Big house, many people: man builds home for entire family, friends

- How often do you see your siblings and your extended family. One Houston man says most relatives don't spend enough time together so do you know what he did? The story behind this mansion is just about as stunning as the home itself.

“I built this house for not just my immediate family but for my extended family including friends,” Reggie Van Lee said.

Reggie Van Lee was a performer in the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.  He recently retired as an Executive Vice President at a Houston consulting firm. He moved out of his home in River Oaks after building this 20,000 square foot estate for himself, his three sisters and their families.

“There's a hair salon for my sisters.  The pool is for the grandkids,” Van Lee said.

“This kitchen was designed for this house by my wife TJ,” Mark Szafarz said. He’s married to Reggie’s sister. “It's fun. We each have our own spaces. So we can see each other as often as we want.”

That's why the 59-year-old says he built this house so their family could make many memories together.

“As much as people say ‘oh that's so nice of you to do this for your sisters.’  They have no idea the joy I get,” Van Lee said.

“Well this is my favorite room,” Carolyn Lee Conner, Van Lee’s sister said.  It's a small church inside the house.
The wing of the home sort of resembles a fancy apartment building hallway.  Doors lead to private living quarters.

“My front door is red,” Lee Conner said. “It's beautiful.  I love it. We each have a kitchen.  We have a living room.  We have a washer dryer area.  We have two bedrooms.  One master and guest and each of those have separate bathrooms.”

You arrive at the master suite on a separate side of the home.  There is a picture of Reggie with Rosa Parks, one with President Clinton and a photo with former first lady Michelle Obama.

The unconventional family man worked with the Clinton Foundation, was appointed to a couple of committees by President Obama and got the idea to build a family estate when he was invited to the Kennedy compound by Caroline Kennedy.

“And in 1976 this little black boy from Sunnyside said I'd like to have a family compound someday,” Van Lee said.

In case you're wondering, the benevolent brother isn't the only one picking up the tab. His oldest sister Carolyn for instance is a retired HISD educator and still teaches at an area college.

“We all contribute to the pot of money that covers the food, housekeeper, groundskeeper, utilities,” Van Lee said.

And they're talking about it in hopes of encouraging other families to follow suit, even if on a smaller scale.

“I think if we did more of that we would have more happiness in the world and a lot less tension,” Van Lee said.

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