From the October/November 2013 Issue:

A Tree Grows in this Renovation

    Writer: Robin Amster | Photographer: Wing Wong | Interior Designer: La Jolie Maison | Builder: Polo Master Builders | Architect: J. Costantin Architecture | Design Services: Jack Wright | Main Kitchen: Canterbury Design | Secondary Kitchen: Sage Design Studio | Landscape Design: Urban Farms Landscape & Design | Pools: Lehmann Pools & Spas |

A tree house rising out of an indoor pool? That’s just one of the fantasies-come-true in a total home renovation

Article Photo
enlarge | Uncannily true-to-life, the faux tree is crafted of handcarved reinforced concrete that is colored and textured to resemble live trees on the property. It conceals a steel pipe column that supports the tree house. A faux rock out­cropping, also made of hand-carved concrete, contains a waterfall and water slide. LED lighting changes the color of the pool. A staircase leads from the ground-floor swimming pool level to a floor containing exercise equipment. From here a spiral staircase rises to the tree house.
A team of professionals let their imaginations run untamed for the massive renovation of a North Jersey home. Among the results: a three-story addition with a stunning collection of features, including an indoor tree house. This fantasy-turned-reality perches in a faux—but true-to life-looking—tree that rises out of an indoor swimming pool.

The project resulted from a collaboration among talented professionals and a creative client. While most projects of this kind start with the hiring of an architect, this one began when interior designer Laurie Finn of Summit-based La Jolie Maison and builder Roger Polo, principal of Polo Master Builders in Morristown, signed on.

As the scope of the project broadened, Finn and Polo decided to bring in an architect, says Michael Costantin, a member of the American Institute of Architects, who with his brother, Joe, then came onboard. The brothers are principals in J. Costantin Architecture with offices in Morristown and New York City. Vic Lehmann, president of Lehmann Pools & Spas in Mahwah, also played a major role along with several specialist subcontractors and artisans, including Jim Dove of Canterbury Design, who designed the main kitchen; Dean Zisa of Sage Design Studio in Chester, who designed the kitchen and surrounding area in the addition; Mary McBride of Urban Farms Landscape & Design in Franklin Lakes; and Jack Wright of John Wright Designs LLC in Flemington, who provided modified designs for the bedroom level, laid out the basement level and designed some ceilings, built-ins and other features on the main level.

“We specialize in high-end residential projects, and we do a lot of very exciting spaces,” Joe Costantin says. “But this was a high mark for us. A lot of that had to do with the creativity and desires of the client.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the size of the project,” Michael Costantin adds. “We have done houses twice this big. Rather, it’s about the interest and complexity of the project and the willingness of the client to pull out all the stops.”

The client’s wish list led to the design and construction of a nearly 4,100-square-foot addition that includes the tree house, an indoor pool that flows into an outdoor pool, an exercise room, indoor basketball court, indoor barbecue and pizza oven, a full kitchen and bar, a large fish tank and a “cave” room.

The “cave” is as unique as the tree and tree house, Polo says. “You’re never going to see another one, ever, in a residence,” he says. The cave contains a steam room with aromatherapy features, custom Jacuzzi with color-changeable LED lighting, ceiling-mounted body sprays and four speakers for enjoying music.

Article Photo
enlarge | Architects Joe and Michael Costantin were part of the team that undertook a total renovation of the Collegiate Gothic-style house. The project included an addition seen at far left. The front of the addition includes a full basketball court, just one of many unique features.
Starting from Scratch
The project began with the client’s directive to renovate every room in the newly purchased four-bedroom, 10,500-square-foot house. As the plans evolved it became clear the 20-year-old home had significant structural and systems problems.

“It looked like a well-built, custom home but in fact it was built like a development home,” Polo says. The deficiencies included substandard windows, poor framing and flooring, low ceilings, bad finishes, dark interiors and outdated systems.

“The decision was made to take it all the way back to the studs and fix all the problems,” Polo says. New windows were installed throughout the home along with up-to-date technology that includes new HVAC systems, radiant heating, insulation and better lighting.

Several other existing features were “not acceptable” in a house of this scale, Joe Costantin says. Structural changes were made on the second floor, for instance, to raise the ceiling from 8 feet to 9½ feet and to widen a center gallery, he says. “We wanted to make this the type of house we’d design if we were starting from scratch.”

The Costantins say the owner chose to renovate rather than replace the home because current zoning would not have allowed a new structure on the splendid setting close to a private lake.

