Holiday Decor in a Southern Home

The holiday forecast is always warm and welcoming at Holley Jaakkola's Savannah home.

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Friendly, Not Fussy


The sun-washed rooms of Holley Jaakkola's home in balmy Savannah, Georgia, lend themselves to holiday entertaining. Though it's a world away from the icy landscape of her husband Juha's native Finland, Holley creates her own version of a winter wonderland with greens from her garden and starfish standing in for snowmen. As a pro floral designer, she believes in decorating with what's familiar. Throughout her 1864 Federal-style house, she adds personal touches, dressing up an antique dining table with an unfussy arrangement of camellias, pine sprigs and ferns tucked into mix-and-match glass vessels. Over the fireplace she displays a wreath crafted of backyard boxwood, berries and seashells. The annual highlight for the couple's daughters, Ava, 9, and Sophie, 6, is a two-day baking marathon during which the family makes dozens of festively embellished sugar cookies to hang on the tree and give as gifts. "I love to mix the old with the new, the elegant and simple, the refined and rustic," says Holley. "It's all part of my recipe for Christmas magic."

Pictured: Holley, Ava and Sophie on the back porch with Elsie, the family's Alaskan malamute. A local artist designed the oyster shell chandelier.

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A locally grown Leyland cypress tree with vintage glass ornaments, handmade cookies and twinkling white lights sets a merry scene in the sunroom. The vintage farm table boasts an inviting buffet.

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Holiday Spread


Holley serves a tempting selection of fruit, bread and local cheeses on a barnacle-studded plank she found nearby.

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Holiday Table Setting


Small bouquets mingled with vintage etched glass balls create a charming centerpiece.

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Holiday Treats


Candy canes and madeleines beckon from a sideboard. "My grandmother always had a gumdrop tree," says Holley. "Ours is pear branches."

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Christmas Table Setting


A handmade stocking laid at each place setting holds silverware and a sprig of winterberries.

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"I'm inspired by the seashore and the garden," says Holley, who fashioned the candleholders from cockle shells.

Pictured: Ava and Sophie perch on furry poufs with their Maltese dogs, Petunia and Sparkle. A neat stack of birch logs, another nod to Finland, fills the fireplace.

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Christmas Cookies


The girls take turns choosing a theme for the Christmas cookies. This year it's puppies.

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Christmas Tree Ornaments


A parade of pups livens up the gold- and silver-decked tree.

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Holley's Southern Decorating Strategy

  • Try out a different palette every season, and use touches of the colors throughout the house. "I'm doing shades of red and white this year."
  • Take the celebration outdoors: Decorate the porch or patio with a few garlands, a wreath and twinkling lights.
  • Instead of cut flowers for a centerpiece, try plants. Place succulents or orchids in a favorite container, like a porcelain serving dish or terrine.
  • Combine nature with holiday decor. "Here in the Low Country we use native grasses, birds' nests and treasures from the sea."
  • In Savannah, citrus never goes out of style. Pile clementines into a bowl, or dress up boxwood topiaries with kumquats and Key limes.
  • Create a tabletop terrarium for the kids. Stand decorated animal-shaped cookies upright in a glass jar filled with mounds of sugar or rock salt.

For more Low Country style see Holley's book, (Pelican), co-authored with Kimberly Ergul.

Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.