After a few long winters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Florida natives Jason and Leah Holloway were excited to return to the Sunshine State in 2008. They stumbled into St. Augustine and rented an apartment on the beach with Jason’s brother, never intending to extend any roots.
“It was supposed to be temporary,” says Jason, “but we just fell into this great town and didn’t want to leave.”
A year later, the couple purchased a 2,250 square foot home in Davis Shores that met their three most important criteria: a big yard, two home offices, and room for a growing family. As the couple – both mathematicians who work from home – and their new baby, Kellen, settled into the space, they began to make some critical improvements. Out went the astroturf in the master bedroom and the cadre of decorative seashells affixed to the fireplace facade and architectural beams.
Although the Holloways’ budget didn’t allow for the removal of the orange-tinted wood paneling, an unused cedar-lined sauna, and a bizarre, diagonal copper bar, the young family and their eclectic style found a way to turn their house into a home.
Fast forward seven years to October 2016, when a shell-shocked Leah and Jason stood in their sopping wet living room trying to comprehend what Hurricane Matthew had done to their home. “There wasn’t a square inch of this house that wasn’t touched,” says Jason.
After everything was ripped out and Leah had spent days in the crawlspace under the house, scraping the settled sediment from the sewage-tainted floodwaters, the couple and their new contractor, Brian Hanson of West to East Builders, began piecing the house back together.
“Once we got rid of all that orange-ish, pink-ish stuff,” says Leah, “I wanted cool colors that reminded me of river rocks and cool mountain streams.”
From the ground up, the Holloways were guided by that peaceful palette, selecting gray-toned wood floors, white cabinets with marbled white and gray granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and a gunmetal paint hue that runs throughout most of the house.
To keep things from feeling too contemporary, Jason scoured vintage stores for a 50s-era lime and white couch, plus a few other mid-century pieces with warm wood accents. The new master suite with its double-door entry is now complemented by an enormous attached bathroom with a double-headed shower where the sauna used to be. Beyond the bath, a walk-in closet connects to Leah’s favorite hideaway, a combination laundry and craft room where she works on custom leather and wood projects.
At the opposite end of the house, Kellen’s green-walled lair that once served as a separate rental apartment now features its own en-suite bath and closet. Jason’s office next door and a third bathroom connect to Leah’s office tucked in an alcove off the living area. In the kitchen, the couple was inspired by Jason’s parents’ recent remodel and opted for drawers over cabinets, providing easier access for pots, pans, and small appliances.
Of course, any home still needs a little character, and the Holloways have found plenty of places to add their unique flavor. On shelves, walls, and windowsills in nearly every room, there are a smattering of Leah’s best thrift store finds including a collection of animal skulls, a coffin model, and a couple of vintage Ouija boards. “I just can’t believe we get to have this house,” says Leah.
Much of the Holloways’ post-storm renovation was aided by friends and family, including Jason’s bandmate and St. Augustine Amphitheatre director Ryan Murphy, who spearheaded a fundraiser for the family after Matthew. The family also received support from the families of Kellen’s friends who helped watch him during the renovation, from a couple of FHP officers who stopped to help Jason haul debris to the curb for hours, and from strangers who came by handing out barbecue sandwiches and water.
“You can’t replicate that kind of community,” says Jason. “Our roots here grew so much deeper as a result of Matthew.”
“If it wasn’t some of the worst days of my life, it would’ve been the best,” says Leah.
When Hurricane Irma made her approach earlier this fall, the couple’s contractor swung by the house to show them how to seal their doors and crawl spaces with special tape to prevent another flood. As they watched a neighbor’s Facebook livestream during the storm and saw him standing in six inches of water in his own home, they feared the worst but returned to find the tape had held against the flood.
“It’s pretty rare for someone to become friends with their contractor,” Jason says with a laugh. “But Brian and [his wife] Rachael have been so great to us. I mean he could have gotten himself a lot more work if we’d flooded again, but instead, he was here to help us out. That tape is now part of our regular hurricane prep kit.”
On a Saturday afternoon with open windows, an ocean breeze, and Kellen laughing his way through a game of T-shirt tag, it’s easy to see that the nightmare of Hurricane Matthew did not destroy the heart of the Holloway family’s dream.
Photography by Leonard Blush