Nancy Cook is a creative. Even if she doesn’t consider herself an artist, one look at her Saratoga Springs home makes it clear she’s got a keen sense of style.
“I’m always reimagining spaces,” Cook said.
That's one reason Cook's house is part of the Historic Homes Tour, organized by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.
Built in 1917, the house at 31 Fifth Ave. hasn’t changed much in its 101 years -- from the second-floor balcony to the columns to the bay windows. Cook has tried to keep the home’s history intact.
“ . . . Old homes have stories to tell,” Cook said.
The original owners were LeRoy and Amy Foote, according to Cook. Leroy Foote was a dentist and ran his practice on the first floor of the home. All that remains of the dental office is a small door that’s been sealed off. Yet one of Cook’s neighbors said she remembers seeing a dentist's chair in the window as a child walking past the house.
The family that owned the home before Cook purchased it in 2005, and didn’t change much.
“We were really lucky. . . . They may not have appreciated it, but they kept it,” Cook said.
Most of the light fixtures and molding on the first floor are original, and there are several wall sconces that remain from that era. The original hardwood floors were in good shape, hidden under two layers of carpeting when Cook moved in. She refinished and renovated the bathrooms and kitchen, which hadn’t been updated in decades.
Though she grew up in Pennsylvania, Cook feels a strong connection to Saratoga Springs.
“I was a Skidmore student and Fifth Ave. was my favorite street,” Cook said, “Who ever thought I would come back?”
While at Skidmore, she studied art history, and historic preservation has been a passion ever since. She’s added a bit of family history to the Colonial Revival/American Foursquare home over the years.
“This bar is from the countertop of a gourmet shop my mom used to own,” Cook said. The beautifully refinished piece has become the focal point of the finished basement. She also added a wooden coffee table, cut in the shape of the United States, with marks indicating where her family lives.
On the ground floor hang silhouettes from Auguste Edouart, a 19th-century artist who had a summer residency in Saratoga Springs. There’s also a drawing of Spit and Spat, drawn by a close friend of Cook's; and sailor’s valentines, intricate pieces of art made from shells mostly during the 19th century.
Peppered throughout the house are artwork and designs by Cook's daughter, Betsy Olmsted, a local designer known for her whimsical watercolor textiles and interior designs. They add a bit of brightness and curiosity to each room -- though there’s no shortage of curiosities and unique pieces throughout.
“My daughter was born on Valentine’s Day,” Cook said. Ever since she was born, her grandmother has been collecting vintage, pop-up Valentine’s Day cards, which Cook has on display in gilded box frames. Many have kitschy messages and delicate illustrations.
Cook has also placed artwork from her grandson throughout the home, along with work from Clayton Pond, a silkscreen artist. It’s a mix of personal and regional history, with a modern touch.
Just outside the foyer, Cook keeps a framed photo of the home from the local historical society of the 1920s.
“It hasn’t changed much,” Cook said. And that’s just the way she’s hoping to keep it.
Her home, along with six others will be open to tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 12.
According to Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, the tour is focused on the east side of the city and includes homes at 150 Phila St., 144 Spring St., 29 Fifth Ave., 31 Fifth Ave., 38 Circular St., 115 Circular St. and a rehabilitation in process at 34 Circular St.
Caffe Lena and a condo at 55 Phila St. (the Spencer condominiums) will also be open and available for tours.
The foundation will host a lunch at noon at Caffe Lena, during which Charlie Kuenzel and Dave Patterson of Saratoga Tours will discuss the development of the Eastside neighborhood.
On Thursday, May 10, there will be a porch party at 150 Phila St. celebrating 150 years of the home. The party will be hosted by Theresa and John Behrendt, and runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for the Historic Homes Tour are $30 for SSPF members and $40 for nonmembers if purchased prior to May 12, or $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers on the day of the event. The Lunch and Learn requires reservations and is $20 for SSPF members and $25 for non-members. Tickets for the Porch Party are $100. Funds raised from the tour benefit SSPF’s educational efforts and efforts to preserve Saratoga’s heritage.
For information about the luncheon and tour, visit saratogapreservation.org or call 518-587-5030.