Maybe you’ve seen our bright yellow canoe-like rowboat on Lake Carnegie. My husband and I like to launch our Vermont Dory (her name is Buttercup) and row from the boathouse toward the Harrison Street bridge. There’s lots to see even at dusk, after the crew teams are done for the day.
We can always spot at least two herons, a couple of kayaks, and a fishing boat or two. But mostly we ogle the houses, wondering who lives in them. Do they really use their waterfront or do they just look at it? Do they really see it with fresh eyes every day or does it get to be the same old-same old after a while?
Fewer than 70 landowners have waterfront on the western side of Lake Carnegie from Harrison Street to the boathouse near the finish line for the crew racers near Kingston. Some of the homes are expansively rebuilt mansions, like you might see in Annapolis on the shore of the Severn. Some are unpretentiously tucked away behind the foliage, the same size as when they were built 60 years ago. I get a special thrill when I see a for-sale sign sprout at water’s edge. Of course there will be a sign on the other, curb, side, but precious few people will see the one by the dock. It’s like a secret between the lake and me.
Until a couple of years ago, homes overlooking the lake’s watery stage were hardly on the market before someone snapped them up, even at the extra price — half a million more dollars — that waterfront properties command. Often a developer would win a bidding war. Today three are on the market, and that’s unusual. The days are gone when — even with the lakefront — developers can be sure they will get their money back on the deal.
The most affordable house now on the market is at 41 Adams Drive. It has three bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and almost an acre of land. It lists for $1.65 million. Marilyn Durkee of N.T. Callaway describes it as “an authentic mid-century modern house with panoramic views.” Eight sliding doors open out to the wide balcony; the eat-in kitchen has double picture windows and the master bedroom also has the lake views.
According to the listing, it has a second floor addition (a family room with built-ins). An entry with cathedral ceiling leads to the living room, with a fireplace, and dining room. The ground floor — which walks out to the lakefront — can be an independent bedroom suite with a sitting room, bath, and storage area.
For $745,000 more, priced at almost $2.4 million, you get four bedrooms and a terrace with a fountain and a pergola. Built in 1955, this 3,586-square-foot, 13-room home at 551 Lake Drive has been “magnificently updated to take advantage of its spectacular location,” according to Martha Moseley of Henderson-Sotheby’s.
With granite counters and glass-doored cabinets in the kitchen, a flow-through dining room, and a living room with a wood-burning fireplace, it has tall French doors that open onto the brick terrace and three-quarters of an acre, with a lawn and a perennial garden. Also on the first floor are a parlor, an office, and three of the four bedrooms. For this home that is near the Harrison Street bridge, taxes are $44,642 a year.
The most intriguing back story belongs to 156 Philip Drive, which had been built as a three-bedroom, flat-roof contemporary at the end of a cul de sac. Ten years ago the owners of the house next door, at 159 Philip, set out to tear down and build new. They were also afraid something ugly would replace the tear-down house next door. So after Louis Barber rebuilt their own home, they partnered with Barber in 2003 to buy 156 Philip for $1 million and re-do it from the inside out, keeping the first floor deck and doubling the size, using high-end components. It sold for $2.4 million the following year to James and Barbara Majeski.
With 5,400 square feet and a half-acre, including 200 feet of lakefront, 156 Philip has three levels — five bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, two fireplaces, and a luxury kitchen with two Miele dishwashers. High-end items include cherry floors, handmade stone and tilework in the fireplaces and custom baths, radiant floor heating, and — to help offset the $56,765 in taxes — a geothermal heating and cooling system. Tiered terraces and plantings on the half-acre property lead down to the water and the cantilevered aluminum dock.
The Majeskis added some more features, including an ultra-special audio-visual system. Jud Henderson of Henderson-Sotheby’s prices it at $2,575,000.
So what of my eternal question: Does one ever tire of a water view? “It never gets old to me,” insists James Majeski, who says that wherever he has lived, all over the world, each of his homes looked out on a body of water. “The water is vibrant and alive. When you wake up in the morning, you get that shimmer. All the windows back up to the water, and it’s a constantly changing scenario, as pretty as can be.”
So why move? The Majeskis didn’t move out of Princeton, just out of the house. Like the house, the owners have an intriguing story.
Neither Jamie nor Barbara was born to privilege. His father was a truck driver in Philadelphia, and his parents worked two jobs to pay the bills. His first summer job, at age 11, was washing dishes in Wildwood, where he spent the summer with his grandmother. He graduated from St. Thomas College in Florida in 1985 and later earned an MBA from Wharton. After starting several businesses and working in the telecommunications industry, including at MCI, he co-founded a firm in 1994 to offer outsourced feet-on-the-street business-to-business sales teams. Based in California, Cydcor bills itself as the largest face-to-face customer acquisition company in North America.
Majeski says he spent the first 20 years of his adult life focused on a successful career. “Now I’m taking all that energy and passion to focus on being a dad and having a great family.”
Barbara Schwartz Majeski grew up in Plainsboro, where her mother and father struggled to raise two sets of twins. One of her two younger twin brothers has Fragile X disease and was the school district’s first on-site special education student.
“I always knew I had to be successful so I could take care of my brother,” she says. She and her husband are now his legal guardians. After working her way through Towson State (in Maryland) by teaching exercise classes, she started her own marketing firm. Then she joined Cydcor and met her future husband.
When they were married in 2003 Barbara asked for the money that would have been spent on an engagement ring or wedding presents to be channeled to charity. That was the genesis of the couple’s philanthropy initiative, the Majeski Foundation, which has contributed to such causes as pediatric AIDS treatment, camps and schools for those with special needs, and books for a family literacy project. After working last summer on a weeklong medical mission with Operation Smile, she set up a company-wide fundraising effort for Cydcor’s branch offices to help raise money for that charity.
Focused on his family as he is, Majeski explains that they moved from the Lake Carnegie area in order to be near their friends, families with young children in the western section of Princeton. “Even though it might seem like a short distance, 95 percent of our friends are over on the other side,” he says. The house has a play area on the top level of the terrace, but — as with most lakefront homes with sloping lawns — if you wanted to kick around a soccer ball, you’d have to do it in the street.