Irreverent, Hilarious, Bizarre: Chestnut House

It’s a challenge to describe Chestnut House, the 1884 brick Victorian shared by Late Night Theatre founder Ron Megee and costume designer Jon Fulton Adams in KC’s Northeast neighborhood.

Here’s a start: eclectic, decay, “The Addams Family,” and Miss Havisham (if that lady had had a sense of humor).

The two men have filled their home with irreverent, hilarious and even bizarre ephemera. But their good natures, easy going personalities and gentle take on life—and the world—come through. The house, like its owners, is charming, fascinating and, perhaps surprisingly, very sweet.

What’s their favorite descriptor? “Well curated,” answers Adams.

It’s apt, because the house and its collections have the feel of things not sought, but found. An antique dollhouse in an alcove is crowded with dozens of porcelain dandies, tchotchkes popular in the 1940s and 50s. Wigged, frock-coated 18th-century gentleman bow, or escort long-gone porcelain ladies.

“We found the first one about seven or eight years ago,” says Megee, “and we were like: ‘Oh, he’s so cute.’”

“And he was all alone,” adds Adams. He did some research and discovered that little girls played with the female figurines, so they were frequently broken and are relatively scarce.

“There are all of these single ‘dandies’ out there and now we collect them,” says Megee. “When we come across one we’ll go ‘Oh, look at him, he’s all by himself.’  It’s just things like that that we never intended to collect, but find their way in.”

Other collections, displayed in beautifully crafted piles on shelves and tables, hung on the walls or from the ceiling, catch the eye and draw attention. Even the odd and slightly macabre items simultaneously fascinate and amuse.

A taxidermy fox perches in the window, a well-preserved buffalo head hangs above the fireplace, and tattered deer share a wall in the living room.  A Canadian goose in flight – and for a long, long time, from the looks of him (“Yes, he’s sad,” Megee sighs) – hangs in front of a curio cabinet of vintage toys, books, knick-knacks and souvenirs.

Their collection includes two 1950s-era funeral suits. A funeral suit is a jacket, shirt and tie that is actually a single garment, open backed for easy dressing and removal, and often rented for viewing only (permission granted to shudder). Found in a department store turned flea market in downtown Stilwell, Oklahoma, they hang on the wall, still in their original boxes. It amuses Adams and Megee that few, if any, visitors realize what they are.  And in the kitchen, they have several panoramic photos from the early 1910s through 30s of prosperous, white businessmen at banquets. “Like ‘The Shining’” says Adams, gleefully.

The theatricality of Chestnut House is directly related to its inhabitants’ professions in the visual and performing arts. “We don’t do rooms. We do sets, environments,” says Adams. And their otherworldly design aesthetic is featured in photographer Tom Atwood’s new book “Kings & Queens in Their Castles,” alongside the homes of John Waters, Alan Cummings and others.

“We rescue things,” says Megee. “We don’t live in a museum, because absolutely anything can be touched, but it’s interesting to watch younger people come into our home because we have to explain things to them. They are just intrigued because it’s a world that doesn’t exist for them. Now there are maybe five stores that you buy everything from, and the same stuff is in everybody’s houses. We call it the ‘tauping’ of America.”

“Like Garanimals for the home,” adds Fulton, “with no dehydrated bats on the walls.”

Or a crowd of porcelain dandies.

About The Author: Brian Justice

Brian Justice

Brian Justice grew up in Kansas City. Now a Chicago-based writer he has written for Michigan Avenue, Interiors Chicago, Profile, Modern Counsel and GB&D magazines.

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