Young family builds traditions in old island home
Penny enthusiastically answers the door at her historic Avenue O home on Galveston Island. Once satisfied that she has issued a proper welcome, the 1-year-old Labrador retriever mix leads the way down the 144-year-old entry hallway boasting one of Galveston’s six suspended grand staircases, past a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and out to the kitchen where other holiday preparations are underway.
Penny shares her home with Jocelyn and Derron Cook and their daughter and son, 8-year-old Charlotte and 4-year-old Sawyer, one of the growing number of young families discovering that older homes can offer an ideal setting for modern lifestyles.
“With two young children, we wanted a home in which we could build our own special traditions,” said Jocelyn Cook, a fourth-generation Galvestonian whose forebears were among the island’s founding families.
“An older home such as this is ideal, especially for Christmas,” Cook said.
Today, despite its chronological age, the old residence feels young, fresh and vibrant. Since buying the house in March 2014, the Cooks have concentrated on transforming its earlier, more staid Victorian ambience to a home appropriate for a modern family with growing children.
With the assistance of Loren Shabot, the wife of one of Jocelyn Cook’s childhood friends and, serendipitously, also an interior designer, the home’s earlier color scheme of dark, dramatic reds and yellows has been replaced with a neutral palette of white, cream, ash and gray. Heavy draperies have been ditched for clean-lined shutters and shades, and in the place of period-perfect 19th century furnishings, there’s now an eclectic mix of old and new, family heirlooms and children’s treasures.
Despite the dramatic changes, the Cooks also have been committed to honoring the home’s architectural integrity and history. Built in 1872, the residence has withstood not only a fire and several major hurricanes, but also a relocation on its lot. The passage of time presented its greatest threat, however. As with so many of Galveston’s older homes, it later fell on difficult times and was even converted into a duplex before an intensive restoration effort, which resulted in it being included on the Galveston Historical Foundation’s homes tour in 2005.
Today, the home is entering yet another era as Derron Cook’s surfboards and a child-size easel and other toys become as important a part of its identity as the antique woodwork, fireplaces and Swarovski crystal chandeliers.
In a deft mix of old and new throughout, the entry hall has been updated with the addition of a fuchsia settee, wainscoting, bell-shaped pendant lighting fixtures and a teal and silver grass cloth wall covering. The Cooks added crown molding to the living room, where a scalloped cowhide area rug abuts an elegant, vintage fireplace. The dining room includes a mix of eclectic furnishings and a glass-fronted cabinet — original to the home — that holds the couple’s Waterford wedding china. They converted a butler’s pantry into a palm-tree themed coffee bar, and the family room was treated to built-in bookcases, faux bois wallpaper and furnishings in lush tropical colors.
In the kitchen, a vintage cabinet provides a sculptural touch to an otherwise modern design that includes a custom-designed milk glass chandelier by Ro Sham Beaux, sparkling glass wall tile, stainless steel appliances, and a farmhouse-style sink. As the owner of a commercial building design company, however, Derron Cook feels the room’s most outstanding feature is the Caesarstone countertop he describes as an ultimate homework desk and project workbench that has even survived the accidental spillage of surfboard epoxy.
Upstairs, there are more surprises. A Hugglepod hanging tent graces each of the children’s bedrooms, and a highlight of the master bedroom suite is a luxurious split-level bath area featuring an oversize oval tub and other fixtures framed with an innovative variety of creative tile treatments.
Although Jocelyn Cook describes her new-old home as still very much a work in progress, she has no regrets.
“It’s almost like another child,” she said. “Every day is an adventure — there are growing pains but great rewards, too.”
Derron Cook is a little more direct.
“If we were to ever move, it would be difficult to duplicate the space and light we have here,” he said. “In comparison, most so-called modern houses now feel like boxes.”