Driftless Business Spotlight: Rural Iowa reclaimed wood artwork distributed nationwide

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From “junk” to unique pieces of art, Skräp Work owner Dawn Backes takes her passion for old wood pieces and turns them into one-of-a-kind items available for purchase in her online store.
Backes credits her father, Dan Klimesh, for igniting her desire for all things old and reclaimed. “My dad, a carpenter by trade, ended his career of building houses with his brothers and started dismantling old structures and salvaging all the old wood and architectural pieces,” she said. “It was then that I started seeing so much potential in everything he was saving.” 
She spent a winter in the woodshop with her father where she gained tools and tricks of the trade to create unique pieces with salvaged wood. Shortly after, the duo began selling product online and attending craft shows. In 2015, Backes and Klimesh formed the businesses Skräp Work and NEI Architectural Salvage, respectively. 
A fancy Scandinavian word for “junk,” Skräp Work’s primary product is art created from a mix of new and old wood that would otherwise be discarded. “I found it fascinating to use it in my work,” Backes said. “Time is beauty with the wood I find. The textures are something I will forever be amazed at, and the old wood (like shiplap and barnwood) have a coloring and patina to them that just can’t be recreated.”
Backes explained that each of her pieces is truly one-of-a-kind; the wood she uses is never the same in character. Along with the mixture of old and new wood in her pieces, she also mixes colors and textures. “I like to keep the wood “as is” how I find it with a few exceptions, like painting a little black and white onto the wood.”
Known for creating unique pieces, Backes explained that she has always been drawn to textures and simple lines, and often sketches out her thoughts and ideas. “I think that is the fun part of my job. I can create something that’s an image in my head and make it work with wood,” she said. 

Where to buy
So how do you get your hands on Skräp Work products? There are two local options for purchasing items: Rendered Unique in Decorah and Adourn in Chatfield. 
But primarily, the business is online at Skräpwork.com. The online inventory is restocked and items are released about every six weeks. “I usually start announcing a date on social media when I have some inventory to add to the online store,” Backes said. She later follows up with a message to her e-mail list with more sale details. 
“Returning customers know not to wait if they see a piece they want,” Backed noted. “Sales can go fast, and it can be sometimes difficult. But I have been told the wait was worth it and they appreciate their piece that much more.” Backes credits Cori and Alison of Iroc Web Designs for keeping her online store running smoothly.
There is a piece of Skräp Work purchased from individuals in almost all 50 states, and Backes said “I still can’t believe it. I give lots of credit to social media for expanding beyond (craft) shows and the Tri-state area.” Social media has allowed her to reach many people that she otherwise couldn’t have; she has many repeat customers from states away. 

An unusual storefront
As with most businesses, Skräp Work was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a shift into online-only sales. But there is extra time and energy devoted to having online sales, so Backes had to downsize the number of products she’s able to create. “I do like the online world and sending out pretty packages across the nation, but I miss the in-person experience, too,” she said.
Backes and her father operated their businesses out of an unusual storefront until last year. In the spring of 2018, the pair had the opportunity to dismantle a one-room schoolhouse that sat between Ridgeway and Decorah. “My dad and I moved the old schoolhouse onto my parents’ property a few years back,” Backes said. Occasional openings were held in the schoolhouse after restoring its original charm with a Skräp Work twist. But COVID-19 made in-person sales difficult, so time and energy were put into online sales. “I do see us opening up the schoolhouse together sometime in the near future for an occasional sale of our goods combined,” she said. Her father still salvages and saves old wood, and she still makes pieces from the wood he saves.
Previously, she worked in her dad’s woodshop in Ridgeway, but now works in her husband’s backyard shop in Spillville. When asked how she liked rural business owner life, she replied, “I had always dreamed when I was younger that I would be in the city surrounded by all kinds of creativity. In reality, I have been able to be creative right here,” Backes said. “Using what’s available to me and making it work was the challenge, not the area. Small and handmade items are definitely appreciated, so I do feel like living here has been an advantage!”
Backes is still in disbelief of how her business has evolved. Combining her passions of saving wood and creating unique products formed a business that “just worked.” But she jokingly urged people not to follow her small business plan: “go with the flow and see where it leads me. I never had a definite [business] plan…but you will never know what happens next if you don’t start. It’s a journey worth every up and down and all the hard work you put into it. Being able to be creative has been rewarding and I often remind myself during the creative process that this is my job!” 
Backes spent 14 years as a dental assistant before teaming up with her dad to form Skräp Works. She resides in Spillville with her husband Reed; children Logan, Emma, Marlee and Myra; and their beloved Golden Doodle, Marshall. “If you watch our social media stories, you’ll get a glimpse of Marshall. He loves to be a part of the shop and photo ops!” Follow Skräp Work on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date with new product launches. 

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