May 12, 2014

Explore Hollin Hills, A Midcentury Modern Community in Alexandria, Va.

Hollin Hills in Alexandria, Va.

photo by: Robert C. Lautman, National Building Museum

Most of the nation’s architecturally distinctive Midcentury Modern housing developments are concentrated in sunny California. But others exist in pockets around the country, one of the most notable being Hollin Hills in Alexandria, Va. Located about 14 miles outside Washington, D.C., the 326-acre community with more than 450 homes serves as a well-preserved paradise for midcentury aficionados.

Hollin Hills house interior floor plan with glass walls

photo by: Robert C. Lautman, National Building Museum

Architect Charles Goodman designed the Hollin Hills houses to bring in more natural light than a typical home, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and flowing floor plans. Goodman, developer Robert Davenport, and landscape architects Lou Bernard Voight, Dan Kiley, and Eric Paepke made sure the homes blended into the wooded setting, rather than dominating it.

“We felt drawn to the houses. They gave us the feeling we were in a camp by a lake,” recalls 20-year resident Mary Ann Rametta. “We didn’t know anything about Midcentury Modern. We just knew we liked it.”

Hollin Hills house with natural outdoor elements

All that glass strengthens the homes’ connection to the outdoors, a quality that was definitely on display at the 2014 Hollin Hills House Tour, held on May 3. More than 903 visitors explored the 11 houses on the tour, including the residence of Jaelith Hall-Rivera and David Rivera, shown above and below.

“It’s like living in a treehouse,” Rivera says.

Mid-century Modern furniture and accessories inside Hollin Hills house

The Hall-Riveras have filled their home with Midcentury Modern furniture and accessories, including a trio of bright-red Eames chairs in the entryway. In 2012 the home, which the couple bought four years ago, won The Washington Post’s Mad Men Look contest.

900-square-foot Hollin Hills house

The Hollin Hills houses were built between 1949 and 1971, and tended to be relatively small by today’s standards. Most have been modified with additions (with oversight by a strict design review committee) but some, such as the 900-square-foot house shown above, still occupy their original footprint. High ceilings, open floor plans, and an efficient use of space make them feel larger than they really are.

“The volume you sense is just extraordinary,” said architect and longtime Hollin Hills resident John Burns in a pre-tour lecture.

An angled view of an Hollin Hills home

photo by: Robert C. Lautman, National Building Museum

Fences are uncommon in Hollin Hills, and the houses are sited at varied angles along streets that curve around the rolling topography. The homes fit the landscape so well that they seem to have organically grown out of it.

“At night, we love sitting on the back deck,” Rametta says. “The houses are like little lanterns in the woods.”

Hollin Hills was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, as well as the Virginia Landmarks Register. For more information on the community’s history and design, visit

Meghan Drueding is the managing editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee table books about architecture and design.

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