With wildflowers all around, Houston family finds a vacation retreat in picturesque Chappell Hill

Life was busy for Jon and Emily Goolsby and their three kids. There was work, church, and kids activities, from homework to theater and music, basketball, baseball and track practices and meets.

Days that went 14 to 16 hours of on-the-go action prompted the Spring Valley couple to start looking for a place in the country that could serve as a retreat for them and their extended family and friends.

Already they’d worked with interior designer Cathy Hutton on homes they owned, including their primary home in Houston, and asked for her help, since she and her husband, Robbie Hutton, had purchased and renovated an old bungalow in New Ulm.

Hutton filled that home with color and charm, so the Goolsbys asked her for help finding one. Sometimes she went along with them when they toured houses for sale, but sometimes she vetted the houses before the Goolsbys even drove out to Washington County.

They settled on a 26-acre tract in Chappell Hill with about nine or so acres of woods, a primary home, a guest house and a tiny chapel that’s currently in need of some love.

It’s a picturesque spot with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush popping up here and there in the front yard and the fields around the home. On the way in there are plenty more on 290 or in the fields bursting with spring color along the country roads. Both Washington and Fayette counties are gaining homeowners as Houstonians and other city dwellers look for rural respites.

“You want to give your kids different experiences, so it’s always been a fun idea to let them go roam around in the country instead of a concrete jungle,” said Jon, who operates two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Houston. “We also thought it would be a good investment in terms of putting money into land.”

Both Jon and Emily came to Houston right out of college because of Second Baptist Church. Emily, a Georgia native, had been a counselor at a camp attended by several Second Baptist students. Later a group of the counselors visited Houston and the church and while there, its school offered Emily a teaching job.

Jon came here from Oklahoma after his youth pastor moved here. When Jon went to college, he reached out to the youth pastor to see if the church had any internship opportunities. After two summers as an intern, he was pretty much guaranteed a job after college.

Though he was an accounting major, Jon spent almost four years as a youth pastor at Second Baptist before leaving the post to join Chick-fil-A’s management program, leading him to operate two restaurants here.

The main house was in good shape, but it needed a few changes to get it to vacation-home level. First, an enclosed porch needed improvements so it could be more easily used, and they added a swimming pool and patio to the backyard.

In the living room, built-in window seats as big as twin beds extended into the living room. The Goolsbys had no need for those — so they were removed, along with some built-in cabinets that looked like places for clutter to gather.

The enclosed porch was closed off from the main house and didn’t connect to air conditioning, so it was too hot to use much of the year. They removed the wall that separated it, added a brick floor and a wood-plank ceiling to preserve the “porch feel” and added blue and white furniture that fits into the simple color palette of the home.

A pair of small sofas that once belonged to Emily’s grandparents were reupholstered in blue fabric and a pair of blue highback chairs in an abstract print were placed here, too.

Beige backsplash tile in the kitchen gave way to a blue and white print tile that looks perfect for a country setting.

While the Goolsbys maintains a nice casual traditional style in the city, their country home has a bit more farmhouse flair, since it actually is a farmhouse, even if they don’t grow crops or raise livestock. (Though there has been some discussion of acquiring donkeys after meeting a neighbor’s animals.)

The primary bedroom suite is generous, with a vaulted ceiling and view to the backyard. It’s decked out in blue and white and has a closet so large, Emily wonders how she’ll fill it.

The main house’s guest bedroom is usually grabbed by their 9-year-old daughter Molly, while her older brothers, 14-year-old Will and 11-year-old Mac head to a big upstairs rec room that has several beds for the kids . There’s a TV and sofa up there, too, but Emily says there’s so much for the kids to do in the country that they hardly ever watch it.

The guest house is one Jon refers to as “a grandma’s house” — it’s an older structure that hasn’t had any updates, except for a top-to-bottom coat of new paint. It might be next in line for an upgrade, but they’re also making plans to renovate their 5,000-square-foot barn into a party/event space that includes a couple more bedrooms and bathrooms and a bunk room.

Before they bought this house, Jon rented spaces for work team-building events. Now he can use their property and barn, and he’s brought up to 40 people here at a time. Jon’s family visited at Thanksgiving, and some of Emily’s came for New Year’s.

Their kids love to bring friends with them, and Will and Mac each have brought five or six friends, while Molly frequently brings friends along, too.

During the hot summer they can splash in the pool and in the evening watch movies projected onto the side of the barn. By day, they grab walkie talkies and head to the woods for scavenger hunts.

Will likes to drive around the property in a Polaris and Mac — the big personality in the family — has been known to hop on the John Deere tractor like he owns it.

“(Mac) has a great imagination, so he loves to put on his jeans and a cowboy hat and get on the John Deere and we won’t see him for a couple of hours. It’s a little bit of his therapy and playground. He’s always on an adventure,” Jon said. “I have no idea about the country life, but I have learned about big-old-tractor-therapy. It’s good to get on it and shred a little grass behind you, think about life and take a deep breath.”

Mac, in fact, is the self-appointed caretaker of a small, overgrown chapel on the property. For his birthday he asked for a Weed Eater and a lawn mower so he can clean it up.

Now that the home is furnished, the work is done and the pool’s installed, trips to the country are purely for fun, not to check on the latest project.

“They were here for the whole spring break this year and the kids would go outside and play all day sunup to sundown,” Emily said. “They have nine acres of woods and the kids run around with walkie talkies.”

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