COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt

Retiring at Home

Stories by Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post
AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Retiring at Home
Hollin Hills is known for its distinctive houses built in the 1950's. Thomas and Eleanor Fina worry the steps in their house will force them to move. For this reason, they did not sell their first house, which is one-story with flat walkways. (Photo by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post)

Like large numbers of residents of Hollin Hills and many older folks nationwide, Thomas and Eleanor Fina want to live out their lives in their home. They love its Contemporary design with its clean lines, airy rooms full of glass and light, and the way that each house was individually landscaped into the environment. So far, their home has been cooperative.

But Tom, 83, and Eleanor, 82, have already prepared for the day when old age or infirmity might make it too hard to go up and down the steps from the first to the second floor, or to the street and their beloved garden. For years, they have been still holding on to the first house they purchased many years ago in Hollin Hills because it has only one story.

The Finas live in Hollin Hills, which is well known for its distinctive houses designed in a style made famous Frank Lloyd Wright. Although most of the homes have had additions and modifications done to them over the year, most are still one- or two-story homes of elegantly simple design.

This is important because 89 percent of those 50 and older want to stay in their homes, and 86 percent want to stay in their home communities, according to a 2006 survey by the AARP. And one of the most important factors in being able to age in place is whether one's home will allow them to do it.

Thanks to a quirk of architectural history and demographics, the houses built in the early Fairfax County suburbs met those criteria. Built in the postwar era for the American Everyman, these houses were modest and economical, but also had style. In the Fort Hunt area, which includes Hollin Hills, more than 75 of the 65-and-over population were still living in their own homes, according to data from Claritas Inc.

"The idea of ending up in one of those retirement communities is something we want to avoid," Tom Fina, a former Foreign Service employee, said. "It's a depressing picture."

"Even architecturally, it's all like lush hotels," Eleanor said.

The Finas' home has allowed them to live there relatively easily since they first purchased it in the mid-1950s. Meanwhile, the couple, who have lived abroad extensively, also have rented the first home they ever purchased in Hollin Hills for many years. But there is also a clause in the lease that would allow the Finas to move in to their rental within six months of the death or serious disability of either of them.

"If we were really incapacitated, I think this house would be very hard to maintain because of the hill and the steps," Eleanor Fina said.

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