Christine Atkins - No Naked Windows

Interview by Phil Simpson | Transcript by ForgottenBee October 2015 | Photographs by Ben Taylor

A born and bred Brutonian, Christine Atkins has enjoyed a life full of experimentation and change. Her colourful journey finally inspired her to launch No Naked Windows, a bespoke soft furnishings and upholstery service in Bruton, Somerset. Christine talks to Localeyez about her love for her craft, and how your windows need never be naked!

Tells us about your childhood and where you grew up.
I had a very working class and rural up bringing. My Dad was a builder, with a varied background. We were a local family, and until the age of 6, I was living in Cole Road in a council house. However, by the age of 10, I was living in a mansion with its own pool and tennis courts! This was not because we were rich, but more to do with my family’s determination to find us the ideal home. I suppose my childhood was really a bit rough and ready, always out playing in the woods and off doing things.

Bruton was a very different town then consisting of local families. I went to Bruton Primary School, but turned down a scholarship to Bruton School for girls. I didn’t like the green A lined skirt (I was clearly already colour and design sensitive!). So I went to King Arthur’s School in Wincanton. During my teen years in the 1980s, my whole generation left Bruton and the town died. The high street was nearly empty and there was nothing to do. When I left for University I said I was never coming back.

It sounds like your family has got quite a long history in Bruton.
Yes, that's right. My aunt has traced us back some 500 years on paper and 800 years anecdotally. There's a field near Wyke they called ‘Atkins field’. During my childhood, I couldn’t go to the pub without seeing one of my relatives.

What did you do after you left school?
My late teens were quite erratic, and I couldn’t decide what to do with myself. I always loved art and excelled at colour work and sewing. One of my favourite movements was conceptual art, although no one really got my concepts.

I chopped and changed quite a lot. I nearly went to Taunton College to do fashion, but then went to Yeovil to do art but found I couldn’t draw. I decided to change A-levels and discovered law. I could jot out an A-grade essay with a hangover with no effort whatsoever. I finally did journalism and film at Cardiff. After I graduated, I returned to Bruton to live with Ian, whom I later Married. We were raising his son from a previous relationship, who had special needs, and there were very few opportunities in the area for me to develop a career, so I decided to focus on being a mother.

Working on the Hauser & Wirth Somerset Farmhouse with Luis Laplace also gave me some fantastic ideas. I thought if I can slug it out and argue with a renowned architect, then I must be doing something right!
No Naked Windows - Christine Atkins - Tools of the trade
Photographed by Ben Taylor

How did you become a seamstress?
As a young child, I can remember my Mother teaching me to sew. I have fond memories of Mary Brown’s craft shop, which used to be in Bill the Butcher’s (Spar). It was packed full of interesting stuff. I used to make all the animal kits they sold, and once remember making an enormous peacock.

At 14, my parents bought me a really good sewing machine. I was the youngest in our 4-bed house, and when my brother and sister left home, I inherited my brother’s old bedroom and turned it into a sewing room. I had bags and bags of fabric, and people started asking me to make them clothes. Although I really loved doing this, I was lacking in confidence.

After I graduated from university I didn’t want a career in journalism. I worked as a chef for a while in London and also in a cheese factory. Fortunately, I then took a seamstress job in a soft furnishings workshop nearby that made products for London designers like Liberty’s and Designers Guild. It wasn’t until after having my own children that I decided to work for myself making curtains, which I had intended to be a very small concern! However, only the day after I decided to do this, the estates bursar at Bruton School for Girls asked my mum, who worked at the school, if she knew anyone who could make curtains. That landed me my first self-employed, paid-for job and involved making curtains for the whole boarding house. It most certainly wasn’t what I had intended for my curtain making endeavor but being thrown in at the deep end as I was has given me a confidence to tackle large projects without feeling daunted.

No Naked Windows - cotton reels
Photographed by Ben Taylor

What was the thing that kept you going through those early years of running your business?
Absolute necessity and a determination to support my family, as by then my marriage had broken down. The first few years were fairly tough as although I was getting some really good commissions and working on some very interesting projects, my workload and therefore income, was very sporadic. There were many times I felt like giving up, but I had the support and encouragement of some really good people around me. Also despite low points I am generally a really positive person and this mindset has been crucial in getting me to where I am today.

In what ways has Bruton changed over the years?
Bruton used to have 30 pubs many years ago. There were only four when I was growing up. I think the biggest shift I’ve seen is the change in new people coming into the town. I noticed this when I returned to Bruton and was having a drink in the Blue Ball, when it was still a pub, and thinking I don’t actually recognise anyone!

There have been quite a few changes to the shops, I can remember a little grocery store and sweet shop called Wilsons on Quaperlake Street. I loved Wilsons. Mary Britton’s was the original charity shop, and Mary’s daughter was the poster girl for the cystic fibrosis campaign. She had an attic full of clothes that she used to sell to raise money. There was a shop by the railway bridge selling honeycomb.

What do you think makes Bruton so special? ?
The familiarity with people. It felt really odd when I moved to university in Cardiff. You don’t get people saying hello in the street, whereas in Bruton everyone acknowledges each other. It has a great community, although it can also be quite claustrophobic at times. However, I feel very safe in Bruton, and that’s great for the children.

