Anyone who still thinks that the words Appalachia and luxury are mutually exclusive has never been to Blackberry Farm.
Opened in 1976 on a lush 4,200 acres in Walland, Tennessee, a town of approximately 350 near the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blackberry is one of the South’s most highly regarded luxury resorts. Its reputation stems from the well-appointed English country–style accommodations, immaculate service, and an award-winning culinary program—the Farm has 15 James Beard Award nominations and three wins. As a concept, the property is widely respected for its deep commitment to community, sustainability, and beauty.
More recently, Blackberry’s leadership has turned their attention more directly to design. In tandem with running the resort, the management is taking the Farm’s haute-bourgeois aesthetic—along with the earthier but no less upscale vibe of its newest development, Blackberry Mountain—and translated it to in-house interior design and real estate divisions.
Interiors have always been an essential element of Blackberry’s appeal. In the resort’s early years, the design team was led by Kreis Beall, who cofounded Blackberry with her husband, Sandy. They tended to concentrate on the Farm’s ongoing need to update guest rooms and public spaces while developing new concepts. Occasionally, they were asked to weigh in on the design of private homes that would pop up on the property.
In the beginning, the Farm’s private residences were owned by the Beall family and their close friends. In 2009, after receiving numerous queries from guests keen to own their own home in this rarified setting, Blackberry released more plots to support its expansion into private property ownership. This facilitated the need for Blackberry Farm Real Estate, which opened in 2010. Today, the division is operated by a small team that acts as brokers and informs interested parties about the perks of Blackberry land ownership.
Not just anyone can build a home at Blackberry Farm. At a resort where family, authenticity, and sustainability are king, it’s important to Blackberry leadership that potential owners appreciate the Blackberry value set and aesthetic ethos. There’s a practical reason as well: The lots on Blackberry properties are limited. Half of the available acreage is in a conservation easement, part of the Bealls’ ongoing efforts to protect their slice of the Appalachian foothills and to preserve the land for future generations.
Blackberry has always been a family affair. Kreis and Sandy’s late son, Sam, grew up on the property and was largely responsible for driving its expansion over the last 20 years. When Sam died tragically in a skiing accident in 2016, the family urged his wife, Mary Celeste, to step in as proprietor.
Under her leadership, Blackberry completed the long-planned development of the Mountain, another resort perched on a 5,200-acre elevation a half hour from the original Farm. Opened in 2019, the Mountain has restaurants, public spaces, and recreation sites—as well as 22 private homes and 13 more under construction. This is in addition to the 44 private residences at the Farm itself, where two more are slated for completion this year.
Blackberry’s residential growth spurt gave the internal design team the opportunity to expand into a full-service consultancy, called Blackberry Farm Design. In 2017, with Kreis comfortably retired, interior designer Jason Bell was tapped to join the team as director of design, a role that finds him overseeing both public and private projects. A native of Mobile, Alabama, and the founder of an eponymous firm, Bell leads a 27-person team of designers, project managers, and other experts in the rather epic job of managing the aesthetic and physical upkeep of the Farm and Mountain, while also offering turn-key design services to the owners of its 66-plus private homes.
“There had always been a Beall involved in design here to some degree until Jason came on,” Mary Celeste Beall says. “Having someone completely dedicated to that department allowed us to take it to the next level. And he’s building a great team.” Among its members is Samantha Feuer, a Kreis Beall protégé who worked in Paris for Hamilton Conte before returning in 2016 to serve as Blackberry’s assistant director of design.
Blackberry Real Estate is the first stop for potential owners. Once they are vetted by an in-house committee, they are required to pay an initiation fee and join a private membership club with annual dues. In exchange, they receive full access to their host properties’ amenities and programming, as well as property management and maintenance perks. There’s also priority access to events, in-home chefs, and holiday decorating services.
Prices for lots range from $1.5 to $6.75 million, with lots spanning .33 to 43 acres. Owners create their own project budgets, but plans must be approved by Blackberry’s architectural review committee, which is composed of members of the design team, as well as outside experts. There are two approved architecture firms that interested parties can choose to work with: CS Harrop, based in nearby Knoxville, and Atlanta’s Summerour Architects. There are also nine provisional firms. Builders at both the Farm and the Mountain have the option of working with outside interior designers, save those who are planning to place their homes in the rental pool (about 17 of the 66 total properties can be booked through the Blackberry reservation system).