Article Photo
enlarge | The foyer features extensive moldings and a coffered ceiling designed by Jack Wright and a sophisticated lighting scheme. Designer Laurie Finn chose an Oriental rug in pale celery and beige with persimmon accents for a classic note.
Young and Sleek
The home’s new interiors were envisioned as spaces that would invite all to “come in and sit down,” says Finn, who worked on the project with colleague Mary Divino. “The client is all about family and wanted a home in the best sense of the word,” she says. “The client was definitive in his tastes. One of my biggest issues was to get beautiful Persian rugs, many from Bokara Rug Co. in Secaucus, for an Old World feel.

“But the client is young, and we felt strongly the home should be sophisticated but with a casual slant. He’s not a silk-and-damask kind of person.”

Instead the designers used mohairs and chenilles to establish a warm and tactile environment. They also added moldings and sophisticated lighting along with a color scheme of warm neutral tones.

The end result is a “younger, sleeker look with a rustic overtone,” Finn says.

Article Photo
enlarge | The great room was devoid of moldings or architectural detail before the renovation, but now has a mahogany coffered ceiling and elegant molding. The floor is a quarter-sawn oak; the fireplace, originally wood, was redone in limestone; and the accent is on comfort.
A Unique Idea
The impetus for the addition came from the fact there wasn’t enough space in the basement for a workout room, Joe Costantin says. “The client’s list of what he wanted grew as we started developing the concept for the addition,” he adds. At the dramatic heart of the addition is the tree house, which evolved out of an idea for a kind of lookout room offering views of the pool below and the lake outside. “We thought it would be a great tree fort, and the client loved the idea,” Costantin says. “The tree idea developed from that.”

The tree conceals a steel column that supports the tree house, Michael Costantin says. The trunk and branches are formed by a steel-cage armature. The tree itself is made of handcarved reinforced concrete, colored and textured to resemble trees on the property. Alongside its trunk is a faux rock outcropping—also composed of handcarved concrete and painted to look like stone—that contains a water slide descending into the water, pool designer Vic Lehmann says.

The pool, made of reinforced gunite, is a free-form shape totaling 800 square feet inside and outside, Lehmann says. The finish, a fine-wash exposed stone resembling small pebbles, adds to the natural look.

Lehmann says one of his challenges was to figure out how to incorporate the tree into the design of the indoor pool. “When I heard about putting in a tree, I was intrigued; I love a challenge,” he says. “We’ve done artificial trees before, for instance, a pool with a stump that looks like a tree fell into it. But I’ve never seen a tree coming out of a pool. And I’ve seen a lot of pools.”

Article Photo
enlarge | The design team carried the rustic tree-house look through to this space behind the swimming pool. Exposed wood beams along with reclaimed wood and stone features give it a cabin-like style. This area is chock full of fun and practical elements. At the center is a saltwater aquarium wrapped in reclaimed barn wood. There’s also a stone barbecue and pizza oven, a bar and a fully equipped kitchen with leathered rainforest granite countertops bearing a branch-like pattern. A real tree trunk sits adjacent to the bar for use as a table. Behind the bar are barn-type doors featuring a metal track that can close to hide the television, exposing shelves containing glassware.
Privacy and Seclusion
Landscaping was yet another element of the project. Landscape architect Mary McBride of Urban Farms Landscape & Design in Franklin Lakes says the project was one of her most challenging due to its scope.

The house has an open front yard set back from the street, so her landscape design is aimed at creating seclusion and privacy, McBride says. It includes large evergreens along the front of the property and a wall of plantings. A sequence of seasonal plantings provides color and vibrancy.

The client also wanted to hear water, so McBride added a fountain at the front of the house. It’s surrounded by a planting bed featuring boxwood hedges and seasonal plants.

As Polo says of the entire project: “Something of this magnitude, not only by virtue of its sheer size but by its systems, required double the effort in planning, research and integration.” But the chance to flex their creative muscles made it worthwhile for all the professionals involved.

Robin Amster is a Madison-based writer and editor.


