Sitting Down with Blackberry Farm’s Kreis Beall

Kreis Beall, cofounder and creative force behind Blackberry Farm, lived a beautiful and inspiring life, but a series of devastating personal losses led her to turn inward for the first time.

Photo by Mike Belleme

“In 60 years, I never looked back,” says Kreis Beall, the cofounder and original creative force behind Blackberry Farm, Tennessee’s award-winning farm-to-table resort. “I always looked to the next plan, the next house, the next project. I did not allow myself time to examine my interior self and never connected the beautiful external world I had created with my neglected internal identity.” 

In her powerful, just-released memoir, “The Great Blue Hills of God,” Beall shares her journey of self-discovery and faith following a series of devastating tragedies, including a fire that destroyed her beloved family home on Mobile Bay, an accidental brain injury that left her partially deaf, the divorce from her husband and business partner, Sandy Beall, and the tragic death of her son, Sam, who at 39 was working to take Blackberry Farm to new heights as its proprietor. 

As the dominos of her life fell one after the other, Beall turned to a budding faith for strength. “I was a new believer and was just like a sponge. I read everything I could get my hands on. I began to connect the dots in my life.” The idea for this book originated from an 18-minute speech Beall was asked to give to a women’s group. “I received so many letters and emails after that, it encouraged me to do the book. I hope to invite the reader to also look at their own story. My life was focused on a beautiful exterior. It was hard work to turn inward. It’s always been important to me to understand the meaning of home. I realized God is home.” While putting back together the pieces of her life, she left a multi-bedroom house on Blackberry Farm and moved into a 324-square-foot outbuilding on the property she called “The Shed.” 

“It is not the size of the space,” she writes, “but the depth of the person in it.” In that solitary place, Beall rebuilt her life with her long-time motto in mind: “Live in every inch.” Her interior design philosophy insists a house is more alive when every room has a daily purpose. Her new task became learning to navigate and purpose each moment in her day. In the paired-down minimalism of The Shed, paint peeling on the exterior walls, Beall acknowledges, “I met myself for the first time.” She faced the heartrending realities that lay just beneath the expertly designed spaces she created to please so many others. She also found a way to dig in and cope with the devastating series of events and tremendous loss that threatened to consume her. 

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Although for years she exuded an admirable and sophisticated veneer, behind the success Beall enjoyed, she confesses that same success glossed over the needs of her soul. “I thought nobody would like me if they really knew me. Writing this book was an invitation for me, and consequently the reader, to look at our lives with authenticity and vulnerability. I had to learn to be a real friend.” 

Beall confesses this vulnerability may come as a surprise to those who knew her for her beautiful homes and gracious hospitality. She and her family lived in Mobile for 10 years, after Ruby Tuesday (the restaurant chain founded by Sandy) was bought by Morrison’s. Others may recognize her as a trendsetting authority in the travel and entertaining sphere. Her decorating and entertaining advice appeared often in the pages of popular home and design magazines. Many beautiful homes her family lived in, and that she and Sandy renovated and designed, were featured prominently in publications focused on Southern style and culture. 

Devastating, unabashedly candid and warm, Beall’s memoir will speak to anyone who finds themselves exploring their own soulscape. Readers are challenged to take on the hard job Beall gives herself: “All it takes is all you’ve got. And it is worth it.”

Excerpt from “The Great Blue Hills of God” 

Now all my plans had come undone. As I stood on the threshold of sixty, my marriage was over, I was disconnected from my sons, I spent too little meaningful time with my grandchildren.

To the outside world, I was the cofounder of one of the most idyllic spots on earth, Blackberry Farm. It was not a farm in the conventional sense of raising dairy cattle or crops. Rather, my husband, Sandy, and I had started with a dilapidated, 1940 low-ceiling house with eight guest rooms and grew it into a Relais & Châteaux estate and restaurant, a stylish, award-winning destination at the edge of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. Its iconic views, the shimmering trees and hills, the white-painted rockers perched above a sweeping lawn, were routinely featured in glossy lifestyle and travel magazines. People began referring to it simply as “Blackberry.”

Beyond Blackberry, I was known for my own cooking and entertaining, for being married to Sandy, founder of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain, and for my photogenic family and two successful sons. And I never dissuaded anyone, not even my mother, my sisters, or my closest friends, that this was my story until I could no longer paper over and pretend. Until I had no choice but to tell my truth.

I began by giving up what I had clung to the longest: my image of the perfect home. From a multi-bedroom house, I moved to a 324-square-foot farm shed on the edge of Blackberry — a space that not long before had been piled high with broken Christmas decorations that no one could quite commit to the rubbish bin. When I stepped into that single room, I left behind the cushion of things, an oversize closet, kitchen gadgets, a long dining table, and matched sets of comfy chairs. Suddenly unburdened of creature comforts and objects, I had no choice but to meet myself head-on.

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