Man builds 20,000-square-foot mansion for family in Wharton

WHARTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Do you love spending time with your family, but still want your own space?

A Houston man decided to put his family of four sisters, their kids and grandkids under one roof. He says it keeps them close-knit, without being too close.

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Go inside mega mansion man built for his family

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Go inside mega mansion for Wharton family

Reggie Van Lee loves huge parties and family gatherings, and that's why he built a 20,000-square-foot house in Wharton.

Their table is so large, it can fit 50 people.

"Family's always been so important to us," Van Lee said. "My father and mother both were keen on family, nuclear family, extended family.

The home is a long way from Sunnyside, where he grew up as the only boy in a brood of girls.

He loved math and science, and ended up at MIT, and then Harvard.

PHOTOS: Inside the Wharton family compound

While living in Boston, Van Lee met Caroline Kennedy when a mutual friend was invited to the Kennedy compound.

"You can imagine how excited I was to go there, and I met Rose Kennedy, and it was just amazing," Van Lee said. "But seeing the family all together in that context, I thought, 'Wow, wouldn't it be something if we did something like this?'"

He took a job as a consultant living and traveling around the world. But family always came first.

He hoped to build a home for his parents. They died before he could. But his mother left him a plot of land in Wharton.

"The notion of the Kennedy compound and all this land came together in a really great way," Van Lee said.

The sprawling house has long hallways filled with art collected from around the world.

Each wing is a casita or small apartment. Sister Anita's casita has purple in every hue.

"We were all allowed to do our places as we wanted to," Anita said. "He gave us pretty much free reign."

Topping Carolyn's wish list was a massive closet to keep her entire wardrobe in one place. Her shade of choice is red.

For sister Tommye & her husband Mark, it was all about designing the huge kitchen.

"That's the most important thing is that we're all together, and if someone needs something, at least one of us can be able to help."

One sister didn't live to see this place finished, but she's got her own place here, too - the chapel.

Another special spot for the sisters is their own beauty shop.

His niece comes out to do their hair weekly.

Van Lee's suite has its own gigantic bathroom and closet.

"Hand carved," Van Lee says.

His bedroom showcases exotic furniture, cherished artwork and an explosion of Versace. And he says you don't need a mansion to stay together.

"At the end of the day, family is all you really have to count on," he said.

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