Retro rewind

Home + Garden

August 31, 2023

A Charlotte couple lovingly returns their SouthPark home — featured on this month’s “Mad About Modern” tour — to its midcentury glory.

by Page Leggett | photographs by Dustin and Susie Peck

Having their home on the annual Mad About Modern tour is a full-circle moment for Jane and Steve Syzdek. During the 2019 home tour, Steve and his son-in-law, Jeff Buck, met Jim Owen of Alter Architects and discovered a shared interest in gabion walls (more on that later.) Steve and Jane were still based in Detroit, though Jane — who had started a new job as an HR executive — was temporarily staying with the couple’s daughter, Brianna Buck, and her family in Charlotte. 

Soon enough, though, the Syzdeks would have a new house — and Owen would be their architect. The 3,250-square-foot home at 2100 Valencia Terrace offered Jane easy access to Fort Mill, S.C., for her work and Steve easy access to the airport for his job in international sales for a brewing-equipment manufacturer. 

The Syzdeks, truly citizens of the world, have moved every few years. They’ve lived in Warsaw, Poland; Wiesbaden, Germany; Hong Kong; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Shanghai. Jane is originally from Taiwan.

Could Charlotte possibly measure up? For the Syzdeks, it has. Their grandchildren, ages 5 and 6, live here. “Apparently, there’s a name for people like us,” Jane says. “We’re baby chasers.”

When they bought the four-bedroom home in 2019, it had recently been updated (the renovated kitchen has Saturnia granite countertops and a commercial cooktop, for instance) and was in move-in condition. But previous renovations had taken it in a more traditional direction, and the Syzdeks — only the home’s third owners — are purists. They wanted to enhance — not hide — the mid-mod attributes they love. 

Right: By the pool, Black-eyed Susans put on a show in summer. The Syzdeks did the landscaping themselves and chose the plants, which also include spiky horsetails and leafy banana plants.

Steve’s love for the style dates to his days as a Purdue University engineering student, when he worked part-time at a furniture store called Scandinavian Designs. The couple’s love for the design aesthetic was cemented during the years they lived in Detroit, which is home to many Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, a campus closely associated with midcentury modernism. 

“This home had the right bones, but it hadn’t always been treated as midcentury modern,” Steve says. For instance, wainscoting, a kind of “wall candy” popularized in the 18th century, lined the dining room, and decorative pillars had been added in a few spots. (Midcentury modern design typically favors little to no ornamentation.) Steve “took a crowbar” to the wainscoting and carefully removed the pillars before donating them to a local Scout troop to use as theater props. They also bid arrivederci to the living room’s “Tuscan gold” textured, painted walls and gold door hardware.

Fortunately, many original elements remained, starting with one of the first things you notice upon arrival: the starburst escutcheon on the front door. Also original were the hardwood floors; bathroom fixtures; wood paneling in the kitchen, family room and hallway; louvered closet doors; Jack-and-Jill bathroom pendants; exterior brick; and the wall of windows between the kitchen and courtyard. 

Orange, one of the signature colors of the 1960s and ’70s, figures prominently throughout the home, beginning with the carport and front door and reaching a crescendo in the open kitchen. The Syzdeks chose a smoky red-orange hue by Benjamin Moore called Fire Dance. 

The outdoor types

The couple started their updates outside. Taking care to preserve a large maple tree that sits at the center of the circular drive, they overhauled the landscaping, ripping out shrubs and grading the previously sloped backyard to make way for a pool. 

The pool, cabana and Corten steel fire pit (that doubles as a piece of sculpture) out back comprise just one of the home’s three outdoor living spaces. There’s also a deck off the family room and a private, peaceful covered courtyard off the kitchen.

Steve laid pavers, built the timbered retaining wall behind the pool and, near the front door, installed a gabion wall — that esoteric feature he and architect Jim Owen discussed when they first met. Gabion, from the Italian gabbione, means “big cage.” Gabion walls can be filled with concrete, sand and soil or, as is the case here, repurposed bricks removed from a disassembled lattice wall at the back of the house. The Syzdeks’ gabion wall contains fragrant rosemary bushes.

Partially buried terra cotta “planters” also adorn the front walkway. They’re actually a neighbor’s surplus chimney liners that Steve rescued and repurposed. “I’m a scrapper,” he says. “I’ll use whatever I have or have access to.” 

Jane, the resident gardener, chose all the plants, and together the couple has re-landscaped the corner lot themselves. Evidence of Jane’s green thumb is everywhere. Black-eyed Susans surrounding the pool have exploded. Just beyond those, banana plants are thriving. 

“In the South, everything grows!” Jane marvels. 

Once the Syzdeks removed the Sears yellow vinyl siding encasing much of their home’s exterior, they discovered the original board-and-batten siding, which Steve sanded and painted in Midsummer Night by Benjamin Moore. 

Alter Architects’ Owen and Zack Alsentzer enclosed the previously open carport and fashioned a new carport for the 1973 Camaro Z28 Steve bought as a high-school senior. (With only 26,000 miles on it, it still has that new-car smell.) The architects incorporated concrete breeze blocks Steve sourced from Dagostino Building Blocks in Schenectady, N.Y. The fourth-generation family business still makes the iconic blocks so prevalent back in the day.

Bright blue Frank Gehry patio furniture helps extend the home’s mid-mod vibe. But there’s a practical reason Steve and Jane chose the undulating seating. “We didn’t want to keep outside cushions clean,” Steve says. “These, we can just wipe off.” 

Home is where the art is 

The Syzdeks have achieved a serene vibe, in part, because they don’t allow visual clutter in their home. While the couple has amassed an extensive art collection — a daily reminder of their globetrotting adventures — their walls aren’t overpopulated with paintings. Each statement-making piece is given room to breathe. 

Framed vintage maps of places the Syzdeks have lived line one wall of their home. An oversized North Carolina map gets pride of place above the family-room fireplace. Steve built the frame with leftover wood from the tongue-and-groove paneling installed by a previous owner. On another wall are black-and-white family photos, including Jane’s kindergarten class and Steve’s grandfather with the rest of the Buffalo Philharmonic.

You can’t help but notice the photo installation that dominates the far end of the hallway. Greg Stearns’ 16 photos — four across and four down — read as one massive image of the historic, 2,200-foot, wooden Powder Point Bridge that connects the town of Duxbury, Mass., to Duxbury Beach. 

It’s not just photos, maps and paintings on the Syzdeks’ walls. In the primary bedroom, tiny, ornate — and unusually shaped — silk slippers are framed against a black backdrop. The antique booties were made for a girl who had her feet broken and bound to create delicate “lotus feet” — once a status symbol among China’s elite. In the dining room, an intricate silver necklace made by a member of the Miao tribe in China has been similarly elevated to the level of fine art. 

The Syzdeks’ home is a work of art itself. And their art collection enhances, without obscuring, its “good bones.” 

Many people would consider their home finished and absolutely perfect. But Steve, a mechanical engineer by training, looks around and sees projects — updating the bathrooms, replacing windows, building a bar inside the cabana — just waiting to be tackled. He maintains it’s a work in progress. “This house will keep morphing,” he says.

But based on what the Syzdeks have done so far, it will only morph in ways that stay true to its mid-mod roots.  SP

Tour the Syzdeks’ SouthPark home and five others on The Charlotte Museum of History’s Mad About Modern tour. This year’s home tour is one day only, Saturday, Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets, starting at $35, are limited and often sell out in advance. New this year: An antique auto show featuring cars from the mid-mod era at the museum (3500 Shamrock Dr.), and a $200 VIP ticket option that includes a shuttle and guided tours through each home. Learn more and buy tickets at

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