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Hollin Hills homes in Alexandria expose a different view

For their part, Smith and Zeder bumped out a wall on the north side of the house a few years ago (with used bricks to match the original chimney), adding a bath and extending two small bedrooms, which now serve as home office/guest rooms for the four grown children Smith and Zeder have between them from previous marriages.

An even more telling measure of Americans' continuing lust for space is this: The small master bath added by the previous owners is now a walk-in closet, and not a big one. The current master bath is much larger, boasting a Japanese-style soaking tub in addition to an open shower. Tiles for this and the added bathroom were purchased locally, but the couple shopped online for fittings and fixtures: the soaking tub is from New Zealand, shoji screens from British Columbia, faucets from Germany.

"This is the house that Google built," Zeder says with a smile.

Furnishings, Zeder points out, are a mix between designer and Ikea. Several rooms sport ranks of tall, free-standing wardrobes with frosted-glass doors from the Swedish furniture retailer.

If the house seems light on "stuff," it's partly because "we started with very little," Zeder says. But it's also true that all those glass walls and open space don't respond kindly to clutter. In fact, driving around Hollin Hills, one can see into houses where possessions have quite clearly taken over -- cords from electronics snaking their way across swaths of window are particularly unattractive. But there are many others where the homeowners seem to serve as curators to a spare, modernist vision, arranging tableaux of mid-century modern furniture for the admiration of passersby.

The clutter could be a byproduct of another fact of Hollin Hills life: a lack of storage space in the original houses. The previous owners of the Smith-Zeder house added a basement under the bumped-out dining room and attempted to add storage in the dining room itself. But the current owners turned the holes in the wall into striking display niches. They then commissioned sculptor Carol Gellner Levin, an artist-in-residence at Alexandria's Torpedo Factory studios, to create three mythical terra cotta animals, inspired by Zeder's area of study, one for each niche. A fourth wall indentation holds six small animal masks.

The dining room niches, and angled cutouts in a wall between the kitchen and the living room, add a contemporary touch to the home's mid-century plan without harming its essence. Such stylish touches were not found in the Davenport-Goodman playbook -- but they work.

Even with both additions, the Smith-Zeder house is still on the small side, statistically speaking. It's about 2,200 square feet, compared with the 2,343 square feet of the average American home under construction in 2008.

Zeder is a first-time Hollin Hills resident, but Smith is a longtime enthusiast. This is his third Hollin Hills house. In 1979, he bought a standard shallow-peak house for $90,000 and later owned one of the rare two-level flat-roof atrium-style places, before buying the current house in 2001.

In 1951, Life magazine cited Hollin Hills for having some of the best houses in the country under $15,000 -- mass-produced and low in price. The low price meant single-pane windows in metal frames, a common renovation target for comfort as well as energy efficiency, plus asphalt-tile floors. (The Smith-Zeder house now has clear maple flooring.)

A lot of those things have changed as homeowners have upgraded their properties. And certainly the prices have changed. A home relatively untouched by its 94-year-old original owner was sold recently for $440,000, Smith says, but renovated places can fetch several hundred thousand more.

What hasn't changed are the trees, the relative privacy of the houses and the fact that, from above, one doesn't see a Levittown-style lineup of little houses but a winding, climbing treescape that happens to shelter an entire living, breathing, modernism-obsessed community.


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