TOWNSEND -- The Townsend Harbor landmark that now houses "Home ... at the Cooperage," a new antique, art and artisan gallery/shop that opened to a warm reception on a chilly Saturday morning last week, has had a long and interesting career.
Built in 1733 as a board sawing mill and later converted to a fulling (cloth-processing) mill, the old building became a barrel factory in the mid 1800s, owned and operated by E. Spaulding. That's when the six-sided "cooper" fireplace that centers the main room on the first floor was added.
Partially hidden previously, business owner Bill Phaneuf, who restored the old wood wall boards on one side of the shop to look interestingly old again, also opened up the area around the chimney to make the unique fireplace a picture-perfect centerpiece with a practical purpose: A wood burning stove in the fireplace niche adds warmth and the welcoming aroma of a fire on the hearth to the room's homey, other-era ambiance.
For a time, the old building housed a riverside restaurant, no doubt capitalizing on its picturesque placement by the falls, with grand views from river-facing windows and the sound of rushing water beneath the sturdy plank floor.
Today, the old cooperage is owned by the Townsend Historical Society, which acquired it from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities some time ago. The old building has had a number of tenants over the years, including a succession of gift and antique shops.
"Home ... at the Cooperage," carries on that tradition, but with an eye to keeping it simple, uncluttered, with some of its best architectural bones exposed and lots of natural light, as Phaneuf told a visitor at the "soft opening" last week.
When the visitor arrived, the owner was busy with a customer, but Janine LaValley, one of the artist vendors currently on board with the new venture, was ready with a greeting and helpful information. Asked about how the old room's homey new look had taken shape, she acknowledged having a hand in the prep work but credited Phaneuf with the results. "This is his vision..." she said.
LaValley's striking water color paintings were displayed on the walls in a corner niche, a prime location near the entrance that she painted white. Like the other vendors, she rents space from the owner to exhibit and sell her work in this quaint New England timepiece.
Phaneuf, a woodworker who also owns two Ayer-based businesses, Spruce Hill Furniture and Frames with a History, said he wasn't on the hunt for a new enterprise when he noticed the old cooperage was vacant while driving to and from the Townsend Ridge Country Club, where he's a member. It was, "literally" an opportunity he stumbled upon, he said. "I've always loved this building."
Asked about the dozen or so artists and artisans who now people his space, Phaneuf said three or four of them are local; others he met on the road, at craft fairs and other events where he sells his work. (Details can be found on the Home ... at the Cooperage website or on Facebook, he said.) There's been drive-by interest as well and he anticipates a lively scene once things get going.
It was pretty lively on opening day: artists mingling with customers, some of whom were regulars at the earlier antique shop, which has moved to another old building nearby.
The new shop features an eclectic inventory, absent consignment clutter, not too much of any one thing and plenty of browsing room. Prints stacked for sale in a windowed corner; a wall of owl art, furniture, pottery and other handcrafted items, a few attic treasures on a shelf here and there, selected articles of vintage clothing.
Rustic furniture Phaneuf fashioned from reclaimed wood are among the specialties. A coffee table with a thick plank top and iron legs is priced at $375. A handsome farm table is a floor model, a sample. According to a small sign on top, customers can get a custom-built replica, made to order.
A man who came in to ask about consigning a piece of "primitive art" he wants to sell left with an antique find: a divided wooden trencher. Around the corner, other enticements await. Architectural salvage pieces, like the metal frame that leans against a wall.
Vintage and decorative pieces ranged from an old wooden school desk to a painted writing table to a pair of hooked chair pads, which the visitor snapped up for $8 each.
Newly crafted items, art and handmade crafts include a display of pottery, hooked and woven rugs, runners, scarves, slippers. The list goes on, but it's not too much. Just enough.
Billed as "a unique place...to shop for your place," Home ... at the Cooperage is located at one South Street, Townsend, at the bridge.
The shop is open Thursday-Sunday, 12-5 p.m. through March, with expanded hours starting in April, along with added days.