Special to The Washington Post
David Rivera and Jaelith Hall-Rivera have long been fans of mid-century modern design. But it wasn’t until they bought a house in Hollin Hills, Alexandria’s iconic mid-century neighborhood, that they decided to wholly immerse themselves in the aesthetic.
That was two years ago. Today, the couple has decorated their home virtually floor to ceiling in the style, mixing vintage and modern pieces with such taste and elegance that they won the Washington Post’s Mad Men Look contest.
The duo’s mid-century fascination is more than just a hobby. Both 36, he’s a mechanical engineer with a passion for clean, modern lines, and she’s a budget policy analyst with the U.S. Forest Service whose love for anything retro pervades her music and fashion taste, as well as their home. “We’re known as mid-century modern nerds,” said Rivera.
So when a house-shopping expedition introduced the pair to Hollin Hills, with its distinctive 1950s and ‘60s architecture, they were determined to find a house there. And when the right one finally opened, Rivera and Hall-Rivera decided to begin afresh, throwing out virtually every piece of furniture they had owned before they moved.
Which means the couple has spent the last two years looking high and low for the appropriate furniture for their classy house—in retail stores like CB2 (Crate and Barrel’s mod offshoot), as well as secondhand stores all over the region, yard sales, and online resources like Craigslist and Etsy.
The result, as the couple’s contest photos illustrate, is a house that’s virtually a period piece. With its wall of windows looking out on the yard and not-quite-square angles, the home’s architecture sets the tone, and Rivera and Hall-Rivera’s decorating efforts match it. The long, sunlit living-slash-dining area is uncluttered, dotted with classic pieces like white leather Seville chairs (reproductions, the couple explained) and a honey-colored credenza with a built-in bar from Alexandria’s Modern Montage. The couple snapped up the curvy plastic dining room chairs at a Hollin Hills yard sale, and bought the table on Craigslist.
Another long room downstairs is lined with boxy grey wool sofas (Ikea, the pair bashfully admitted), a short hi-fi console, and a bright orange, Danish-inspired chair from CB2.
But it’s in the kitchen where the couple’s taste really shines. Contest judge and Post editor Jura Konicius described it as “remarkably mod”; she was referring to the space’s funky turquoise and white streamlined cabinets that appear to be 1960s throwbacks. In fact, they’re also from Ikea, and were installed by Rivera as part of a kitchen overhaul that included knocking down a wall, redoing plumbing and electrical work, and adding a massive center island and new appliances.
The result is a room that charmingly marries old and new. The appliances are from this era and the clean lines create a contemporary atmosphere, but the orange bullet lights, tiled backsplash (with orange grout), and wood ceiling lend a warm, retro vibe.
The couple said that entering the contest was a virtual no-brainer. “I can’t tell you how many people sent us the link when the contest opened,” said Hall-Rivera.
It was a smart move. While the contest’s judges each nominated a different slate of finalists, they were unanimous that the Rivera/Hall-Rivera house should win. “It’s done smartly and beautifully,” wrote HGTV’s Vern Yip, who was one of the judges. “The house feels both faithful to…and updated from…what you would see on ‘Mad Men.’”
Unsurprisingly, the couple isn’t done with the house, though much of the main-space decorating is complete. Rivera is determined to build a carport where he can tinker with his 1957 Chevy truck (purchased on Ebay), and a couple of downstairs bedrooms still need work.
And in the downstairs sitting room, the pair have ambitious plans to take out the carpet that’s currently there and lay down multicolored slate that would match a slate patio in front of the house. It would be a way of pulling together both indoor and outdoor spaces—a hallmark of mid-century modern design.
Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer and judge of The Post’s ‘Mad Men’ Look contest.
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