ROUND LAKE – Nothing is ever simple when it comes to renovating old homes. They’re layered with history — and sometimes hidden problems — and right angles are often few and far between.
For Ben and Becky Comish of Round Lake, that’s just fine.
“We love old houses and preserving them,” Ben Comish said. “We feel strongly that if you have a historic house, there is a certain amount of inherited responsibility that comes with it in the form of preserving the structure in its original form, or at least as best you can.”
They previously renovated two houses in Troy and enjoyed the process. They found their next project in a home on 2nd Street in Round Lake.
“When this came on the market in 2015, as soon as we saw it, it was like, ‘That’s our house.’ It’s a very unique building,” Comish said.
Dating to 1870, the home is a mix of Victorian, gothic, folk and Eastlake styles, with two sizable porches, one on the first floor and another on the second. The home is roughly 2,000 square feet and is in the heart of the village.
Though Ben Comish, who works in insurance, grew up in South Glens Falls, before looking for a home he hadn’t visited Round Lake. When he and Becky went to tour the house they were surprised by the village.
“Before the appointment we went to Leah’s [Cakery]. … We’re sitting outside eating, and there’s families around and people are on the trail. It’s like, ‘What is this place?’ This is serene, this is beautiful. … It had such a good positive energy about it. We fell in love with the house and the village,” Ben Comish said.
Round Lake’s tight-knit community dates to 1868, when it became a Methodist summer camp known as the Round Lake Camp Meeting. Believers traveling from Troy and other areas set up hundreds of tents throughout the 40-acre area, which was filled with hemlock, oak, pine and chestnut trees.
Established along the Rensselaer and Saratoga railroad line, the first meeting drew roughly 8,000 people, and eventually the meetings grew to 20,000, according to some reports. Among the most notable visitors was President Ulysses S. Grant, who came in 1874.
The camp’s first cottages were built in 1869 and grew in number from there, usually close together.
The Comishes’ home was among the earliest built, and with help from the village historian and previous owners the family has pieced together a fair amount about the history of the house. It was originally owned by Charles Hammond, and then the home belonged to Ellis Rowe, a businessman who owned a local manufacturing plant. The park across the street from the home is named after him.
“We think he did some extensive renovations on this because the bathrooms look early 1900s or 1920s. They definitely weren’t original,” Comish said.
The Eastlake-style, ornately decorated fireplace, which is situated in the living room, might also have been installed when Rowe owned the home.
Over the years the house was relatively well cared for and luckily didn’t fall victim to style trends. But the Comishes did have some major repairs to undertake, particularly when it came to the porches, which they started working on about three years ago.
“When we removed the ceiling a lot of the framing for the upstairs porch was rotted out and needed to be either replaced or sistered together,” Comish said. “Those repairs needed to be done before anything else. After that we had the front downstairs porch floor replaced along with the beadboard ceiling. The porch stairs on the side and front of the house were replaced, along with the stairs off the back porch.”
They also had to restore the rotted columns by splicing lumber to match what was there.
“Some of them required extensive repairs,” Comish said. “You would be sanding them down and all of the sudden you would hit a patch of dry rot, and it would just start to disintegrate. We used two-part wood epoxy to make the repairs, and in the section where the turnings were rotted we molded the epoxy to match the detail in the turning.”
The siding also needed to be replaced as much of it was rotted or cracked.
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“My initial plan was to do the whole house myself,” Comish said. But between working full time, managing the family’s rental property in Troy and raising two children, Harrison and Sarah, it was just too much.
“After a year of trying to do stuff on my own, I eventually just broke down and decided it’s going to be best just hire somebody to do it,” Comish said.
He recruited David’s Building and Design for some of the most recent work, which was done over the summer.
“He has been excellent to work with. When we first started having contractors come out and give us an estimate for the work, I had many that took one look at the house and the detail involved and just said no. When David came to look at the job, he didn’t even flinch,” Comish said.
One of the most challenging aspects of renovating the home was selecting the exterior paint colors.
“If you paint a room inside your house and don’t care for it, it’s a relatively easy fix. Once you commit to the outside color scheme it’s a bit more final, as repainting the entire house is a big undertaking,” Comish said.
They used three color consultants and made countless digital mock-ups. They ended up choosing four paint colors for the siding, trim, doors/window frames and porch ceiling, along with two accent colors.
“With so many colors, the challenge was making sure they all played off each other nicely.” Comish said. “Your color palette should be like a symphony, where each color complements the next and they all harmonize together. One wrong color and your whole scheme is out of tune.”
The paint is Benjamin Moore brand from Colorize in Clifton Park. When it came to color placement, they referenced old photos to do the job just right and be sure it was in line with the history of the home.
The siding features a mossy green color, which contrasts well with the rich, dark gold accent color.
Another challenge was the cost of building materials, especially wood. The Cornishes originally planned to use red cedar stakes for the siding but the price doubled in a matter of months, so they went with white cedar instead.
Other challenges came with the territory of working on an older home.
“There are no right angles and nothing is level. In addition, it seems like every time you open a wall or ceiling you discover something else that needs to be addressed, whether that is rot, old wiring or outdated plumbing,” Comish said.
In the next year or so, he plans to restore all the corbels and brackets on the first-floor porch, complete the latticework and install new handrails.
“For the latticework I’ll be recreating the square-opening lattice that was originally on the house, as opposed to the standard diamond-opening lattice that is sold at big-box stores,” Comish said.
While he has his work cut out for him, it’s work he enjoys. And living in the village is part of what makes it all worth it.
“The village is such a great place and a hidden gem in the Capital Region,” Comish said. “There is a great community atmosphere here, where everyone knows each other.”
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