When Marina Shevelev was a schoolgirl in Moscow she sketched houses in her notebooks whenever she was bored. Her husband, Michael Shevelev, also a native of Russia, spends his spare time in his garage, working on carpentry projects. An accomplished woodworker, he is modestly proud of having recently heard that an article he submitted to "Fine Woodworking" magazine has been accepted. "Building is in our blood," says Shevelev.
The couple have taken money they have accumulated – "not so easy for poor immigrants," says Marina Shevelev – and have formed a residential building company, Princeton Development Associates LLC. (www.princetondev.com). Their first project, a 4,600 square-foot custom home ("more like 5,000 if you count the small media room downstairs") is nearing completion at 487 Princeton-Kingston Road, just a few hundred yards north of Snowden Lane, is about to go on the market.
While an exact asking price has not yet been determined, Michael Shevelev says that it will probably be about $2.8 million. The home, which has four bedroom suites, each with its own full bath, two more half baths, and three masonry fireplaces, cost more than $300 a square foot to build.
Going for a home with charm as well as every modern convenience, (there is, for example, a 15-zone sprinkler system at the ready to keep the 70 new trees and "tons" of carefully-chosen plants happy) the couple took a trip to the Cotswolds to study country homes before finalizing plans for their first spec house. The noticed, for example, that Cotswold cottages do not have paved driveways, but rather use fine stone. Therefore, this house has an apron of Belgian block that gives way to fine stone as the driveway approaches the house.
"Everything is custom – everything," says Michael Shevelev. The copper lighting on the house’s exterior was made by David John, the craftsman who made the lighting in Palmer Square. The exterior brick is oversized hand-formed Kushva brick. The roof is covered in asphalt shingles, but has the look of slate, "without the additional cost or maintenance." The staircase was custom made by Harmonson in Mt. Laurel. "We just installed a custom marble fireplace of my design," he says. Marble chair rail for the master dressing room will soon be in place, as will marble baseboards for the laundry room. The library, still in the process of being completed, is "walnut from floor to ceiling."
The floors are 4-inch oak plank, even in the kitchen, where there are several pantries, including a children’s pantry. "It has it’s own small refrigerator and freezer," says Michael Shevelev. "Kids can get their own snacks."
Marina Shevelev, who immigrated from Russia with her parents at age 13, and her husband, who spent his childhood traveling the globe, began their career as builders by extensively renovating apartments and houses in which they lived, most recently a house in Short Hills. Shevelev, the daughter of an engineer and a cosmetologist – both now retired, earned a history degree from Columbia, and worked on Wall Street before returning to her first love and studying interior design at Parsons.
Shevelev met her husband in New York City when she was only 18. "We’ve been married for 25 years," she says. Michael Shevelev, the son of a doctor and a teacher – both now retired and living in Connecticut, grew up in the Ukraine, and graduated from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, with a degree in business. He is president of Telysis, a Florham Park-based company that does software publishing for the telecommunications industry.
The couple moved to the Princeton area "because of the excellent private schools," says Marina Shevelev. Their nine-and-a-half year old daughter attends Chapin.
While Michael Shevelev holds down a job, he still works "full time" on his new residential development business. "A week for me is not 40 or 50 hours," he says. "I oversee everything."
He and his wife relied on a full range of professionals in designing their first spec home. They also drew upon Feng Shui principles, enlisting Joseph Yu, a Canadian practitioner of Chinese astrology and Feng Shui, to tell them how best to site the house. Yu is the founder of the Feng Shui Research Center in Ontario (www.astro-fengshui.com).
Yu advised that the house be placed on a northwest axis. "That was the most auspicious way to site the house so that its inhabitants would enjoy prosperity," says Michael Shevelev, "whatever prosperity means to them." Other Feng Shui elements include the placement of the bathrooms – "not above the kitchen," says Marina Shevelev, and the front door, which does not open to the staircase. "That I insisted upon," she says.
Also, somewhat surprisingly, the ancient science decrees that there should not be a spectacular view right in front of the house, because it would draw energy away from the house. In another example of Feng Shui, the architect suggested a circular stairway, but Marina Shevelev vetoed the idea. "It would just cause energy to bounce around," she says. While Feng Shui is important to the construction of this house, "our goal is a well-designed house suited to its site," says Marina Shevelev.
To achieve this result on their first project, the Shevelevs hired Wesk Architecture, a firm in Millington, and chose A. J. Peluso from Salt Box Village Homes in Lambertville to oversee the construction. The landscape architect was Robert Watrous, whose practice is in North Jersey. The plants were chosen and planted by Rutgers Nursery.
Michael Shevelev says he is aware that inventory is rising in the highest levels of the housing market in Princeton. "It would be wrong to say that we are not concerned," he says. But he insists that the home he and his wife have built is unique. The attention to detail (the decorative stone wall was rebuilt three times) and its myriad custom elements, coupled with the fact that the house is brand new, set it apart, they say.
In what could only be an American story, the couple who were born in Russia met in Manhattan, and went to England to find inspiration for a house they built in Princeton with the help of a Chinese astrologer/Feng Shui practitioner.
Princeton Development Associates LLC, 55 Trewbridge Court, Princeton. Michael Shevelev and Marina Shevelev, 609-924-4650. Home page: www.princetondev.com