Style Icons: Mary Ruth and Lisa Caldwell

Mary Ruth Caldwell &  Lisa Caldwell Flake

Owners of Caldwell Flake Interiors

by Tracy Robinson, Photographed by Chuck St. John

Mary Ruth and Lisa

The apple (bright green, please) didn’t fall too far from the tree when it comes to the mother/daughter interior design team of Mary Ruth Caldwell and Lisa Caldwell Flake. Each credits the other as a style inspiration, and their aesthetic of incorporating bold patterns and colors in their interior designs extends into their wardrobes as well.

With their clear blue eyes, it’s fitting that Mary Ruth and Lisa proclaim turquoise as their signature color, but in fact the affinity for the hue spans generations, evidenced in the portrait of Mary Ruth’s mother, painted by local artist Doyle Fellows. “She is seated on a cerulean loveseat in her robin’s egg blue living room with her hand resting on a deep turquoise velvet pillow,” Mary Ruth says. “The various shades of turquoise in the room—her silk dress, topaz ring and eyes— make it a study in the shade. She loved that color! And, so I guess, it is in my genes and has been passed down to Lisa too.”

Lisa describes her style as having evolved from “hippie-ish” to “sophisticated bohemian,” thus paying homage to the styles of Rachel Zoe and Nicole Richie. Like the rooms she designs, Lisa incorporates at least one pop of color into an outfit, whether via a patterned top or one of her signature cuff bracelets, which she wears everyday.  In summer, she contrasts bright hues with white. Her favorite items are her oversized Toy watch (“it looks great against tan skin”) and fringed purse she bought years ago at Kitson in Los Angeles. In Birmingham, Lisa frequents boutiques including Swank, Theodora, Stella Blu, Marella, Laura Katherine, Soca and Kiki Risa.

Mary Ruth prefers clean lines, clear colors and “nothing fru-fru.” Now in her mid-60s, she admits her style has changed through the years. “I’ve been preppy, mod, hippy, back to preppy again, etc.,” she says. “I hope now one would call my style ‘mature,’ but definitely not matronly!” Keeping up with the latest trends is something she allows her daughter to do for the both of them, although when it comes to a style icon, Mary Ruth cites the always classic Grace Kelly. “She always got it right, dressing appropriately for every occasion,” she says. Mary Ruth follows suit, selecting cowboy boots and jeans on constuction site days, and “grown up clothes” for lunch meetings, such as a Nina McLemore jacket and black pants.

As in fashion, interior design experiences trends as well.  Both Mary Ruth and Lisa are happy to see the return of color, “Although…we never left it,” Lisa says.

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000105 EndHTML:0000012665 StartFragment:0000002700 EndFragment:0000012629

Caldwell Flake’s “Top Ten Tips for a Stylish Home”

1. Paint walls, trim and ceiling a nice white, off white, or light grey, then add great fabrics and rugs on top.

2. Wallpapering a ceiling or the inside of bookcases can transform a room. Remember wallpaper has come a LONG way!

3. Use a series of art, prints or architecturals in grouping rather than a huge piece of art. This will help take care of a large wall.

4. You can use mirrors on walls, furniture, ceilings. This adds so much light to a room. You can do antiqued, black, or smoked mirrors to change it up.

5. Symmetry brings a room together instantly.

6. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone…powder rooms and dining rooms are great places to do this.

7. Use a more expensive fabric in small doses: on pillows, dining chairs, headboard, chair fronts. Then use a less expensive fabric for those items that require more yardage, like drapes and sofas.

8.Try to have one WOW in every room.

9. An empty room is better than a room with the wrong things in it.  Less can definitely be more!

10. Never underestimate the power of hiring a professional interior designer.  It will save you money in the long run, as it cuts out mistakes and second guessing.

Style Inspiration: Kelly Wearstler (West Coast interior designer and tastemaker)

Local Industry Mentors:

Mary Ruth – Katherine McTyiere, Jane Hodges

Lisa – Margaret Jones, Richard Tubb, Mary Evelyn McKee

Favorite Interior Trend: The return of color (“Although we never left it,” says Lisa.)

Least Favorite Interior Trend: The 80’s “Mauving of America” (“I never could get on that bus,” says Mary Ruth.)

Interior Faux-Pas:

– Thinking “more is more.” Mary Ruth confesses she’s fallen into this trap. “In the 1970’s, if my home had been a boat it would’ve been at the bottom of the ocean, it was so laden with accessories.”

– Being afraid to mix and old and new, like placing an acrylic lamp on an 18th century refractory table

– Mirrors need something under them unless a tall leaning mirror or trumeau

Favorite Birmingham destinations for chic home accessories and furniture: Interiors Market, Suite Dreams, Atmosphere Home Essentials, Hiltz Lauber, Z Gallerie, MCJ Interiors, Mary Eveyln McKee Interiors, Richard Tubb Interiors

To learn more about Caldwell Flake and see examples of their stylish design, visit

Leave a Reply