Marian and John Scullion’s affinity for midcentury modern design emanates from John’s parents’ impressive collection of furniture from the 1950s and ’60s, much of which he inherited. “They had an amazing interior decorator, Stig Sjoberg. He was from Columbia — Sweden, originally — and he was about my parents’ age. He was on the forefront of midcentury at the time, and he talked my parents into buying all the really amazing pieces that we have,” John says.
A lieutenant colonel in the Army and an 82nd Airborne paratrooper, John’s father had no formal training in architecture, yet he designed a home in Spring Valley in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, with a low-pitched roof, high windows, and an open floor plan. John Scullion, Sr., was a gifted artist and master woodworker who taught classes at Midlands Technical College; he created an incredible mosaic that is a focal point in Marian and John’s master bedroom. “My father made that in 1965,” John says. “I remember seeing the papers that he used, tracing paper. It was done in colored pencil, and he cut each tile.”
After purchasing a home in Forest Acres, Marian and John passed by Elvira Schoenlein’s midcentury modern ranch regularly. John felt drawn to the house and told Marian that if it ever went on the market, he wanted to buy it. Marian thought he was joking, mainly because they had just settled into a home half a block away. When the house went up for sale in 2014, John went to look at it with his daughter, Elizabeth. John, who has been a real estate agent for 20 years, says it was the most meticulously maintained home he has ever toured. But not everything was ideal. Every ceiling and piece of crown molding had a popcorn finish. Asbestos-tile flooring was covered in heavy shag carpeting, and dark draperies covered the home’s many wide windows. “I’m walking through the house,” John recalls, “and I’m not seeing what could be, which is weird, because as a realtor, I normally visualize quite well.”
Marian says, “I think he was too afraid to see it because he knew what it would mean.” Just after the family got settled into a new home, they would have to start all over again. But when John and Elizabeth brought Marian back to see the house, her reaction was, “I can’t believe you haven’t already started packing to move in.” Unbeknownst to them at the time, other prospective buyers made offers, but the Scullions signed a contract with Mrs. Schoenlein.
Built in 1941 during World War II, the house is basically a bunker, John says, built with concrete blocks and brick on a concrete slab. All of the expansive windows have quarry tile ledges, and the indestructible tile also appears on the fireplaces and the polished broken-tile floor of the sunroom. Marian, who works at Forest Lake Elementary NASA Explorer School, notes that the school’s original building still has quarry tile as well.
After purchasing the house in August 2014, Marian and John spent the next seven months having old carpet and asbestos tile replaced with white luxury vinyl flooring and fresh carpet. They also smoothed the ceilings, making them appear to be higher than they are. John personally laid glossy black and white tile in the foyer, mimicking the pattern of the original floor. Modern sculptures that his parents bought while preparing to sell their Spring Valley home flank the entrance and are framed by the glass block sidelights.
To preserve the architectural integrity of the house, the Scullions made only a few structural changes during the renovation process. They removed a kitchen cabinet that blocked the view of an Emerald Zoysia lawn in the backyard, where dogs Scooter and Maisel have plenty of room to run. In place of the cabinet, they added a rounded counter covered in Formica laminate in a gray Boomerang design. Removing the old boiler that took up too much space in their laundry room, Marian and John kept the heating registers in each room because they like how they look.
A set of John’s parents’ wedding china, Starburst by Franciscan, served as inspiration for the kitchen’s Atomic Era (1945-1991) design, defined by geometric patterns and industrial-type materials. A colorful glass tile backsplash and stainless steel countertops refresh the space. John’s childhood homes had stainless steel counters, and he loves the look of them, especially how they tie into the metal edges of their kitchen’s original shelving. Marian found a square set of stainless steel canisters at The Gardener’s Cottage & The Brass Latch in Saluda, North Carolina, to place near John’s mother’s snowflake Pyrex dishes. In the cabinet with the wedding china are brightly colored vintage aluminum cups, which have their own crocheted koozies, courtesy of Marian’s parents.
The kitchen sink is an original Acme porcelain brand with a built-in dish drainer, but the authentic midcentury modern Frigidaire range was an eBay find. “We had a 1970s copper-colored refrigerator and oven, which worked great when we moved in, but they gave up the ghost,” Marian says. “This is the same one we would have seen when we watched Bewitched.” Marian, who loves to cook and bake, says it works perfectly.
