Looking back to a time when barn dances were the norm, the Hafensteins’ of Lake Mills are bringing back the memories of a bygone era by doing barn weddings and events with elegance.
It all started with their son Daniel’s wedding, but it ended in an unexpected business venture for Brian and Tammy Hafenstein of Lake Mills, proprietors of the Sunset Hill Farm, N4716 County Rd. G, Lake Mills, just outside the city.
“My niece got married and had a barn wedding. I’d never been to a barn wedding I didn’t even know it was a thing,” Brian said.
Everyone in the family thought the venue was pretty cool, but he thought he could do it better in his pre-1900 barn.
“I thought my barn is bigger than this and it’s cooler,” he said.
The Hafensteins’ moved into their home on County Highway G in 2011 when the property was in pretty rough shape.
“We had animals living in the house,” Brian said.
When his son asked if he could have his wedding at the barn it was the fall of 2017 and the family had a lot of work to do to get it ready for the summer of 2018.
“I was thinking we were going to sweep it out and empty it, fix a couple holes, patch the roof and put some Christmas lights up and as we got into it we realized the barn needed a lot of work.”
The property had been used as a greenhouse since the 1970s but was abandoned in the early 2000s. The barn sat empty for eight years before being purchased by the owners of Aztalan Fields who had plans to move or expand their business to that location, but eventually chose not to.
Brian Hafenstein, who is a contractor by trade, started to look at the floor in the barn.
“I realized the floor system may not be OK to have that kind of party here,” he said. “The barn settled by two inches, so we jacked that up, fixed the walls, fixed the roof and by the time we had all that work into it we thought, why would we leave the floor?”
They salvaged what they could from the floor and replaced it. They worked on the lighting, wrapped beams with lights and Brian created custom mason jar chandeliers.
“We ended up with a pretty elaborate lighting system.”
Unique to most barn wedding venues, the Hafenstein’s installed heating and air conditioning systems.
“I found some rooftop air conditioning units at an auction and piped it for heating and cooling.”
The barn was a labor of love over many weekends last summer, leading up to their son’s wedding in July.
“Our son worked here full time after graduating college to get everything done in time for the wedding.”
They were still working on the barn the night before the wedding.
“I always thought we could do it,” Tammy said. “I knew it would be a lot of work, but I thought we could pull it off.”
“Tammy is the one who said if we are going to do this we should do it right to make it’s what we want,” Brian said.
Tammy has an interior design background.
“She was the driving force of how functional everything is,” he said.
The barn features a full bar, which was completed only a few weeks before the wedding. It’s a project they didn’t think would be done in time for the event.
Much of the equipment they purchased was done so at auctions, including the bar equipment, tables, chairs, plates, glasses, silverware and more.
“I wanted all that to be available for people,” Tammy said.
The property is already zoned A-2 commercial, because of the greenhouse that was located there.
“We are able to run a business out of here,” Brian said.
Earlier this year the business received a conditional use permit to be able to host events at the site. They are currently booking weddings for this summer, fall and beyond.
“I would like to have a fall dance, events for veterans and more.”
There are currently 246 barn venues in the state and only one is operating in confines of having all the permits in place,” Brian mentioned.
Over the past year there has been a battle in the legislature over wedding barns and their right to serve alcoholic beverages. A legislative Study Committee on Alcohol Beverages Enforcement has met several times on the controversial issue. Wedding barns are rented out for weddings and other events but are not licensed to sell alcohol.
“Because these are actually commercial use they should fall under commercial code and it would be impossible to make this building fit commercial code, and no one would do it. The legislation proposed you bring it up to residential codes. We are building this place to meet all those codes,” he said.
When they are done there will be four bathrooms with running water. Currently there are two.
Since the property was being used as a greenhouse the water lines and plumbing were already in place to make the barn practical for events.
“Everything to make it usable is here, it just needed to be fixed up.”
The barn can seat up to 240 people comfortably, is handicap accessible, offers onsite parking and has a dining area and dance floor. Tammy also offers event planning services, a large variety of decorations and arrangements.
Those looking for more information about Sunset Hill Farm can call 920-728-3689 or go to tshfarm.com.