3 New Jersey homes make the most of water vistas

Scott JacksonComment

We can't provide a scientific explanation for our attraction to waterfront lounging — maybe it's because our bodies are 60 percent H20. But there's no denying the gravitational pull of these vistas or their ability to wash our worries away.

"I think water views create a lifestyle mentality," says architect Richard Tokarski, of Brick-based Tokarski + Millemann Architects. "The people who live in waterfront homes feel like they are on vacation when they are at home. Relaxation, serenity, unwinding — you get to experience that everyday."

We found three homes, from three parts of the state, set at the edge of three bodies of water. They all have one thing in common: elaborate outdoor living spaces that maximize every ounce of their jaw-droppingly gorgeous panoramic views.

Chet and Catherine Romano only gave their landscape architect three backyard wishes: build a hot tub, build an infinity pool and "get the fullest out of the Navesink."

Those are the words Alex Amodio lives to hear. "I envision what is the ultimate," says Amodio, owner of Ocean Township-based Park Avenue Gardens.

What began in Fair Haven, in Monmouth County, with a brick walkway that wound through a few simple flower gardens, some mature trees and an uninteresting flat yard now resembles a riverfront retreat — sans wait staff.

"To say that Alex exceeded our expectations would be a true understatement," Chet Romano says. "Our favorite feature of the design is that our family and guests find every reason to congregate in this outdoor space, as opposed to scattering immediately after lunch or dinner. It makes us feel as though we are on a vacation at times."

A white pergola wraps around the edge of the pool house and bluestone patio, which features an outdoor kitchen and dining area. Some existing trees — including a large oak, blue spruces and spartan junipers — were transplanted to anchor the new rose, boxwood, perennial and rock gardens.

Looking out from the circular hot tub, the rectangular pool — which is coated in a customized Pebble Tec finish to mimic the color of the Navesink — appears to spill into the river.

Amodio didn't have to move the heavens to achieve this illusion, just a heck of a lot of earth. He created multitiered terraces and gardens that flow from the back of the Romanos' home, down to the pool, raising its far edge by more than 3 feet. Instead of filtering the spill over from the infinity edge into a retaining tank, he tiled the exterior end of the pool and turned the runoff into a waterfall.

"Most people do an infinity edge and the entertainment space ends. I said, 'No way!' " Amodio says. "I hate wasted space."

Tucked into the pines of Medford Lakes, in Burlington County, is a weathered work of art that Jim and Chris Fretz have called home for more than 20 years.


A rough-hewn cedar-railed deck and slate patios amble down from an original 1920s log cabin to the shore of Lower Lake Aetna, where the couple enjoys front-row seats to the annual Canoe Carnival.

"The town is very rustic. There are no sidewalks or streetlights. It's all trails that meander around, and five beaches for swimming," Jim Fretz says of his borough. "The outdoor space here is an extension of that. It's just outdoor living on the lake."

Woodsy charm meets Key West kitsch on the Fretz's top deck, where a thatch-roofed bar strung with chili pepper lights, ornamental pink flamingos, a tiki statue and hot tub adorn the relaxed seating, dining and cooking areas.

The lower patio leading to the dock is outfitted with low-maintenance hickory wood-and-rope-wrapped furniture set around a fire pit Fretz built from stones found on his property.

The most recent addition to the landscape is a bulkhead-turned-beach, with Adirondack seating for four. When floodwaters barreled through the lake community's dams in 2004, slamming the Fretz's dock into the bulkhead and severely damaging it, the couple decided to eliminate, rather than repair it. It's become a feature they've grown quite fond of.

Much of these outdoor amenities were nonexistent before the Fretz's arrival. "The people we bought the home from had shrubbery growing up over the windows, so you couldn't see out," Jim Fretz says. "We hadn't even unpacked and I was out with a saw, cutting things down."

The couple says they never take their lake view for granted. When the weather doesn't permit them to enjoy that scene while outdoors, they soak it in while sitting next to a wood-burning fireplace in the porch that they insulated and closed with sliding windows.

"It's just a beautiful view. You see a lot of wildlife — the ducks, geese and herons. We get the afternoon sun and the views of historic homes," he says. "It's a neat thing for being 15 minutes outside of Philadelphia. You feel like you're in the middle of nowhere."

When Gary and Marilyn Gensheimer relocated from Old Tappan to Brick, in Ocean County, in 2007, they weren't wowed by the 1980s contemporary-style home they ended up in.

"That view you see in the pictures, that's what sold the house to us," says Gary Gensheimer, of the home nestled on a spit of land between the bay and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

"When we look south, down at the bay, you can see the Route 37 bridge from
Toms River to Seaside. That's 5 miles from us. And we have the whole view of the barrier island, from Seaside to Lavallette."

During their 2010 interior and exterior home renovation, the only criteria the couple gave to their local architects Richard Tokarski, of Tokarski + Millemann Architects, and landscape architect John Robert Brunas, of JRB Landesign, was to incorporate that priceless view into their designs. To do that, Tokarski turned a floor-level screened-in porch that abuts Gary's office into an indoor-outdoor kitchen and bar outfitted with a unique enclosure.

"To have the best of both worlds, we came up with the idea of using a glass-and-aluminum garage door," Tokarski says. "If he wants the view, all he has to do is roll up the garage door. Even when it's down, he can see through it and get light into the office, which is an interior room."

Brunas replaced the pebble and railroad tie backyard with a paver patio that extends the Gensheimer's living space just shy of the bay. That's where the couple does most of their entertaining: sunning, playing horseshoes or sitting around the fire pit when the sun goes down.

A spiral staircase off the patio leads to an upstairs deck, where the couple regularly takes in their breathtaking views while enjoying breakfasts and dinners.

"You're sitting at the best table out of any place to eat on Barnegat Bay when you are sitting there," Marilyn Gensheimer says.