Cherish the Charm

Designer Dawn Jacobs and her family adore their 1940s hilltop haven in Holly // Photos by Beth Singer
Homeowner and creative interior designer Dawn Jacobs says of her tiny Hilltop Cottage on Spring Lake: “Our favorite things here are the tranquility and the views.”

Dawn Jacobs never thought she’d be the owner of a cute little 1940s cottage on a lake in Holly. But then, she never thought she’d have a furniture/home décor shop and design studio in Holly, either. “I’m done with saying I’ll never this or I’ll never that,” she shares, “because I’m learning that you often just end up where you’re supposed to end up.”

For Jacobs, that meant opening Artichoke Interiors in quaint downtown Holly — and then stumbling upon a sweet little lakeside haven off a dirt road just a few minutes from the shop. The cement block-style home turned out to be the perfect respite for her, especially on summer evenings. Jacobs, who lives in Clarkston, says she loves knowing that if she’s working in the Holly area, she doesn’t have far to go after work to find a peaceful slice of  beauty where she can unwind. Her husband, Chris, and their three grown children also spend a lot of time at the small getaway, which was named Hilltop Cottage by designer/builder Karl Jasinski, who owned and updated the structure before the Jacobses purchased it.

Cottage owner, Dawn Jacobs
The appeal of this cottage is its size and the fact that it’s easy to take care of, says Dawn Jacobs. “I was looking for lakefront property, just a little spot and nothing too big, ”explains the designer, who spotted it on Zillow. Once she stepped inside, she recognized its potential for a sweet little getaway. Working with what the former owner, a builder, had renovated, Jacobs added her own touches to the living room, loft (shown on the magazine’s cover), and kitchen, including everything from timeworn accent pieces to easy-to-maintain furnishings.

“When Karl’s partner was transferred to the Missouri area, they left before ever having the chance to live there,” Jacobs says. “Karl is an amazing designer, both creative and quirky. The house was one room and was being used as a storage unit. Karl put in a small kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, furnace, and loft, making it a livable space.”

Jacobs purchased the cottage and two adjoining lots, which feature a repainted shed, a fire pit with classic Adirondack chairs surrounding it, a new deck, and attractive landscaping replete with lilies, hostas, and irises. This June, Dawn and Chris’ daughter, Hannah, will be married at the cottage.

The kitchen has a working gas Detroit Jewel range, which echos the cottage’s era. She added Swiss dot curtains to allow light but maintain privacy.

The lake is motor-free, which the family prefers. They’ll often jump into a kayak or take out their paddleboards for an evening cruise.

Jacobs spotted the home on Zillow. “I was looking for lakefront property, just a little spot and nothing too big,” she says of her search for a cottage. “When Karl, whom I met after seeing the listing, bought the house it was falling down the hill, so he reinforced the foundation. After we bought it, we added the septic field and completed the trim work.” Jacobs also updated the non-functioning bathroom.

Dawn Jacobs - bathroom
Old country club advertisements hang in the bathroom, which features an upcycled, vintage medicine cabinet/mirror and door. The vanity was built by Holly Hills Primitive.

The history of the home is fascinating. It was originally part of the 1930s Great Lakes Country Club development, an African-American community that offered opportunities for swimming, fishing, tennis, skiing, skating, tobogganing, and more. It was billed as a friendly family neighborhood just 60 minutes from Detroit. “The clubhouse was only open for a short time (from the late 1930s to 1940) before it was destroyed by fire,” Jacobs explains, “but families continued to vacation in the cottages, enjoying the beach and lake.” When it came time for the original owners of the cottages to pass their homes down to their children, many of that generation didn’t want them, Jacobs says, and a lot of the units stood vacant for years (in fact, some are still empty).

Dawn Jacobs - cottage living area and cabinetry
Designer/homeowner Dawn Jacobs. Jacobs added wallpaper (for interest) behind the shelves of the black cabinet (an antique dresser and bookcase).

Today, in Jacobs’ petite retreat on Spring Lake, it’s all about charm and coziness. The flooring, made from wood salvaged from an old barn, screen doors, crisp white paint, and vintage furnishings that mingle with new pieces create an eclectic feel. Open kitchen shelving with simple dishware, a beadboard backsplash, and matte-black task lighting stand out amid touches of red, including an old cart and some red dishes. Aged nature art from Holly antiques shops adorns the walls, while a salvaged drainboard sink and repurposed interior and exterior doors enchant. An abundance of windows makes the home feel open and airy, as does the loft space where the couple sleeps. “I girlied up the loft,” Jacobs says with a laugh. “The downstairs is rustic, so I added crystal lamps, touches of pink, and fur pillows to the bedroom to make it more feminine.” One gets to the loft on a ladder that tucks handily away when not in use. Jasinski added a bathroom and the loft to the once simple, open cement-block house, which today features a peaked roofline and white washed wood on the exterior. On the lower level’s exterior, Jasinski hung sliding barn-style doors and added new lighting. “Karl left a lot of the furniture and I added to it,” Jacobs says, pointing to a resale-shop dresser and an Ikea sofa that pulls out into a bed. Most recently, Jacobs had a garbage disposal and powered blinds installed, and soon she’ll add a washer and dryer in a closet, as the plumbing is ready. She says Jasinski also liked to find castoffs, like the Adirondack chairs and picnic table outdoors. “He power-washed and painted them, and they’re perfect.”

Dawn Jacobs - outdoor seating
Cozy seating areas for enjoying lunch at the picnic table, having a glass of wine on the terrace, or savoring lemonade and toasted marshmallows around the fire pit welcome all.

As a late-afternoon sun casts golden glints on the still water, Jacobs pauses to think about the cottage’s next phase. “We haven’t decided whether to keep it as is, or put on a small addition with a first-floor master bedroom and bath,” she finally says.

But for today, it’s all about living in — and soaking up — the moment. “Our favorite things are the tranquility, the views, and our neighbors. This is a play house, where everyday stresses are left behind. The kids love it. And we’re here all the time. I’ll probably stay tonight,” she says, watching a flock of birds flying over the tranquil lake.

Interior design, Dawn Jacobs, Artichoke Interiors, Holly, Pillows, throws, and rugs, Jaipur Living, Sofa and ceiling lights, IKEA, Canton. Chandelier lamps, Wayfair, Black chairs, New Pacific Direct, White paint, Snowbound, Sherwin-Williams, Red cart, bookcase, and most accessories, vintage finds at local area antiques and resale shops. Custom cabinetry, Holly Hills Primitives, Holly. Exterior plants and perennials, Carlson’s Greenhouse, Fenton, and Lowe’s, Also perennial cuttings from neighbors.