MANITOWOC — Eric Konen and Kate Lulloff hate seeing old barns yanked down in one fell swoop, with the remnants indiscriminately tossed on a burn pile.
“All the history that’s in those barns and the skill and work it took to put up those boards ... anytime they’re torn down is just sinful,” Lulloff said. “Seeing history go up in smoke just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
That’s why longtime friends Konen and Lulloff pour their heart and soul into KEK Rustic Reclamation, a business based in a rural part of western Manitowoc. Konen is the full-time owner, while Lulloff handles administrative duties on a part-time basis.
Konen buys old barns (or other historically significant structures), carefully dismantles them and either sells the reclaimed material or uses it to create interesting pieces (like a portable bar made of barn wood he recently completed and is selling).
They operate primarily in eastern and central Wisconsin, but will travel elsewhere if the opportunity arises.
“A lot of people go out to movies or go out for a nice dinner, but I spend a lot of my time driving around looking for old barns that are falling down or in bad shape and need to be salvaged,” said Konen, who worked on a farm during much of his upbringing in nearby Kiel.
“I’ve just always been into the big older structures,” he said. “All of that intrigues me — how they put things like that up and how they got them to stay together with such simplicity. I appreciate the history of those buildings, and I appreciate the planning and work it took to build them.”
KEK Rustic Reclamation is a business, so there’s a financial incentive for their efforts. So far, they’ve dismantled about 50 old barns since first dabbling in the business about a decade ago. An average-size barn typically requires about two weeks to be taken down. Over the past year, it has become a full-time job for Konen, who spent four years working in the oil fields in North Dakota.
But money isn’t the only motivating factor — Konen and Lulloff genuinely enjoy preserving history. They take great pride in knowing the pieces they painstakingly salvage are able to be repurposed — often as architectural features in homes or businesses. Among their clients is a regular customer in Chicago who works with developers. They also frequently work with clients in the Twin Cities and Sheboygan. And some of their items are posted on the business’ Facebook page, so customers can come from anywhere.
“It’s very on trend now to have a newer house, or even an older house, and combine those older pieces in it. Barn doors are one of the most popular things,” Lulloff said. “If you go on Pinterest, a lot of people want to have houses with regular drywall but they want to have one accent piece — like a barn beam or a mantle or something like that. It’s nice knowing one of the pieces we saved is getting used in someone’s home or business and making them happy. There are a lot of people interested in historic pieces like these.”
The most popular barn boards are red and gray, they said. Tongue-in-groove flooring is another hot commodity.
“One time we even took down a single beam that was 65 feet long,” Konen said.
In addition, Konen and Lulloff salvage antique and vintage items they discover inside structures they’re dismantling. Among those many finds are an old wooden cistern tank, hay carriers, pulleys, hand-crank clippers and a hand-crank water pump.
“If Eric had one channel on his TV, it would be the History Channel,” Lulloff said. “He loves old historic things, and so do I. This is a job, of course, but it’s something we really like. It makes us happy salvaging pieces, and it makes other people happy who are looking to buy them. We’re passing on history to other people.”
For more information, call Konen at 920-973-0545 or Lulloff at 920-901-6654, email KEKRusticReclamation@hotmail, or visit KEK Rustic Reclamation on Facebook.