Overall: architecture, J. Costantin Architecture LLC in Morristown and New York City; interior design, La Jolie Maison in Summit; builder and custom millwork, Polo Master Builders in Morristown; pool design, Lehmann Pools & Spas in Mahwah; design services, John Wright Design LLC in Flemington; stone for all fireplaces, International Dimensional Stone in Irvington; landscape architecture, Urban Farms Landscape & Design in Franklin Lakes; structural engineer, Mulhern & Kulp in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Foyer: rug, Bokara Rug Co. in Secaucus; chandelier, Chameleon Fine Lighting in New York City; sconces, Visual Comfort in Houston; staircase banister and custom millwork design, John Wright Designs and Polo Master Builders; iron railings on foyer staircase, International Forge in Irvington; two-sided fireplace, J. Costantin Architecture and Polo Master Builders; center table, owner; floral arrangement, La Jolie Maison. Great Room: rug, Bokara Rug Co.; chairs, Hickory Chair in Hickory, North Carolina with fabric by F. Schumacher in New York City; sofas, Hickory Chair with fabric by Holly Hunt in New York City and Pearson in High Point, North Carolina; coffee table and side tables, Bausman & Co. in Ontario, Canada; wall unit, design by La Jolie Maison and fabricated by Bausman & Co.; table lamps, Visual Comfort; chandelier, Currey & Co. in Atlanta; railings, International Forge; topiary trees and urns, La Jolie Maison. Dining Room: rugs, Bokara Rug Co.; large dining table, designed by La Jolie Maison and made by Bausman & Co.; small dining table, Bausman & Co.; dining table chairs and wing chairs, Hickory Chair; chandeliers and sconces, Fine Art Lighting in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Kitchen and Breakfast Room: cabinetry, custom banquette and fireplace, Canterbury Design in Morristown; countertops, Stone Surfaces in East Rutherford; backsplash and flooring, Mediterranean Tile & Marble in Fairfield; kitchen chairs and stool, Hickory Chair; trestle table, Bausman & Co.; trestle table chairs, Hickory Chair with fabric by Robert Allen in New York City; club chair, Hickory Chair with fabric by Cowtan & Tout in New York City; light fixtures, Visual Comfort; beams, Polo Master Builders; accessories, La Jolie Maison. Library: rug, Bokara Rug Co.; desk, Maitland-Smith in High Point, North Carolina; leather sofa, Whittemore-Sherrill; chairs in front of fireplace, Century Furniture in Hickory, North Carolina with fabric by Kravet in Bethpage, New York; chandelier, sconces and desk lamp, Visual Comfort; antique books, La Jolie Maison; fireplace, J. Costantin Architects and Polo Master Builders; ceiling and beaming, John Wright Design. Theater: rug, Webster Carpet and Rugs; theater design, Performance Imaging in Stamford, Connecticut; custom sofa, Sherrill Furniture in Hickory, North Carolina; coffee table and entertainment cabinet, Woodbridge Furniture in High Point, North Carolina; sconces, Visual Comfort; theater seats, La Jolie Maison; acoustical engineering, SoundSense in East Hampton, New York. Master Bathroom: tile, Mediterranean Tile & Marble with tile and medallion design by La Jolie Maison; sink and tubs, Hardware Designs Inc. in Fairfield; custom cabinetry and woodworking, Polo Master Builders. Child’s Room: rug, Masland Carpets & Rugs in Saraland, Alabama; bed, Stanley Furniture in Stanleytown, Virginia; bedding, La Jolie Maison; train, The Train Station in Mountain Lakes; train track and installation, Polo Master Builders; window treatment, Custom Creations in Mountainside with fabric by Duralee in Bayshore, New York; custom cabinetry and wainscoting, Polo Master Builders. Child’s Bathroom: tile, Mediterranean Tile & Marble with design by La Jolie Maison; countertop, Stone Surfaces; sconces, Visual Comfort; woodworking, Polo Master Builders. Billiards Room and Bar: rug, Webster Carpet and Rugs in Cherry Hill; barstools, Maitland-Smith; pool table, owner. Basketball Court: design, J. Costantin Architecture; custom design court, floor and lighting, Polo Master Builders; sound system, Performance Imaging; wood ceiling and sound environment, SoundSense. Tree and Swimming Pool Area: pool, Lehmann Pools & Spas; waterfall, water slide, stone­work on stairs and pool surround, stair rails in pool area, Waterfalls of Wisconsin in Brookfield, Wisconsin; trusses, beams, ceilings and tree-house material, South­end Building Products in Cornelius, North Carolina; ceiling lights and sconces, Murray Feiss in New York City. Tree House Interior: overall design, J. Costantin Architecture; wood chandelier, Currey & Co.; rug, Masland Carpet & Rugs; bean bag chair, owner. Kitchen, Informal Dining Area (Aquarium and Bar) and Sitting Area in Addition: aquarium, Okeanos Aquascaping in New York City; custom cabinetry around aquarium, custom bar and kitchen, Sage Design Studio in Chester; bar stools, Flat Rock Furniture in Waldron, Indiana; custom table, The Phillips Collection in High Point, North Carolina; lights over bar, Murray Feiss; reclaimed wood flooring, Tri Star Flooring in Kenilworth; custom beams, Polo Master Builders. Bathroom in Addition: cabinetry, Sage Design Studio, tile, Mediterranean Tile & Marble with design by La Jolie Maison; sinks, faucets and shower, Hardware Designs Inc.; sconces, Murray Feiss; mirror, Roost Home Furnishings in Sausalito, California; “Cave”: Waterfalls of Wisconsin and Lehmann Pools & Spas.

Download the complete resource guide with contact information (pdf)