JoAnna Garcia Swisher has only one rule for guests at her Lake Oconee, Georgia, house: “Treat it like your own when you’re here,” she says. “You don’t have to ask for a drink; you can make yourself a snack. I just want you to feel at home.”
The actress and her former professional baseball player husband, Nick, first discovered the spot’s charms when she was shooting a TV series in Atlanta in 2017. “We immediately fell in love,” she recalls of their first trip to the lake community just 85 miles southeast of the state capital. “I’ve been consistently working in Georgia since then, and every time we were here, we’d make sure that we would carve out a little extra time or come early to visit.”
Last year, while JoAnna was filming the second season of Netflix series Sweet Magnolias in nearby Covington, the couple decided to give full-time lake life a try. After just one month of renting a house, they were sold.
“I was commuting in and out of work, no problem; my husband made a million friends; and my daughters were the happiest they've ever been,” says the actress, who is currently shooting Sweet Magnolias’ third season. “I thought, ‘How could I ever deny my family this?’”
The process of finding their own spot on the lake proved equally meant to be. “I started to dabble in the real estate market as I tend to do and found this beautiful home owned by these incredible builders, who are now like family to us, in our community,” JoAnna says. “They were looking [to move], and everything worked out perfectly.”
The house, which she and Nick first saw from their boat, had all the trappings of an idyllic getaway: easy access to the lake, a wide back porch primed for outdoor entertaining, and ample room for visitors to bunk in. “Lake houses tend to fill up with friends and family pretty quickly,” she says.
Even without guests, it’s a full house. The Swishers have two young daughters, Emerson and Sailor, and five rescue pets: a Great Dane, Romeo; a mixed-breed pup, Cooper; a pair of chihuahuas named Lucky and Elsa; and a cat, dubbed Prince Rainbow Sparkle.
The interior’s open layout means the place never feels crowded, just comfortable. “When you’re buying a home that’s built by the builder, you know you’re going to get something unique and wonderful,” notes JoAnna. “It’s so well thought out and has all these special touches.” For example, there’s an oversized island with a high-top dining table attached, a snug nook adjacent to the kitchen that’s all about the fireplace, and sleek steel windows and doors that flood the downstairs rooms with sunlight and sparkling lake views.
In the five months that the Swishers have lived there (they split time between Lake Oconee and Tampa), JoAnna has set about adding her own stamp to the house. Nesting comes naturally to the actress, who took interior design classes at the University of Florida.
“I realized how connected I am to my spaces, whether that be my home, or if I’m settling into a hotel room for an extended stay, or my trailer at work,” says JoAnna. “I lay rugs and hang art in my trailers. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I do.” In 2018, spurred by a desire to share her creative side with a larger audience, she launched a lifestyle blog, “The Happy Place,” highlighting home design projects, festive recipes, and interviews with inspiring women.
The journey to find her “happy place” took on new meaning after the loss of her father in 2019 and then her mother just 16 months later. “I really do believe that happiness is a choice,” she says. “Even in the darkest moments, [I believe in] searching for that glimmer of light. It’s not always easy, but it’s attainable. It's the way that I live my life.”
Now, at her family’s sanctuary on the lake, JoAnna is turning again to that more literal interpretation of the phrase. “I think it’s about telling your story and surrounding yourself with things that mean something, a memory,” she says of creating a joyful home. “There’s no real formula. It’s about you and your family, or whoever occupies the space… It’s the little thing—the trinket, book, picture, whatever it is—that invites you to lean in and look closer and say, ‘Oh, what’s this? What’s that story? What does it mean?’ I think that makes for a happy place—somewhere that is an extension of who you are and what’s in your heart.”
Throughout the Swishers’ house, there are dozens of pieces that point to the people who call it home: colorful pillows and pretty lanterns from Clover by Jo, her home decor line with HSN; a collection of salt and pepper shakers her mother started for her; and fresh sunflowers on an end table, a hopeful display of support for a friend who recently lost her son. The furnishings are elevated and pretty, but they’re also fuss-free and family-friendly. “I didn’t want to worry about wet feet running in from the outside, sticky fingers, or anything that would be too precious,” notes JoAnna. “I chose vintage wool rugs that had years of stories behind them, reclaimed wood, and performance materials. At the end of the day, this house is meant to [be enjoyed]. We have a lively home, and I don’t stress too much about keeping it perfect.”
From the living room’s bouclé-covered swivel chairs to the plush rugs underfoot, it’s clear that the actress and mom has created a soft place for her family to land. It’s impossible to walk past the linen sofa, piled high in throw pillows, and not want to tuck in with a good book or a mug of hot coffee. “All these textiles, the cozies, evoke the feeling of what this place means to me, which is peace and family and a little bit of a simpler life,” says JoAnna.
That slowdown is especially important in the midst of her busy schedule. Christmas with the Campbells, the festive rom-com she stars in alongside Justin Long and Brittany Snow, hits theaters and begins streaming on AMC+ on December 2; Netflix’s Ultimatum: Queer Love reality show, which she hosts, starts streaming the early part of next year; and her Clover by Jo spring collection with HSN rolls out in March.
For now, she’s soaking up the serenity of life on the lake. “The stars are so beautiful here,” says JoAnna. “I find myself taking longer walks and riding my bike after dinner and enjoying this beautiful place. Things become really meaningful and intentional, even if it’s just taking a nap; we’re not bogging ourselves down with the chaos of life. That’s not to say I’m not really busy, but there’s something about being on the lake. We savor the moments more."
Talent: JoAnna Garcia Swisher
Photographer: Crystal Photography
Writer: Betsy Cribb
Prop Stylist: Zoe Gowen
Wardrobe Styling: Olivia Rose for The Only Agency
Hair & Makeup: Christin Cook Zito for The Only Agency
Booking: Talent Connect Group
Art & Design:
Aleza Leinwand, Caitlin-Marie Miner Org, Julia Bohan
Product & Engineering:
Asad Richardson, Emilia Anderson, Jan Cruz, Kat Zhang, Quentin Washington, Shirley LeBlanc, Tyler Stewart
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Read the original article on Southern Living.