The Glenside home of Landis and Jennifer Smith is filled with lovely rooms. The vintage 1930s gray stone two-story, with an English hurdle fence surrounding it, even offers a charming hidden garden.
But it's the garage - yes, the garage - that is often most intriguing to visitors. It's where the couple, founders of the critically acclaimed Enchantment Theatre Company, store many of their group's props and puppets. And it is, in its own way, an enchanted space.
"Luckily, this is one of the larger garages in the neighborhood, and it was one of the attractions of the home for us," says Landis, 58. "The theater is very much a part of us, and definitely a part of our household."
No wonder. The Smiths are passionate about their work, and earnestly believe that theater is not just entertaining and illuminating. It also can be transformative for children, and can, in his words, ". . .encourage mystery and magic in their lives."
The couple launched the nonprofit theater company in 1990, after touring the world with their performances built on a foundation of masked actors, pantomime, large-scale puppets, and original music. That imprint remains on Enchantment, which has performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and, locally, at the Kimmel Center, Annenberg Center, and Prince Music Theater. Audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore also have seen the company's original productions.
The current focus is on a highly original and innovative version of Cinderella, which concludes Sunday at the Prince Music Theater.
So it's predictable that the home where the Smiths generate their own dreams for family theater would reflect that creative spirit. Around every corner is a surprise: an alcove, a painting, a special piece of furniture, a burst of color in a rug. It is a home that is irregular in its design, and that's just why the Smiths fell for it. "It was definitely love at first sight," says Jennifer, 61.
The couple rented space in the large Chestnut Hill home of Jennifer's parents as they were establishing their theater company. But when her father died, her mother no longer wanted or needed so much space. So the Smiths began their own house-hunting, and this one, formerly occupied by an architect, ended their search.
The secret garden that runs along the side of the house leads to a well-used family room/den, where pine paneling warms the space and shelves provide a place for books and small treasures. A deep window seat is home to happy plants.
In the dining room, wainscoting horizontally divides the walls, with blue around the lower perimeter and off-white above it. A cherished possession there is the last painting created by Landis' late father, a commercial artist who also was a gifted painter. Its subject: an apple tree.
Throughout the house, there are more reminders of Landis' father, whose diverse artworks include a wonderfully vibrant piece that hangs in the upstairs office the Smiths share. Its subject: the Philadelphia Mummers. A whimsical rendering of a circus is on an opposite wall.
The home office, equipped with two desks facing each other, is command central for the business of running a theater company. Just above it is a small loft space, one where Landis and Jennifer meditate twice a day. They met when Jennifer was leading a meditation class, and Landis was her avid student.
Nearby, the master bedroom is another surprise. In it are toys, puppets, and trinkets the couple collected during years of travel, yet the total effect is one of sophistication and style.
In the Smiths' living room, currently home to an artfully adorned Christmas tree complete with a tiny gingerbread man and miniature stocking, other sides of this creative couple surface. The room reflects their love of color, fine Pennsylvania Dutch crafts, and simple comfort. Prints happily coexist with an Oriental-style rug rich in blues, greens, and golds. A wonderful American craft-style hutch that can become a bench adds interest to a back wall.
A wood-burning fireplace with a rough-hewn stone surround is a focal point of the living room, and above its mantel hangs a richly textured painting of a girl and a cat by the late prominent Chicago artist Lillian MacKendrick. Even with its sweetness of subject, it's an arresting piece.
But back to that Smith garage . . .
Step inside and it's a surreal world of elaborate costumes hanging from walls, storage of props, and, most arresting of all, life-size puppets. They are the Smiths' special treasures, crafted for their shows with meticulous attention to detail, and often with fascinating, and not necessarily beautiful, faces.
For a brief spell, in tribute to Enchantment's current production of Cinderella, the story's fabled stepsisters and the fairy godmother were shown off, and the sisters were even permitted a brief visit in the living room. Charity, the blonde, and Patience, auburn-haired, seemed totally comfortable on the sofa near the fireplace.
"They like coming in from the cold," remarked Jennifer, who obviously enjoys their company.
Thousands of audience members over the years also have enjoyed the company of the company's puppets. The Smiths will be the first to tell you that they love what they do, and that in some ways, it all begins at their double desks in Glenside.