With the help of Denver, Colorado, artist Christian Musselman, Marian and John had a carport built at a skewed angle next to the house. John had initially commissioned Christian to make a home portrait as a gift to Marian, but as they developed a rapport, they called upon Christian to help bring out the home’s midcentury modern curb appeal. Their son, John, who is currently studying architecture at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, painstakingly made a scale model of the Scullions’ home. Christian provided advice to the younger John while he worked on the model, and John, in turn, collaborated on the carport design. They designed a wall of hundreds of glass blocks, salvaged from the former Gillespie Agency building on Millwood Avenue, to tie the carport into the house.
When John added the carport to his model, it helped everyone visualize it before actual construction began. “The goal was to add a midcentury modern element to the ranch home that would be an asset both functionally and visually,” explains Christian. “He wanted the roof to look like it was floating, so he designed the structure with smaller vertical post supports creating a fairly tall roofline, one that doesn’t overwhelm the home.”
Because the original front door was hollow and covered by a louvered door, they replaced it with a solid wood door, painted a custom shade of teal, with three square windows. A shiny brass knob with a starburst escutcheon, repurposed from the home of a neighbor, serves as a dramatic focal point. The escutcheon had been covered in layers of paint, but John took it to Metal Plating & Company in West Columbia for a complete restoration.
Marian and John also asked Christian to design a front porch since the house originally had only a stoop. Now it has handsome iron railings with teal squares echoing the door’s windows. Christian says, “I wanted to give them a way to interact with their community and have the front of the home, which previously had no connection to the street, become a way to enjoy the front views of their home, landscape, and beautiful front yard.”
They, using Christian’s design, added planters across the home, created two rock gardens, and installed an eye-catching mailbox from Mod Box at the end of the driveway to complete the midcentury modern tradition.
Coming through the front door, visitors cannot help but notice a Sputnik starburst chandelier above the Drexel dining room table, both treasures acquired by John’s parents in 1958. A painting by South African artist Roy Schallenberg, framed locally by Betsy Havens, hangs above the John’s parents’ original sideboard. Art glass from Carol Saunders Gallery graces the middle of the table, and a rug from FLOR repeats the Sputnik theme.
On the other side of the entryway, the eye is drawn through the expansive living room to a cocktail bar in the sunroom, which John designed with a friend, Jared Baine, who built the midcentury-inspired piece in solid walnut. A pair of chrome stools from John’s parents, along with a low-slung rust sofa by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin, complete the room.
In the living room, a large and comfortable curved sectional sofa, reupholstered by Matt Coleman of Chapman Upholstering, faces a huge fireplace with vents, where a black and white cat named Lucky hides during thunderstorms. Over the fireplace is a Brutalist-style metal sculpture by St. Louis, Missouri, artist Mark Weinstein; it is a particularly thick piece that is permanently affixed to the wall.
Like most other common areas in the home, the living room has only decorative draperies flanking the windows. Marian acknowledges, “Our daughter says, ‘You are the weirdest people. You have 40-some windows and not a single set of drapes that actually close.’ It’s not like we’re on a thoroughfare, but we do wave to a lot of people.”
Though the home has three bedrooms, Marian and John have repurposed one for an office and another for a music room. The hallway leading to these rooms boasts an interior glass block window that Marian particularly likes. She also felt strongly about keeping the original textured wallpaper. Everything but the toilet in the hall bathroom is original, from the midcentury Cinderella tub to the vertical bar light fixtures.
When the time came to reupholster the chairs of a valuable dining set by Warren Platner for Knoll, John special-ordered Knoll fabric to maintain their authenticity.
Sentimental pieces, like a writing desk from Marian’s great grandparents and a Steinway upright piano from her piano teacher, are featured in the office and music rooms. Even though they might not mesh exactly with the midcentury modern theme, Marian says, “It’s not a museum, it’s just our home.” In their bedroom, what they initially thought was an Eames chair turned out to be a Charlton reproduction, but they also have the first midcentury piece John’s parents ever bought — a delicate Pearsall chaise longue.
John says, “When our daughter’s engagement party was here, Elizabeth passed us in the hall, and said, ‘Sorry, I’m giving tours.’ That generation seems to love this era with its clean lines and minimalist style. We’ll hopefully, never have to redecorate because as far as we understand, this will never go out of style.”