A Modern Gilded Age Renovation on Jekyll Island

The historic hotel in Georgia’s Golden Isles shines bright again

A light-filled cottage with wood beams, a fireplace, and printed furniture

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

The team at Waldrop + Nichols painted and stained existing wood features to lighten up darker tones in spaces like this one in Crane Cottage. “I think that helped to bring everything to life because it made it feel fresh,” she says, “but they are also the colors that were selected in the historical palette.”

In the late 1800s, the country’s richest families, including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, and Astors, began traveling south to spend their winters at the Jekyll Island Club off the coast of Georgia. They hunted, went fishing, and relaxed.

The Club opened as a private hunting club in 1888 and was touted as “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Visitors reached it by boat. Over time, the owners built a clubhouse, and eventually members such as J. P. Morgan built their own “cottages” (mansions, really). 

A few firsts happened at the Jekyll Island Club: A meeting of the First-Name Club drafted the modern-day Federal Reserve. The first transcontinental phone call took place from the Club (with President Woodrow Wilson and Alexander Graham Bell on the line). And the USGA used the island as a testing ground for new equipment, essentially shaping golf into the game we know and play today. 

World War II brought island life to a halt, and in 1948 the State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island from the Club and opened it to the public as a state park. After decades of neglect, the Club was revived and re-opened as a hotel in 1987. 

Now under the Noble House Hotels & Resorts ownership, Jekyll Island Club Resort is fresh off an extensive refresh of its guest rooms, three historic cottages, public spaces, and grounds. The ownership group tapped the Dallas-based Waldrop + Nichols studio to oversee the renovations. 

“When there’s a historic project, there also comes a sense of responsibility,” president Andrea Waldrop says. She and her team immersed themselves in the history and natural elements of the island and pored over historical records and books for inspiration. “It really is like stepping back in time,” she says. “We didn’t want to lose any of that. There tends to be this stereotype that [Jekyll] is luxurious and sparkling, and it’s really not—the island is very natural, so it was important not to be glitzy and glamorous and stay true to its origins.”

The four-year refresh and restoration project began in 2019, and the Jekyll Island Club is now ready for the world to see it anew. Here is an exclusive peek inside.

A beach and boardwalk; there is a purple and yellow sunrise

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

The ten miles of unspoiled beach remain a constant draw at the Jekyll Island Club.


The inside of a guestroom with a couch, candle, coffee table, and painted mural wall with leaves

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

Waldrop says decorating challenges in South Georgia include heat and humidity, so rather than using historically traditional patterned wall coverings, she and her team designed oversized murals, like this one in a cottage. “Murals were one way that we could introduce some pattern without having to worry about wall coverings,” she explains.


A room with wood floors, a curved closet, rattan chairs, and a yellow seat

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

Patterns and textures are also found throughout the guest rooms and public spaces through rugs, headboards, and furniture, like these wicker and rattan pieces.


A room with navy chairs, window trim, and a fireplace

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

The team installed shutters in all of the guestrooms and designed oversized headboards with bold patterns. Patterns were a big part of décor during the era in which the Club was built.


A bedroom with a curved dresser and a large headboard with floral illustrations

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

“Jekyll Island is such a botanical paradise, and we wanted to bring that in,” Waldrop says. “We pulled a lot from the flowers and fauna from the island and wove those into the large headboards.”


A porch with branches and spanish moss and rocking chairs

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

The front porch at the Clubhouse continues to be one of the resort’s most popular spots. 


A grand dining room with horse patterns on the carpet and tables

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

The inspiration for the custom-made carpet in the Grand Dining Room harkens to the hunting club days, when there were a lot of stables and horses. “To story-tell through that carpet pattern, we introduced a strong equestrian theme with some of the squirrels and the broad-winged hawks to make it authentic,” Waldrop says.


A pool with white umbrellas and a blue tent and a sky with pink clouds

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

The Clubhouse has a historic pool and new cabanas.


A lobby with dark brown stairs, blue seats and rugs, and a door with stained glass

Photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort

“I think historical projects always have a place in my heart because of the layering that you can introduce in textures and colors,” Waldrop says. “That story they have, it’s almost a continuation of a design rather than something that’s really started from scratch. That story exists—it’s rich and it’s real and it’s authentic.” This is the refreshed lobby in San Souci, a six-unit building constructed by J.P. Morgan in 1896 and widely considered one of the first condominiums in the country.