WASHINGTON, Maine — When Sean Donaghy was gutting the ground floor of the three-story, gambrel-style barn he and his wife, Amy, bought two years ago, he had the kind of eureka moment that every renovator dreams of having.
They had big plans to turn the massive, 1930s-era lumber barn into the new Washington General Store, but didn’t have a big budget to match. The Donaghys figured they’d have to spend a lot of capital on fixing problems, such as the exterior vinyl siding and the ugly interior drop ceilings that camouflaged whatever lay underneath. But when Sean Donaghy ripped into the vinyl siding and tore down the drop ceiling, he found the additions obscured something beautiful.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said of finding diagonal bead board on the ceiling and Douglas fir tongue-in-groove siding on the outside of the 9,000-square-foot structure. “Why did they cover it up? I guess, like putting a shag carpet on an oak floor, it was just the style.”
But as styles, thankfully, have changed, so have the fortunes of the barn. The solid structure originally supported floors filled with heavy stacks of lumber milled on nearby Washington Pond. More recently, the barn served as Luce’s Bargain Shop, filled with trash, treasures and everything in between.
When the Great Recession hit Washington, a community of about 1,500 people, it took a toll on local businesses, according to Donaghy. When the couple moved there 13 years ago, there was an ice cream shop, a used bookstore, a market, an art gallery and the bargain barn.
“It felt like a town — like a place where you’d like to live,” Donaghy said.
But all those businesses have closed. By the time the barn was put on the auction block two years ago, the couple had discussed whether they should move somewhere livelier to raise their four kids.
Instead, they decided to do something about it. When the barn didn’t sell at auction, they purchased it and spent a year and a half slowly turning it back into something beautiful. They installed windows to let the light in and laid wide wooden floorboards over the original uneven cement. They also searched for ways to incorporate elements of the original lumber barn, which is why the varnished bar by the new front windows is made of boards they found in the third-floor lumber drying room. And the pale blue sliding barn door that separates the new hardware section from the rest of the store was salvaged from the rest of the building.
“People think we did some amazing distress work,” Donaghy said. “All I did was vacuum it.”
As for the general store itself, the couple wanted to create a clean, welcoming space with a kitchen that serves a great piece of pizza or sandwich. They wanted the employees to be friendly, the coffee to be fresh, the beer section to be impressive and the neighbors to feel welcome.
“We really wanted to be that heart of the village,” Amy Donaghy said. “People are really happy we’re here. It feels good.”
The Washington General Store at 7 Waldoboro Road, Washington, is open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 845-2007.