Friendswood retirees create a ‘great room’ where they cook and entertain
Looking for what they hoped would be a quieter way of life, Tom and Kathye Epley moved from the Galveston area to Huntsville. They made the move just after retiring from the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was director of information technology and she was a manager in radiation oncology.
But they quickly found themselves homesick for the Texas Gulf Coast.
“Once we got there and settled into our new home, however, we discovered that things were a little too quiet, plus I missed the water,” Kathye Epley said.
And thus began another chapter in the couple’s life, which involved building the home of their dreams in
Friendswood and returning to the coastal region that continued to tug at their hearts.
Today, in addition to enjoying being back in Galveston County, the couple is delighting in their new Friendswood home, and especially introducing visitors to a somewhat unusual aspect of its design.
“We don’t have a kitchen — we have a giant open space in which we cook,” Tom Epley said as he led the way into an arena-sized room of almost 1,000 square feet.
Almost cathedral-like in feeling, with ceilings nearly 17 feet high and two banks of large windows, the home’s “great room” supports a plethora of purposes. A dual access bar area on one side flows into a full suite of professional-grade culinary appliances, while across the way, luxurious leather seating surrounds a vast fireplace.
The room is arranged to provide unobstructed viewing of the two big screens linked to the home’s state-of-the-art entertainment system, a feature Tom Epley unapologetically describes as being “very important.” And, as if one “un-kitchen” weren’t enough, an attached outdoor area includes a large stainless steel-faced fireplace, hooded grill, refrigerator, sink and dining area.
“This is the fourth house we have built, and each one has been better than the last as far as fitting our lifestyle,” Tom Epley said.
The “great room” concept works well for entertaining, too, he said.
“When people get together today, the cooking and whatever else is going on in the kitchen tends to become a part of the party — this is true even when the event is not taking place in an open-concept house,” he said. “In our home, however, everyone is always ‘in the kitchen’ and front-row-center for conversation and fun.”
Including a free-standing work island topped with a slab of spectacularly veined granite so massive it took six workers to get it into the house, the food-preparation zone features furniture-grade cabinetry crafted of solid wood with paneled insets, decorative carved columns and crown moldings. Custom-sized drawers pull out to reveal a chef’s delight of cooking utensils and other supplies and equipment. And angled insets at the base of the cabinets provide a stylish merger with the unusual wood-grained porcelain tile flooring.
Appliances include a Frigidaire refrigerator-freezer combination containing more than 36 cubic feet of state-of-the-art cold storage. There’s also a push-button garbage disposal and Bosch dishwasher, microwave and conventional and convection ovens. A custom-built range hood hovers above a six-burner Thermador cook top and pot filler faucet, backed with an intricately worked, rough-finish tile backsplash.
Such large rooms are not without challenges, however. Tom Epley credits Adam Hill, president of Sterling Builders, with providing the architectural and engineering expertise to ensure stress factors related to the wide ceiling span were safely and securely addressed. Kathye Epley also is appreciative of Hill’s follow-through.
“He treats any house he builds like it’s his own, and he doesn’t just leave you when it’s done,” she said. “If you have any issues, they are taken care of quickly and efficiently.”
Upon moving in, the Epleys discovered that big rooms also can bring the unexpected when it comes to furnishings. Many of the items that worked so well in their previous home now looked like doll furniture in this much larger space. Now, scale-appropriate Ethan Allen bar stools, chairs and breakfast table grace the area, along with an Ethan Allen china cabinet from their Huntsville home that was declared a keeper.
The room’s decorative items are largely the result of the Epleys’ travels, which have included spending extensive time exploring the western United States, Europe and more exotic locations such as Taiwan, Singapore and New Zealand.
In what the couple refers to as their “Australia Hall,” a framed boomerang is centered among other mementos of the time they spent down under. A portrait-style photo of a Tibetan monk lives happily among Southwestern-themed pieces by Elena Nevado, Daryl Howard, Carol Grigg, Howard Terpning and Rance Hood.
To stretch their art budget, the Epleys have accompanied an investment-grade print by George Molnar with a collection of small, inexpensive postcards featuring copies of his work.
Other keepsakes include a framed menu from the couple’s favorite, but now closed, restaurant in Las Vegas; a quilt hanging created and given to Kathye Epley by well-known local quilter Holly Howard; and a collection of vintage Limoges china, a bequest from a now-deceased friend who entrusted Kathye Epley with its safe-keeping.
“I guess it must be known that we don’t throw items away just because they’ve been with us for a while,” Tom Epley said. “We just move things around until we find another place for them — and sometimes that may even mean building a new house. This home may be the last, however. It’s pretty close to perfect, and there’s nothing here you can’t get to in a wheelchair.”
As might be expected of native Texans — he’s from Brownwood and she was born in Galveston — Tom and Kathye Epley do a lot of outdoor grilling. But they also enjoy baking breads, cakes, pies and cookies, for which they have included a favorite recipe here. Published under several different names and with numerous variations in methodology, the basic recipe is usually attributed to former First Lady Laura Bush.
Yields: About 48 cookies
11⁄2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
11⁄2 cups white granulated sugar
11⁄2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups uncooked “old-fashioned” rolled oats
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a heavy duty electric mixer, beat butter at medium speed about 1 minute. Add white and brown sugars and beat about three minutes until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat in thoroughly.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, being sure all dry ingredients are evenly distributed. Gradually add dry to wet ingredients, mixing until combined.
Stir in rolled oats, then chocolate chips, coconut and pecans, combining well after each addition.
For each cookie, drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake 13 to 17 minutes, or until lightly golden.