company that they once were. At first, the realization hit him hard, but then he considered the firm’s mission and how exactly he and Atkins had cultivated their business.
“We focus on service and communication as much as we focus on great design,” Court said. “We also take great pride in our team. Without them, we could not have accomplished even a small fraction of what we have been able to create over the years.”
Court admitted that letting go of absolute control and delegating projects were two of the most difficult things to master as company leaders. “But once you understand them, the possibilities are endless,” he said.
Atkins concurred. “We work very hard with our team members to develop mutual trust in one another and the quality results of our work.” Perhaps that’s why the Court Atkins Group sustains such a loyal, enduring staff, and, by no coincidence, an equally loyal and growing client network.