On the night of Oct. 29, as the Hurricane Sandy swept over his home in Mays Landing, Larry Stiteler relaxed in his backyard spa a few feet from the Great Egg Harbor River. Larry had spent hours boarding up his windows in preparation of the approaching superstorm. His wife and children had evacuated and now he was just waiting for the inevitable.
"The eye came through about 10 o'clock and it was calm and beautiful outside," Larry recalls. "I got a cigar, a glass of wine and got in the hot tub. About an hour later the water started rushing up into the yard."
Larry spent the rest of the night inside his riverfront home watching as the water inundated the house. His sunken living room literally became a sunken living room and other rooms were under two feet of water.
"The dog was in bed with me and pots and pans were floating by," he says. "But I was very calm. I had done everything I could."
By the next morning, the water had subsided and Larry, who owns East Coast Roofing and Siding, was ready to rebuild. It didn't take him long. Work started within days and four months later the house had been completely renovated.
Working out-of-pocket, Larry installed new sheetrock and new plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. He remodeled the kitchen and put down new hardwood floors.
"We were one of the first to rebuild," says Larry. "It helped that I own a roofing company. I had a great contractor, Jeff Mick, who is a good friend of mine. I was also fortunate that I had assets and was able to fund everything myself. I didn't have to wait for the insurance or FEMA money like so many other people."
Larry finally got his first flood insurance check at the end of May, but not before he sunk about $300,000 into the house.
Before buying their riverfront home Larry and Linda were zookeepers of a sort. They owned a 15-acre wooded property on Manheim Avenue in Mays Landing where they kept more than 100 exotic birds and other wildlife.
"We had big cages throughout the woods with deer, ostrich, emus, llamas, peacocks, pheasants, a bald eagle," Larry says. "I've done a lot of conservation research over the years. I studied horn billed birds in Thailand, kangaroos in Australia, small carnivores in Nepal."
The zoo keeping days came to end in 2007 when the Stitelers bought their riverfront home from George and Michelle Phy, a husband and wife Realtor team who are now listing the house.
"I was doing a roof one day for a customer who lived on the water and I just loved it," Larry says. "I bought this place and never looked back."
What was originally a 1970s era rancher stands on a property with 300 feet of river frontage. It had been completely remodeled by the Phys, who replaced the brick exterior with stucco, installed new geometric windows, and raised the roofline to create a spectacular cathedral ceiling in the enormous great room.
After Sandy, the Stitelers pulled up the carpets in the great room and replaced them with distressed walnut floors. They redid the kitchen and added an elegant Tuscan style fireplace designed by prominent Mays Landing artist Stacey Miller. The fireplace has a mantel dating to the 1700s that was salvaged from a brownstone in Staten Island.
The kitchen now features a center island with a massive slab of granite, all new stainless steel appliances, custom cabinets and all new lighting. Two exterior doors were custom built in Honduras and cost $15,000 apiece.
The master suite has sliding glass doors to the patio, two walk-in closets and a unique shower with walls made of curved glass blocks. There's an all purpose room with a gas fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling manufactured stone chimney and a tongue-in-groove ceiling. There used to be five bedrooms but Larry converted one into a garage following Sandy.
An in-ground pool is the centerpiece of a multi-level paver patio overlooking the river. There's also a deepwater dock with two slips and a boat lift, a full outdoor kitchen with granite counters, a gas fire pit, a hot tub, and a fish pond. Larry added the exotic 800-pound bronze fountain.
"We do a lot of entertaining," Larry says. "We've had parties with 250 people."
With three of their five children grown and out of the house, Larry and Linda's household is now down to four - themselves, a16-year-old son and a 21-year old daughter. Larry is already thinking about his next adventure, which is why he's decided to sell the house.
"I'd like to buy a place in Guatemala," says Larry, who was born and raised in Linwood, but has traveled extensively in Central America, where he does charity work. "My oldest son is running the business and I'd like to semi-retire and downsize, have a place in Guatemala and a smaller place up here. In Central America people with no shoes live in 10-by-10 foot shacks and are happy to make five dollars a day. Do I need to be here living high on the hog? I can feed a lot of kids with what I spend on myself."
An open house at this property, which is listed for $1.2 million, will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information and directions call George Phy of Century 21 Glencove-Morris, 609-742-0364.
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