No Naked Windows studio
Photographed by Ben Taylor

What inspired you to start No Naked Windows?
My home setup was not big enough to accommodate my increasing work load and I had also realised I wanted a showroom.

How did you come up with the name No Naked Windows?
The idea of a shop had been floating about for about a year, and was originally going to be called ‘The Closet’. However, it was only about 3 weeks before opening that someone pointed out to me that this name didn’t really give a clue as to what I did. I had a brainstorming session with a friend, who sat there throwing all sorts of names at me, the brief being that it had to say what I did while also being a bit naughty (like me). The moment he said No Naked Windows I knew we didn’t need to look any further. It had the sparkle I was looking for, and also described exactly what I do, which is to provide anything and everything for windows. Although I do specialise in bespoke soft furnishings, we also supply almost every other type of window treatment, like roller blinds, vertical blinds, as well as hardware such as poles and tracks. The name No Naked Windows is all about dressing windows. We can do anything to dress a window so it will never be naked.

No Naked Windows - Christine Atkins at work
Photographed by Ben Taylor

What makes No Naked Windows unique?
I like to feel I’m a genuine person and that I provide a genuine product. I aim to offer high quality craftsmanship and a fully bespoke service. I really try to go beyond the call of duty to make my customers happy. We also cooperate with my brother’s building company, Atkins Builders, and provide a full fitting service. I take a slightly different view of window dressing than many other curtain makers, whose focus is often to make the curtain the main feature in a room. I like to look at the whole room and consider how the window dressing will impact it, and how it will meet the customer’s requirements, taking into account whether they need insulating properties, how much light is required, as well as the size and overall design of the room. Sometimes, despite my business name, I even advise leaving a window naked!

What is your philosophy when working with clients?
My baseline is to always be on time and turn up when you are supposed to! Initially I considered myself to be a craftsperson, not a designer. However since opening No Naked Windows, I have been complimented on my taste and consulted for design ideas, be it for the look of a project or to solve practical issues, so this is an area of my business I would like to develop. I like a design to be instinctive and uncontrived, and try not to have a specific 'look'. I prefer to work alongside the customer to achieve their vision, using my experience and knowledge. I love to make interiors beautiful. I think it makes us all feel better when we're in nice surroundings that express who we are. Every customer is unique, which is why I don't like to impose my taste on them.

Working on the Hauser & Wirth Somerset Farmhouse with Luis Laplace also gave me some fantastic ideas. I thought if I can slug it out and argue with a renowned architect, then I must be doing something right!

No Naked Windows - bowl of pins
Photographed by Ben Taylor

What do you love about your work?
I really enjoyed getting out and seeing the different houses, I’ve always loved houses, especially as I was brought up on building sites. It’s great that my job allows me be part of the process of making someone’s house a home.

What was the most fulfilling project you’ve worked on?
For me, working on the Hauser & Wirth Somerset Farmhouse was the most incredible, but also stressful thing ever. It was a month of 18 hour days, most of it completely by myself. When I first set foot in there it was a building site, and there were some rooms you couldn’t even enter. It was a great feeling to see it all come together, and to be trusted as a craftsperson to get the work done on time, and to the specification and quality that was being demanded.

What advice would you give to somebody starting their own business?
A positive frame of mind is essential. It’s bloody difficult and scary setting up your own business! What drove me was absolute necessity. It wasn’t necessarily a dream. Being determined, single-minded and prepared to work very hard long hours also helps.

Alice Workman comtemplates Bruton's creativity
Photographed by Ben Taylor
"It’s great that my job allows me to be part of the process of making someone’s house a home."

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
My dad has been my biggest role model and still is. I admired how he started his working life as a gravedigger, and then set up his own building business, which at one point employed 20 people and was responsible for many large building projects in and around Bruton. He had a vision and had the ability to imagine something, and then the determination and sheer bloody mindedness to make it happen. I also admire the fact that most of his big projects were during the 1980’s when many people were taking advantage of the housing boom to build estates full of shoe box houses. Dad did not go down this route, but chose instead to build beautiful houses, many of which can be seen around the town. He had a genuine love for his craft as well as a respect for his surroundings.

What future aims do you have for No Naked Windows?
This year has been all about consolidating what I established last year, I have increased my fabric ranges and this is something that will be ongoing. We have recently started offering a full upholstery service involving complete and authentic restoration of furniture. This Autumn I will be launching my bespoke hardwood footstool and headboard service, a collaboration with my Dad who has recently retired but gets bored very easily! There are plans in the future to offer an extensive wallpaper range, including an exclusive range from Jackie Brooks based on her paper cuts. I have also been approached by fabric designers so an exclusive No Naked Windows Fabric range is a distinct possibility too.

No Naked Windows - Christine Atkins - naughty wallpaper
The No Naked Windows shop's wallpaper's a bit different. (photographed by Ben Taylor)

Tell us a secret about yourself?
Does it have to be a socially acceptable secret? I’m not sure I have any! Actually, I equaled the world record for baton twirling. Yes, I have paraded in public in lycra. Oh, and I used to have a racing car.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I think I should be played by Helena Bonham Carter's head (cheekbones!), Kylie's arse. and the rest can be Scarlett Johanasson (sex appeal). Ideally I would like some nice long legs, but I think making me taller would be unrealistic!

What makes you happy?
My dog makes me happy. She’s called Peppa just like ‘Peppa pig’. She even has her own Facebook profile!