For Mary Celeste Beall and her five children, Blackberry Farm will always be home. Her late husband, Sam Beall, who died three years ago in a skiing accident, transformed his parents’ little inn at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains into a sublime destination. Guests—including stars such as Kelly Clarkson and model Lily Aldridge—might spend the morning fly-fishing or learning to make cheese before heading to an intimate Emmylou Harris concert or a meal by guest chefs like Grant Achatz and Alain Ducasse. This year, the agro-elegant resort expands with the 5,200-acre Blackberry Mountain, which combines private residences, land conservation, and a luxe 36-room lodge.
Mary Celeste and Sam built a traditional farmhouse residence on-site in 2008, but it’s another project, a midcentury Knoxville estate completed just months before Sam’s tragic death, that showcases Beall’s eye for contemporary art and color—and her unshakable joie de vivre. Built on nine wooded acres near the Tennessee River in the mid-1960s, the house was empty and reeking of must when the couple arrived in 2014. The Bealls had actually looked at the property 10 years earlier and passed. But in the interim they’d welcomed three more children, and commuting 45 minutes from the farm to Knoxville schools and activities had become exhausting.
Plus, the house was designed by Illinois-born architect Hubert Bebb, who brought modernist sensibilities to nearby Gatlinburg in 1950 and built downtown Knoxville’s golden-orbed, towering Sunsphere for the 1982 World’s Fair. Bebb’s modest stone facade hides an interior lit by two stories of glass leading to a deck and terrace, a reverse floor plan, and expansive walls for displaying art collected locally and on holidays, including Parisian artist Daniel Gastaud’s fanciful, color-saturated homage to Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, which is rendered in feathers.
That piece, which anchors the dining room, inspired much of Beall’s quick, vibrant renovation. “I easily could have gone all neutral,” she says. “But I thought, Why not make it fun and happy and energetic and take risks?”
To wit, she preserved stainless steel cabinetry in the kitchen, kept the dining room’s chinoiserie wallpaper, and refreshed the wood trim and paneling with a warm mahogany hue. Next came confident colors and flourishes: a foyer in creamy lacquer, a wall of ocean-blue grass cloth, a swiveling, disco-era brass cocktail table.
The needs of the five Beall children—Cameron, 21; Sam, 16; Rose, 14; Josephine, 10; and Lila, 6—meant nothing could be too precious. For the dining chairs, Beall chose a deep red velvet relief fabric by Jonathan Adler that’s durable enough for nightly meals. The kids’ bedrooms mix heirloom objects, like handmade furniture and Portuguese textiles, with Pottery Barn bedding and Target pillows.
“It’s joyful,” says Barrie Benson, a friend and interior designer based in Charlotte, North Carolina, who contributed initial ideas. “It feels like a true family house, and it’s the side of Mary Celeste’s personality that is playful and fun and a little bit crazy.”
It’s a side perhaps few Blackberry fans know. After Sam’s death, she had to care for her children and tend to her own grief while assuming her late husband’s role as Blackberry Farm’s proprietor. Her new lodge at Blackberry Mountain, which incorporates locally sourced wood and sandstone into a modern aesthetic, represents the resort’s latest evolution. It honors the past and looks forward, much like the family’s city home. “This house has such great energy, and I know Sam loved it,” Beall says. “It has wonderful memories.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of ELLE Decor.