The things that matter

Jonathan Charles Fox and his magical home

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“I lived through the 1994 earthquake, and almost everything I had broke,” said Jonathan Charles Fox, River Reporter columnists and photojournalist. The Northridge Earthquake taught him that stuff “is not the be-all and end-all of existence.”

After that, what he restored and what he acquired says a great deal about what matters to him now.

We may not need lots of things. But the things we have can matter.

The wooden tent

First—the house itself. Built in 1979 and tucked into the woods, it is dressed in pieces of Fox’s past and present. It changes. New paint here and there, an island added in the kitchen. A new sofa.

Like all of our houses, of course.

You can pretty much step right from the house into the woods. They’re encroaching, or looming, or maybe just waiting for a casual hike.

He grew up summering at Seneca Lake and in the Catskills, and Fox continues to love the outdoors, the country and campfires at night. He built the firepit himself and laid out the stones for the path from the house. Those stones came from the excavations when the place was built.

“Camping is a huge part of my life. It’s why I moved back to the Catskills. I find myself seeking the woods more and more,” he said.

That might be why he calls the house “that wooden tent.”

Inside

It’s a house of stories, of course.

Architecturally, two-and-change: the ground floor (kitchen, office, bath, garage, stairs) and the larger main floor next (living room, bedroom, main bath); a small loft on top, reached by a fragile-looking ladder.

Pre-COVID-19, Fox spent his days traveling around, talking to people, attending events, working 70 hours a week. But “COVID gave me my house,” he said.

It’s a small space, maybe 1,100 square feet.

It’s different from his childhood home. Fox grew up in Binghamton, in a big three-story with a turret. His grandmother lived on the third floor. Then they moved to a “modern house, with all the kitchen amenities.” The kids, he said, hated it.

Small, of course, can be beautiful. His previous house in Santa Monica, CA was 650 square feet.

You might expect the present house to be crammed with relics from a lifetime spent in the public eye as a performer, a writer, and an attendee at arts events, library events, picnics, parades, community festivals and so on. And don’t actors live with endless shrines to the surface self?

Not always.

Fox references Norma Desmond a lot—that’s “Sunset Boulevard,” if you don’t watch old movies—and he first saw the movie as a kid. It matters because Norma’s house was as much of a character as the aging actress and her former-director, former-husband butler.

But there’s nothing mad about this place (and no swimming pool to leave a murdered scriptwriter in). The only real reminder of his acting past is a collection of photographs in the office.

Magpie DNA

Collecting special objects “was the sensibility I was raised with,” Fox said. It sounds like his mother was the collector; part of his decor was hers. And the sense of the place, also hers: walls, hung with pictures and needlework, random lovely objects placed here and there. No space wasted.

“No, you don’t see a lot of blank spaces,” he agreed. “I have a great love of antiques. I’ve always had a great love of old things. The thrill of the hunt. I embrace it.”

Please touch

The house isn’t a museum. The decor wasn’t collected just for the sake of having it or even just to look at. You can touch it. When I bend close to look at a candelabrum, he calls out, “Go ahead! Touch it! I believe in touching things.” (I give it a tiny, careful poke. I’m clumsy, and they’re glass.)

Maybe he sees. “We were put on earth, we’re in this body, to enjoy the world, appreciate beauty, art and nature.”

In the living room

The light in the room is striking. A largely open floor plan and the loft at the top give airiness and space. Skylights let in more light, even on a cloudy day like today. “I used to dream about skylights,” Fox said. “Be careful what you wish for.” Maintaining them can be a challenge, for sure.

The windows aren’t curtained—“I never wanted window treatments”—and not only does that let in more light, but it brings the woods closer.

The room is full of memories of his mother, Barbara; Fox inherited some of her furniture, needlework and her other art. “She was an artist,” he says. “I just take pictures.”

Which are, largely, tucked away right now or being framed; he’s planning a future show. “Photography came to me late in life but it gives me so much joy,” Fox says.

Many of his photos in the pandemic have, by necessity, been of nature, since there have been so few events. Nature photos
aren’t necessarily immediate.

You slow down, look and wait.

As the pandemic wanes, he’s looking forward to some adaptation of the previous life. “I love people, I love sharing their enthusiasm for the arts,” he said. He’ll keep working on the house, letting it reflect his life as that evolves.

 “I’m much more present than I used to be. I don’t live in the past and I don’t live in the future. All we have is now.”

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Jane Anderson

License plates as a backsplash...I'm stealing this idea. Love this story and I love the photos.

Friday, June 25