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Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The People of Monticello Road: Dan and Serena


There's a lot of love in this household and it conveys very well in this image. The only thing I don't like about it is that it omits my favorite guy of the bunch: Sorin


“How much garlic are you putting on the steak?”

“A lot—where I come from we worry about Vampires.”

That was a typical exchange between my friend Dan and his father-in-law Sorin, who is from Romania, as they prepared a summer feast of steak and fresh vegetables. Dan and Serena were kind enough to let me spend an evening with them, their children and Serena’s parents. It was a lively evening of conversation, jokes and a little bit of photography. Best of all, they let me stay to taste that yummy steak.

Dan and Serena live on the steep, narrow section of Monticello Road in a house that must have been chosen for its site, which affords a panoramic view of Monticello and Carter’s Mountain. Dan is an architect (Serena is a graphic designer) and the house is conceived to maximize this advantage, with the entire rear wall of the open kitchen/common room devoted to windows.

A few inventive features make a good view great. For example, no upper cabinets block the panorama (there is correspondingly more and smarter storage below); the angle of the L-shaped windows is not square, preventing a hall-of-mirrors reflection; and rooms are all reshuffled to bring the rooms where they spend the most time (such as the kitchen) into the spots where the view is most spectacular. The fa├žade of the house is quite simple and one could easily walk past without knowing how much thought went into everything beyond that front wall.

I met Dan and Serena because their firm is helping us re-imagine our own home, so it was a treat to learn that they're neighbors and to walk into one of their projects. The thing that we like best about Dan's approach is that he focused squarely on the house we have—in fact, he was the only architect we interviewed not to recommend some elaborate addition (although his firm can do that too).

This neighborhood has never been known for its fanciness or pretension but it isn’t mean or course either. The vernacular is modest but sufficient, economical but lovely. The Zimmermans’ home is a contemporary take on the timeless notion that guides so much of what happens on this street: quality (of space, in this case) means more than quantity.

When the meat had all been devoured and it came time to steer the little ones toward bed, I thanked the gracious hosts and walked up the hill back to my own little house and family. Along the way, I thought about what a special thing we have here.


The People of Monticello Road is a weekly series of profiles that will run through the summer. Monticello Road is a photography and story-telling project about the people and places along a mile-long byway that is simultaneously humble and historic, home to many and a reflection of us all. There will be an exhibition and much more in the Spring of 2012.

Project Description | More Photos: Places | People

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