Perhaps because most Blackberry houses are not primary residences, Bell says his on-site clients are usually ready to have fun with their interiors. “The unique beauty of what we provide our clients is the feeling they get when they stay as a guest at Blackberry—but they get to keep it forever,” Bell explains. “We reproduce the Farm or Mountain for them with their spin. We call it the ‘Blackberry state of mind.’”
Engaging regional talent is important to the design team. Bell hires local East Tennessee artisans and makers when he can, from visual artists and furniture makers to ironworkers and cabinetmakers. “We have a millworker here who’s as good as someone in New York or Los Angeles,” he notes at one point.
One project that used several local makers was the Farm home of Shai and Kate Waisman, who worked with the in-house design team. The NYC-based couple first came to Blackberry Farm in 2007 as guests and quickly fell in love with its aesthetic. Eventually, they decided to build a vacation home for them and their twin daughters.
“Given our deep appreciation for the soul of Blackberry and, in particular, the sophistication and care they put into everything they design and build, we knew we wanted to work with Blackberry Design,” Shai Waisman says. “We wanted our home to pay homage to many of the structures of the Farm and be consistent with the overall aesthetic of the architecture, much of which we knew had been designed by Keith Summerour. This team, working seamlessly together, crafted a home that is far beyond anything we could have imagined.”
Construction began on their 7,500-square-foot home in 2018, when the newer Mountain was nearing its completion, and the Waismans chose to integrate Mountain design features into their own plan. This gives the home a more casual feel than other Farm properties. Says Bell: “It’s rustic, but with amazing art.”
Indeed, art advisory is under the design team’s purview, and identifying works for the space was an important part of Bell’s and Feuer’s jobs. “We found out early on that art and color were very important to them,” says Feuer. “That drove the overall look.” Their walls are hung with bright, funky Pop art by artists including Ashley Longshore, Jessica Lichtenstein, Andrew Saftel, Adam Greener, and Mika Tajima.
Elsewhere, the cypress beams inside the home have the same finish as the exterior, bringing the outside in—a common tactic for the Blackberry team. Floors are reclaimed (sustainability is always top of mind) and lighting in the central room is minimal in order to allow the modernist Lindsey Adelman fixture to have maximum impact.
Despite the almost extreme personalization of each private home, clients often ask to incorporate Blackberry’s foothills aesthetic into their mix. The Waisman were keen to have the same McQueen Pottery, made in nearby Maryville, Tennessee, that is used on the Farm for their kitchen—a popular request among Blackberry homebuilders. While the design team is happy to accommodate these requests, they make subtle efforts to differentiate the mothership. “We made a special custom glaze for the Waisman, because we wanted it to be Blackberry, but we also wanted it to be unique to them,” Feuer explains.
They also wanted to have the same Nature Spa mattresses used across the property for bedrooms in their home, including two built-in full-sized bunk beds for the twins. (The mattresses are sold on the Blackberry retail website.) Like many clients, they also requested Blackberry amenities. Feuer made sure they had plenty of the property’s proprietary lavender soap. “When they walked into their home for the first time, it was like they were ready to stay here. The soap was there, housekeeping had visited…. It’s very turnkey.”
The no-stone-left-unturned, soup-to-nuts approach is a Blackberry Farm Design signature, and there is little Bell’s team won’t do for a client. The Asher Israelow dining table in the Waismans’ main room appears to be covered with a spray of random copper dots. Actually, the insets are an intentional pattern mirroring the constellations in the Italian sky on the night of their wedding. Bell and Feuer worked with Dmitriy & Co. in New York to commission the piece as a moving-in surprise from Shai to Kate.
Bell, Feuer, and their team regularly source the vintage items they use from far-flung flea markets, antique stores, and auction sites across the globe. What they don’t use immediately is stored in a nearby warehouse—or sold on the retail design portal of the Blackberry website, a mix of new designs and antique items that speak to the resort’s style.
Blackberry Farm Design projects intentionally cater to a range of specific styles and tastes; every project is different. Despite that, Mary Celeste believes that all of the resort’s public and private spaces have at least one thing in common: adaptability. “We aren’t afraid to change things if something isn’t working,” she says. “Our spaces are always evolving based on need. I think it’s important to do that, but to also stay true to your roots.”
Whatever the perfect formula may be, Blackberry’s design expansion is clearly working. “Going into our third year, we have far surpassed our goals from a business standpoint,” Bell says of his division’s work. “We’re now closer to our 10-year goals.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest