Veni Semenyuk paints murals and portraits, is a master of faux finishes, creates gilded plaster castings with rose petals as delicate as a baby’s fingernails. Sometimes he combines all those talents, perhaps with antique mirrors, into single vignettes.
Sarah Berrard’s home is testament to the breadth and depth of his artistry. Walking through the front door of the stately home on the Quail Hollow golf course can be like stepping into a scene by an old European master.
Berrard is married to Steve Berrard, the longtime business partner of Florida billionaire Wayne Huizenga, and helped build and run companies such as Blockbuster and Waste Management. He’s the former CEO of Charlotte-based Swisher Hygiene, a job he left in 2012. The family moved to Charlotte in 2004.
The home’s transformation didn’t happen overnight. Semenyuk has been working regularly for Berrard since 2005. And it didn’t happen without a level of trust between the two that’s nearly as amazing as the artistry.
Every eye-catching display prompts a story that reflects that.
On the ceiling of the two-story foyer is a 22-foot-long mural. It’s in the style of a grand painting in a museum in Rome or Florence, or perhaps on a cathedral ceiling. It started with an idea and a conversation.
“She wanted something very spiritual,” Semenyuk said. “Angels celebrating the birth of Christ.”
Berrard didn’t monitor his ideas as the mural came together, though. She didn’t review and approve a smaller version of what he had in mind. She didn’t watch over his shoulder as he painted.
Semenyuk completed the mural in his home studio. He unrolled it on her driveway, so Berrard could view it from an upstairs window. That was the first time she saw it. “It’s vibrant, and in keeping with the Old World feel,” she said. “... I was a little worried about the front entrance of my home, but I have just a trusting relationship with him.”
The mural is acrylic on canvas, and was installed on the ceiling like a giant wallpaper panel.
‘I had a dream’
Throughout the house, gilded plaster castings adorn doors, ceilings, walls. Ornate castings flank that mural on the foyer ceiling, and surround crystal wall sconces in the adjacent dining room. Semenyuk designs them down to the tiniest detail. A friend casts them, then Semenyuk gilds them.
Castings outline a 20-foot-tall expanse of antique mirrors in the great room – which leads Berrard and Semenyuk to another conversation about shared vision.
“I called him and said I had a dream about antique mirrors,” Berrard said with a laugh. “... Then I went on vacation.”
The mirrors stretch up from an ornate table anchoring the tall wall. “I measured the table,” Semenyuk said simply, “and went from there.” He bronzed the castings surrounding the mirror to complement the table.
What was Berrard’s reaction when she saw the creation for the first time?
She called him and told him, “What you did ...” He thought he’d done something wrong, that she didn’t like it. Oh, no. “It took my breath away,” she said.
Semenyuk worked the same magic in the breakfast area, combining antique mirrors and custom castings on a vaulted octagonal ceiling.
The mirrored ceiling reflects the warm pecan hue of the paneling and woodwork – which isn’t really pecan at all. It’s faux finish. The original deep cherry was dark and dated, so Semenyuk covered all the cherry with fool-the-eye paint.
Those columns off the foyers aren’t really marble, either. They’re among Semenyuk’s earliest handiwork.
A surprise Christmas gift
Semenyuk painted the portrait of Berrard that hangs at the end of the hall leading to the master bedroom.
In it, she’s wearing a dress of vivid teal, with peacock feathers at the bodice. She explains that the dress is real, not something sparked by Semenyuk’s vivid imagination, as someone awed by all his other work might assume.
She commissioned the portrait, painted from a photo, as a surprise Christmas gift for her husband, Steven.
“Again, I didn’t see it along the way,” she said. “I went to Veni’s house in Indian Trail. When he pulled it out and the cloth came down, I cried.”
It’s signed simply, Veni.
Yes, she said, Steven Berrard loved the gift.
Here’s another surprising snippet: Veni Semenyuk is self-taught.
Semenyuk was born in Ukraine, but came to the U.S. as a teenager. His father “preached the gospel,” he said, so the family sought refuge here. He was working as a welder, of all things, when his wife, Alla, encouraged him to pursue his passion for art.
When he encounters a medium or technique he wants to master, he experiments and practices.
Sarah and Veni met through a Charlotte interior designer, and have been collaborating ever since.
Now they share a booth, the Posh Peasant, at Black Lion in Pineville. She sells gifts, home accents and vintage furniture. He promotes his artwork.
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