At a bend in the serene Skidaway River, the Jaakkola family has created a most idyllic Isle of Hope sanctuary—especially for daughters Ava and Sophie, who make a splash in their own watery playground. Take a turn and step inside a true Southern charmer.
A thoroughly modern family serves up a slice of Southern-steeped paradise on Isle of Hope. Allison Hersh steps inside a Bluff Drive beauty.
Photography by CHRISTINE HALL and RICHARD LEO JOHNSON
The Jaakkola Stats
Owners: Juha and Holley Jaakkola
Year built: 1864
Year purchased: 2010
Square footage: 4,000 square feet
Accommodations: 4 bedrooms, 3 baths
Time to renovate: 4 months
“I wanted to create something fresh and new, while respecting the past,” Holley explains. “I like to make things my own. This is an old-fashioned but modern way of living on the water.”
It was an offer the Jaakkola family simply couldn’t refuse.
Although Juha and Holley Jaakkola enjoyed living in Ardsley Park with their daughters, Ava and Sophie, they couldn’t resist the opportunity to renovate an original 1864 cottage along Isle of Hope’s picturesque Bluff Drive. Six years ago, the family bought the main cottage, guest house, dock and nearly 5 acres of land overlooking the Skidaway River.
After making a series of strategic renovations, this four-bedroom coastal cottage radiates Southern charm and serves as an ideal place for family time, social gatherings and cozy dinners. The Jaakkolas can cast a shrimp net and pull blue crabs from their front yard or relax on the home’s double porch, savoring cool breezes.
“To be here and have access to the water is amazing,” Holley admits. “Raising a family, I don’t think you can be anywhere better than Isle of Hope. The girls can ride bikes, get ice cream at the marina or go out on the boat. There’s always something going on.”
Restore and Renew. The Jaakkolas tackled the kitchen renovation (opposite page) first, knocking down interior walls, installing period-appropriate hardwood flooring and adding windows to open up the space. They restored the existing cabinetry and butcher block countertops, then added a handmade zinc bar with brass accents as well as five sparkling antique crystal chandeliers found at boutiques in Savannah, New York and New Orleans. “I wanted the kitchen to be an open area with lots of places where we could entertain and have family over, as well as places where the girls could do their homework,” Holley explains. “I love how we can all be together, but have different spaces to do different things.”
Holley, a talented award-winning garden designer, floral stylist and author from Blakely, Georgia, with a flair for home interiors, masterminded the renovation of the main home and the surrounding property. This avid preservationist, who won the Historic Savannah Foundation’s prestigious Nichola Parker Coe Volunteer Award, carefully reviewed photos of the house at the Georgia Historical Society to ensure that the family’s updates would honor the cottage’s architectural integrity.
“I wanted to create something fresh and new, while respecting the past,” she explains. “I like to make things my own. This is an old-fashioned but modern way of living on the water.”
Juha, a sought-after foot and ankle surgeon who originally hails from Finland, supported Holley throughout the renovation process, trusting his wife’s remarkable sense of style and the creative ways she blends antique and contemporary details.
“Raising a family, I don’t think you can be anywhere better than Isle of Hope. The girls can ride bikes, get ice cream at the marina or go out on the boat. There’s always something going on.”
Working within the home’s existing footprint, Holley spearheaded a series of interior and exterior upgrades designed to create a sense of sanctuary along the river. In the kitchen, she tore down walls to enlarge the space, restored original floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize natural light and added shiplap paneling to walls and ceilings for a touch of vintage style. Antique shop finds abound throughout the home, from crystal chandeliers to a marble-topped 19th-century cabinet that once graced a French bakery.
“The patina and age of things appeals to me,” she confesses. “I like old antiques from New Orleans. I enjoy hunting for treasures.”
Holley painted the interior walls a pale gray, creating a neutral base that allowed her to layer design details, like an elegant mirrored wall in the family room and monogrammed slipcovered chairs in the dining room. In a nod to Savannah style, she juxtaposed a traditional claw-foot Chippendale-style dining table with edgy original work by local artists like Betsy Cain, Marcus Kenney and Mary Hartman.
“I love to have something crusty and something modern,” she says. “It makes everything more interesting and more relevant.”
Ultimately, the Jaakkolas have created a family-friendly haven defined by life on the water and inspired by Isle of Hope’s bucolic blend of natural beauty and easy-going allure.
“This is the house I’ve always dreamed of,” Holley smiles. “It’s nice to be home.”
Be Our Guest. The Jaakkola guest house brims with unique design details, from oyster-shell light fixtures handcrafted by artisan Tim Adams of Sabenati Custom Designs to a dolphin skeleton the family discovered on a daytrip to a local barrier island. In a creative twist, the structure’s back porch doubles as an outdoor shower, enabling guests to close the gray-and-white striped fabric curtains to enjoy a moment of privacy and the opportunity to clean up after a day on the river, letting the water drain through the porch’s wide wooden slats. “When you come in from the boat, you’re all sandy,” Holley says. “It’s nice to shower off before you go inside.”
Bloom and grow. The 5-acre backyard, honored by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, includes three beehives, an oversized coop for heirloom chickens, more than 400 camellias, a zipline, soccer net, pine grove and a fire pit surrounded by seating crafted from salvaged live oak timber. Daughters Ava and Sophie each have their own raised garden beds, where they grow their favorite vegetables and herbs. This idyllic environment offers a taste of country life, just minutes from the city. “I’ve spent thousands of hours in the yard, pruning camellias and clearing brush,” Holley admits. “It’s fun to come out here and just enjoy being outdoors.”
The Jaakkola Referrals
Architect: Neil Dawson, Dawson Architects
Kitchen Design: Holley Jaakkola and Paula Danyluk, Paris Market and Brocante
Contractor: Todd Mayo, Pioneer Construction Inc.
Flooring: Robin Jones, Antique Heart Pine Flooring
Doors/windows: Coastal Sash and Doors
Carpentry: Coastal Georgia Cabinets and Trim
Custom marble sink: Mark Tessneer, Creative Stone Accessories, Inc.
Electrical: C.S. Hurd Electrical
Plumber: Holton Plumbing
Audio/visual: Larry Pawlowski, Sight and Sound
Furniture: Paris Market and Brocante, Scott’s Antique Market, Verellen, South of Market
Lighting: Tim and Laura Adams, Sabenati Custom Designs; ABC Carpet and Home, Circa Lighting; Paris Market and Brocante
Appliances: Lacanche, Livingood’s Appliances and Bedding, eBay
Accessories: Paris Market and Brocante, ABC Carpet and Home, B.D. Jeffries, Scott’s Antique Market, Lovetrain Antiques
Art: Betsy Cain, Mary Hartman, Marcus
Kenney, Ray Ellis, Peligro Gallery, Christine Hall, children’s art
Landscape: Holley Jaakkola
Lawn Maintenance: Ziggy and Sons Lawn Care; Genesis Outdoor Services; Ken Davis, Davis Landscapes
Garden Gates: Ivan Bailey