Extreme Renovation on Gladwyne Home

Once owned by M. Night Shyamalan, property features a three-story treehouse.

Plants thrive in the custom greenhouse.

resources  design/build construction: Chase Building Group, Doylestown, (215) 230-0330, www.chasebuildinggroup.com
landscape design: Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, 119 E. Lafayette St., Norristown, (610) 239-7601, www.simonecollins.cominterior design: Wright Design, Philadelphia, (215) 242-3149, www.wright-design.net. custom millwork: Staack Moore Woodworking, Philadelphia, (215) 425-4345, www.staackmoorewoodworking.com.

When it comes to high-end renovations, Matthew Seip is accustomed to hearing a litany of requests from clients. But one couple actually took him by surprise with their one-of-a-kind wants for their 13,000-square-foot mansion—a place once owned by Hollywood director M. Night Shyamalan, a well-known Main Liner.

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“They certainly wanted something with a unique character that distinguished their house from others,” says Seip, vice president of Chase Building Group. “The signature for a lot of the things we did involved two key elements: their children and plants.”

The eight-year-old residence was hardly in need of major updates. But the owners, who purchased the property in 2008, wanted it to reflect their style. At the heart of the 3,000-square-foot interior addition: a greenhouse, a conservatory, a spiritual center and one special outdoor amenity. “We drew on natural inspirations, and took care to thoughtfully connect spaces, both indoors and out,” says Seip of the three-and-a-half-year renovation.

a place for kids (and adults)

Before any substantial interior work began, a plan was devised for an unusual addition: a custom-designed treehouse. Set in the back of the home’s sprawling grounds, the towering, three-level structure looms impressively among the trees. 

Designed by architect Scott Larkin and built by Lancaster County Timber Frames. Made of durable Ipe wood and Spanish cedar, it draws its inspiration from a Japanese paper lantern. The elaborate result is certainly nothing like what most of us remember about tree houses. It has a mechanical drawbridge, a roof hatch, a rope-and-pulley system, even electricity for the two mini-fridges. 

Motorized screens provide shade and privacy, and there’s a poker table for adults. A zip line may be coming in the future.

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Left to Right: The rear of the home; intricate millwork, dramatic architectural details and a few life-size stuffed animals add plenty of personality to the family room; a Japanese paper lantern inspired the design of the treehouse

outer peace

Dubbed the “Monk’s Walk,” a gravel path leads from the tree house to a pond with a waterfall and a stream powered by solar pumps. Prior to construction, Seip partnered with landscape architect Sarah Leeper to reconfigure most of the outdoor areas. “Overall, it just wasn’t a healthy landscape,” he says, citing poor soil conditions. 

The team added more than 80 trees and 125 shrubs. Other improvements include an infinity pool with upper and lower spas, and a restaurant-grade outdoor kitchen with stainless-steel appliances. A cabana area boasts an expanse of folding-glass doors with retractable screens. Elsewhere, a wine cellar holds 1,900 bottles. There’s also a full fitness center. 

greenhouse effect

The owners’ passion for orchids led to the greenhouse, a dynamic structure filled natural beauty. The Hindu “om” symbol is featured in the building’s stained-glass panes, and a lotus design is found in the Artesano iron details. 

State-of-the-art technology keeps the place running smoothly, with touch-screen controls for heating, cooling, ventilation and irrigation. There’s also a custom-treated, high-pressure fogging system, along with a low-pressure drip-irrigation system.

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Rare Sapele is incorporated throughout the structure. “It’s an extremely durable wood to sustain the elements of what ultimately is a pretty intense environment,” Seip says. “It’s also a more responsibly harvested wood.” 

Adjacent to the greenhouse, a conservatory provides a meditation area. The space has an 18-foot ceiling and 64 glass panels, and it’s dominated by a 600-gallon, octagonal pond made of Jerusalem stone. Koi and various other fish glide through the vegetation. Aquarium glass on four corners of the pond and colorful underwater LED lighting effectively spotlight all the underwater activity. 

The conservatory’s pièce de résistance: a Louis Poulsen artichoke chandelier that hangs above the pond. The lighting fixture is a customized Poul Henningsen design. “We knew the space needed something special to anchor it,” says Seip. “So we had it finished with the copper coating as a way to bring the exterior elements inside.”

All in all, Seip appreciates the team effort that went into such an extensive project. “It was inspiring to work with homeowners who were that hands-on,” he says. “They always challenged us to rise to the occasion.” 

That said, the completed renovation still amazes Seip. “When I’m on the property now, the thing I’m always struck by is everything coming into bloom—that’s something you don’t experience as you develop it,” he says. “To actually see the design and execution in each season is really rewarding.”

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