This Family Transformed an Aging Getaway into Their Isle of Hope Dream Home
Some artists find inspiration in a muse, while others find it in a perfect canvas. For garden designer Holley Jaakkola, the switch immediately flipped when she first laid eyes on a verdant waterfront property in Georgia’s quaint Isle of Hope community. “There were hundreds of antique camellias, native azaleas, and lots of old boxwoods that I was really excited about,” she recalls of the large yard enveloping her family’s now-forever home outside Savannah. “We’re just surrounded by nature. It couldn’t be more serene.”
But for the Jaakkolas and their two daughters, outdoor assets were only half the attraction. Anchoring the sprawling property was an 1850s Federal-style estate replete with old-timey charm, from wide front porches to original wavy glass windows pierced with bullet holes (souvenirs from the home’s Civil War days). For Jaakkola, these imperfections were badges to be embraced. So the avid preservationist set out to restore and renovate the home (plus its barn and guesthouse) to honor its past while still creating a fresh and functional space for her modern-day family. The result is a laid-back Lowcountry retreat dripping with character. On the inside, one-of-a-kind local artwork mixes with eclectic antiques and natural wonders. Outdoors, they kick back in patio chairs hand-hewn from an ancient live oak that was on the property.
With a rich history that extends all the way down to its furniture and accessories, this is a home with more than a few stories to tell. But most importantly for the family, it’s where they find comfort in a community that just couldn’t be friendlier. “Idyllic is the word I would use to describe Isle of Hope,” says Jaakkola. “It’s the kind of place where neighbors are always getting together on porches for a glass of wine or gathering on the docks to watch the boats drift by. It’s just really special.” Here, Jaakkola shares how she transformed an aging getaway into a coastal-meets-country dream home.
Past and Present
An original brick staircase, double-decker front porches, and a columned exterior strike a commanding presence at the Jaakkolas’ home. To up the curb appeal even more, she swapped Victorian-style railings for simpler white ones and painted the front door powder blue (River Mist by Martha Stewart)—a nod to the home’s setting on the water. “Our goal was to keep everything as close to original as possible,” she says.
With loads of scenic beauty lying just outside the windows as inspiration, Jaakkola opted to complement her traditional finds in the dining room with elements of the great outdoors. “I love to let nature in,” she says. Greenery and flowers from the garden fleetingly pepper the space, but permanent references can be found in the art, which includes a pair of abstract botanicals by Fernandina Beach, Florida, artist Casey Matthews.
Into the Wild
In a display of Jaakkola’s modern-meets-traditional style, the designer paired a contemporary black and white painting by Savannah artist Betsy Cain with seven classic John James Audubon bird prints acquired over time and framed together.
After restoring the living room’s original fireplace and giving the mantle a fresh coat of white paint, Jaakkola clad the wall behind it in antiqued mirror. “Mirrors always make a room look bigger and the antique finish adds a lot of interest,” says Jaakkola. The reflective wallcovering also helps to further brighten up an already light-filled space, made so with large folding windows that lead out onto the front porch. Two slipcovered sofas offer soft, fuss-free places to land in the living room. “I like for my house to be comfortable and fun for my family and friends,” she says.
In With the Old
A product of a later addition, the kitchen was one of the only spaces without 19th-century cred. To mask its modernity, Jaakkola brought in some architectural elements found throughout the home, like shiplap walls and vintage hardwood floors. Butcher-block countertops and antique brass accents contribute to the illusion of age, while 21st-century details such as a deep, marbled farmhouse sink and glass-front cabinetry add contemporary polish. Tying it together are lower cabinets painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pavilion Gray. “I like a soothing palette that allows the artwork and antiques to shine,” says Jaakkola. Suspended above the enormous custom-made zinc island-on-wheels by local artist Tim Adams is a group of mixed and matched chandeliers and pendants Jaakkola sourced at antique marts from Savannah to New York. “When things appear collected it helps give a room that old, authentic feel,” she says.
Off the kitchen is a keeping room that serves as the default cocktail lounge when guests come over and is an example of Jaakkola’s knack for combining styles, textures, and materials effortlessly. “I love really modern elements and very old things with patina, and I think when you put them together in a room, they capture your interest even more,” she says. Here, industrial metal end tables are juxtaposed with delicate glass lamps and a casual slipcovered settee. The rugged wood-topped cocktail table and botanical artwork (both scored at Atlanta’s South of Market) connect the whole setup to the outdoors.
An upstairs bedroom strayed from the home’s primarily subdued palette with neon accents and wood floors painted Benjamin Moore’s Arctic Blue.
As a garden and floral designer, Jaakkola needed a work-from-home space that could also serve as a catchall for the antique containers she collects from her travels. The property’s old barn (once used to house a 450-pound pig) checked all the boxes
but admittedly required some work. For its big transformation, Jaakkola brightened up the formerly windowless structure with natural light, salvaging windows from an old church.
A Way with White
Inside Jaakkola’s studio, natural light was enhanced by the barn’s original sky-high ceilings. Taking it up a notch, she splashed all surfaces, high and low, in white. “I always say you can make anything look 10 times better with a can of white paint,” says Jaakkola. A mix of antiques sourced from near and far furnishes the former barn, including iron garden chairs and a vintage wooden desk from France as well as a trio of vintage woven cloches from Vietnam. The massive custom corkboard features a frame Jaakkola had fashioned from strips of wood she picked up on a whim at an antiques show.
Built-in shelving added to the studio corrals Jaakkola’s ever-growing collection of antique vessels, accessories, and natural curiosities. “I love to collect things like lichens, dried mushrooms, and interesting rocks and shells to incorporate into floral compositions because I think it makes them look really beautiful and unusual,” says Jaakkola.
Whimsy On The Water
Stately and waterfront are two words that can describe many of the historic homes on Isle of Hope, a community that was established in the 1840s as a breezy summer retreat for the Savannah well-to-dos looking to escape the city’s sweltering heat. Today, the Mayberry-like suburb hosts a healthy crowd of full-time residents drawn to the community’s quiet existence and water-centric lifestyle. From the Jaakkola’s front porch, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss frame sweeping views of the Skidaway River, where a parade of private docks serve as frequent community gathering spots. “The neighbors are always getting together here on the docks to go crabbing, fishing, or just watch the sunset,” says Jaakkola. “That’s just what you do for fun and it never gets old.”
The home’s ample yard space allowed the family to enjoy the rural benefit of living off the land. Raised-bed vegetable gardens maintained by Jaakkola and her two daughters supply the family’s kitchen with everything from Meyer lemons to lettuce and sweet potatoes.