Rather than move into a senior living community, a Houston man decided to build a 20,000 square foot mansion in the country. And he moved his extended family in with him!
Reggie Van Lee retired at age 59 after working for Houston consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton for 32 years. But the idea to build the communal compound came to him as an undergrad at MIT in Boston.
As a college sophomore, Lee had the opportunity to visit the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port as the guest of Caroline Kennedy. He decided in that moment he would one day build one for his family. This came as no surprise to his sister. "When Reginald starts a project, everyone knows at some point it will come to fruition," Tommye Szafarz said. "Once he sets his mind on a project, it is going to happen."
Lee built the home on land that has been in his family since 1899. The sprawling, 300-foot wide one-story was designed by architect John Sullivan of the firm Sullivan, Henry, Oggero and Associates. It boasts plenty of privacy for Lee and his husband of six years whose living quarters sit on the north side of the house.
His sisters—Carolyn Connor Tommye and her husband Mark, and Anita Lee--each have "casitas" on the south side of the house that are connected by gallery-style hallways and spacious common areas. This layout lends itself to impromptu gatherings whenever they like. "I built this house for not just immediate family, but for my extended family including friends," Lee explained to Fox 26 News.
The decor is the handiwork of interior designer Phillip Sheffield who has a knack for showcasing Lee's love for art and affinity for a neoclassical aesthetic. Throughout the expansive estate, you will find paintings and sculptures created by Black artists accented by pieces that once belonged to Lee's longtime friend, Gianni Versace.
But even with all of the fancy trappings of a life well-lived, the most important thing is that the family is together. "That is my mother's influence," Tommye said. "She taught us that all you have is your family, and you have got to stick together. It was very important to her, and that's why we do it."