For "artist in residence" Michael Terenik, there is no more illustrative expression of his creative skills than his Cape May Court House home.
Throughout the dwelling is a mix of his rich paintings, quirky sculptures, and edgy woodworking. Collections of found pieces inhabit rooms, lending added texture and distinctive styling. His artistry abounds.
"When we moved into the house, it was a blank canvas," he says.
Terenik, 49, came to art at an early age. He was born to Russian immigrants. His father, Dimitri, a college professor who escaped execution in Russia for denouncing communism, encouraged him to draw and write poetry and music. At age 10, he took classes at the Barn Studio of Art in Millville, where he was born and raised.
He later majored in advertising design and illustration at the Hussian School of Art in Center City. After college, Terenik lived in San Francisco, where he was an art dealer for the San Francisco Art Exchange, and where, he says, he received his "master's" in life.
In 1993, after the Berlin Wall fell, he painted murals on the walls of a technology plant in the former East Germany.
The 5,000-square-foot Cape May Court House home, built 11 years ago for Terenik, his wife, and their four children, rests on a quiet street with sweeping back views of high grass, soaring birds, and a bike trail that extends to the Cape May Zoo.
Surrounding meadows evoke memories of his youth, growing up on a farm with chickens, vegetable beds, and fruit trees, and inspire his landscape works.
"I love having nature all around. The sunsets are beautiful," he says.
With its light-brown siding and red shutters, the home's exterior retains a certain traditional look, but is by no means stodgy.
Inside, the first floor was dramatically angled so the kitchen and breakfast area could be positioned to the left and away from the other living spaces, adding visual interest. A high-top table perches in the breakfast area, beneath a collection of Terenik's still lifes, including those of onions, pheasants, and banjos.
In the nearby family room, seven of his works - including an image of a pitcher and flowers, an abstract, and a collection of seashells - hang above chocolate-colored leather chairs and a sofa. Terenik designed the base of the 120-gallon aquarium with pieces of zebrawood, bloodwood, and birch.
He also crafted a low-rise end table out of walnut and reclaimed pine he found alongside a road.
"I'm always picking up things that can be used in my art," he says.
The mix of rustic and fabulous continues in the office off the foyer. A desk and chair occupy one wall. A camel-hued piano is juxtaposed between two open-shelved, floor-to-ceiling wall units Terenik built and filled with perfectly scaled pieces of colorful glassware, masks, and pottery made by the ancient Anasazi people.
"And this piece I found around here at an estate sale," Terenik says, referring to a plate etched by Peruvian artist Antonio Olave Palomino.
The dining room, with paints and brushes staged neatly on shelves, was converted into Terenik's art studio. It can easily be called the bird room, because many of the hanging images are large, close-up canvases of different species.
In particular, there is a 5-foot-by-4-foot oil of an in-flight eagle against a background of deep blues, reds, and greens. To get the composition right, Terenik says, some paintings take months, even years to complete.
"I think I've been working on this for about five or six years," he says.
Nearby are a sculpture fashioned out of a trumpet, glass, and reclaimed wood and a narrow table made from driftwood found along the Delaware Bay shore after Hurricane Sandy.
Terenik's ideas and influences extend to the rear of the home, where modern settees decorate the expansive deck and pergola he built.
At one end of the yard is an in-ground pool, framed with bricks found at an abandoned job site.
One level down from the deck, he built a pizza oven, encased in stone, and a full-service kitchen constructed with mahogany, maple, and ipe woods. That's where he hatches together Mexican and Italian recipes.
Terenik also makes three-dimensional outdoor signs for businesses through his company, Avalon Sign & Design.
"Live, love, cook, and create. That's basically my feeling about our house," he says. "I never want to leave it, especially when I have my family with me."