Antebellum style meets seaside sensibility at San Leon home
Gary and Nina Jones’ 1.5 acres of waterfront property in San Leon was a blank slate just waiting for its dream home.
When the time came for the couple to get serious about building, they began brainstorming.
“We had taken a road trip to the Carolinas several years ago and made note of the things we liked about the Southern architectural design of the houses,” Nina Jones said.
Because Gary and Nina agree on architectural style and because her favorite movie is “Gone With the Wind,” they decided to build their version of Tara — the plantation used as the setting in the novel and film — but with a coastal vibe.
They worked with Clear Lake-area architect Robert Bryan and Bacliff builder Chuck Jardina. The process took about three years and was completed in 2008.
They had a three-car garage apartment built first so they could live on the property to oversee construction. After the main house was finished, crews built two other structures — a combination workshop/sewing room and a small mini-plantation for Eva Jo, the family’s yellow Labrador retriever.
The impressive two-story main house, with sweeping front steps, wraparound porch, antebellum columns and barrel roof balcony is hidden behind a long, curved driveway and gated entrance. The back of the house mirrors the front in architectural design.
The open-concept interior with cherry hardwood flooring, arched openings and columns galore pay homage to the Southern plantation design, while accents of seashells, driftwood, model sailboat replicas and paintings of rowboats set the coastal tone.
Transom windows, in every room of the house to allow for gentler breezes, were a must.
So was custom-built cabinetry.
“I wanted all the built-ins to look like grand pieces of furniture,” she said.
After showing a photo to her carpenter, he complied, building all structures out of cherry hardwood, finished with a cherry stain. The only exceptions are the Shaker-style kitchen cabinets painted white with glaze overlay.
The roomy kitchen with a picture window and 11-foot-long island provide a pleasant spot to sit and enjoy the morning sun while drinking coffee. The island’s countertop is the same cherry hardwood as the flooring. Nina Jones’ very first Betty Crocker cookbook is within easy reach — she still uses it — and treasured place settings of china and crystal, from both sets of grandmothers and in-laws, are brought out for special occasions.
The walls of the downstairs guest bedroom are covered with signal flags and photos of the couple’s three sons. The photos are framed and hanging on ropes from an old wooden oar. The tiny first swimsuits worn by the couple’s two grandchildren are displayed in the adjoining guest bathroom.
Opposite the guest room is Gary Jones’ office, where he keeps several mementos and photos of military ancestors as well as a curio cabinet holding reminders of his own U.S. Navy career. A photo of Gary’s grandfather, Anthony Russo, one of the original founders of the Houston Symphony, sits on a shelf.
A wall full of family wedding photos leads to the master bedroom and bath where blue-green colors of the sea and a mermaid lamp blend right in with two antique “Mr. and Mrs.” cane chairs that belonged to Gary’s grandparents. A canopy of mosquito netting drapes over an enamel cast iron, claw-foot soaking tub, adding a romantic touch to the master bath.
A massive hand-painted, floor-to-ceiling mural surrounds the walls enveloping the curvy stairway leading to the second floor. Local artist Gary Holman painted the nautical scene depicting the palm trees growing in the backyard.
Family photos reveal Nina Jones’ proud Italian heritage and her “Gone With the Wind” memorabilia that includes character dolls of film stars Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, the movie poster and a framed black and white photo of Nina’s mother standing outside the theater where she saw the film’s premiere.
The many family gatherings at the house usually revolve around water activities. Rowboats, sailboats, a kayak, fishing poles and life jackets of all sizes are easily accessible and stored under the house’s pier and beam foundation.
The family also acts as host to the Knights of Columbus yearly picnic gathering; a commercial kitchen beneath the garage apartment makes it possible to feed as many as 150 people.
The building housing the workshop/sewing room provides plenty of space for the couple’s hobbies.
“Gary likes to build and repair things, and I like to sew,” said Jones, who has a collection of old dress patterns on display as well as her wedding gown and gold lamé 11th grade prom dress.
Although there are so many things the Joneses love about their house, the wraparound porch is among their favorites.
“It’s nice to sit out here when it’s raining,” Nina Jones said. “We love our view, plus with the covered porch going all the way around the house, we don’t get wet.”