CARV­ING A NICHE

Clint Harp’s life af­ter ‘Fixer Up­per’

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ni­cole Vil­lal­pando nvil­lal­pando@states­man.com

Clint Harp doesn’t know what the next chap­ter in his life will hold.

The fur­ni­ture-maker and owner of Harp De­sign Co. in Waco is known for turn­ing Joanna Gaines’ ideas into farm ta­bles and can­dle­sticks on the HGTV show “Fixer Up­per.” That show ended re­cently af­ter five sea­sons, and Harp and wife, Kelly, launched a new show this spring. Now Harp is wait­ing for an­swers.

Will his show, “Wood Work” on DIY Net­work, be picked up for an­other sea­son? If so, what new projects will await him?

Will his new book, “Hand­crafted: A Wood­worker’s Story,” be a suc­cess? The book tells his story from grow­ing up poor in Ge­or­gia and North Carolina to ditch­ing a six-fig­ure job in Hous­ton to pur­sue fur­ni­ture-mak­ing to a bit of be­hind-the-scenes of “Fixer Up­per.” “Hand­crafted” comes out Sept. 25.

When Harp was headed down the road to Austin in Jan­uary 2016 to be part of the Austin Home & Gar­den Show, we talked to him about that mid­dle part of his life: from quit­ting a med­i­cal sales job in Hous­ton to start­ing Harp De­sign Co. in Waco.

The book goes even deeper into those days, but it also makes sense of how he got to be who he is — a faith­ful risk-taker — and it brings us to 18 months later, when Harp, 40, has grown his com­pany to about 25 em­ploy­ees and can pay him­self a wage. That didn’t hap­pen un­til af­ter the se­cond sea­son of “Fixer Up­per,” which might sur­prise fans.

“We have our fam­ily, our busi-

ness, which is grow­ing,” Harp says, “We’re thank­ful for the TV thing and hope that it keeps go­ing on,” but if it doesn’t, “we still have the op­por­tu­nity to make our dreams come true and live the life we want to live.”

The not know­ing, though, could get to you, which is why Harp has taken the last few weeks to con­cen­trate on his fam­ily. They took a trip to the beach, and then they stayed for a week in his grand­fa­ther’s old house. It was a house his grandfa

ther built but never re­ally fin­ished in Ge­or­gia. Af­ter Harp’s grand­fa­ther died, a fam­ily friend bou ght the house and fin­ished many of the projects started by his grand­fa­ther and then rented it out as a va­ca­tion home.

“I’m in hog heaven,” Harp says of his stay in his grand­fa­ther’s old home.

His grand­fa­ther in­spired him, teach­ing him the value of hard work and his be­gin­ning wood­work­ing skills and giv­ing him the money for his first set of tools be­fore Harp re­ally had the skills.

Like his grand­fa­ther’s house, the house where Harp

once lived — the place where drug ad­dicts con­gre­gated next to his shop in Waco and that was ren­o­vated for an episode of “Fixer Up­per” —is­nowa­home the Harps rent to oth­ers.

They lived ther ef or a while — un­til the con­stant stream of “Fixer Up­per” fans want­ing to get a selfie with him in­ter

rupted time shoot­ing hoops out­side with his son or fam­ily din­ner. They would boldly knock on the front door he de­signed just to say hi.

In the Harps’ new house, which is away from the pub­lic lime­light, you might ex­pect wall-to-wall Harp De­sign Co. fur­ni­ture, but that’s not the case. “It’s like the pain­ter’s house is never fin­ished,” he says.

“We are slowly ac­cru­ing some fur­ni­ture in my house that I’ve made at Harp De­sign Co.,” he says. “I fi­nally have a (farm) ta­ble in my house.”

The book

Harp wanted to write a book of his lif en ot to take the easy path: “I’m some- body. Peo­ple know me. I’m goi ng to write a b ook and take ad­van­tage of that,” he says. “That’s prob­a­bly been done a few times.”

In­stead, he says, “My heart be­hind writ­ing the book was that I’ve been through things in my life. It’s not the hard­est life in the world, but I have had it tough.”

In truth, he thought about writ­ing this book 17 years ago. He and Kelly got their first tax re­fund and used it to buy a lap­top. “The rea­son now is the same,” he says. “I be­lieve in shar­ing sto­ries. When we all share our sto­ries … we learn we are not alone.”

The book is a per­sonal look at a guy you might think has it all. “You might think, ‘He’s building for Joanna

Gaines; he prob­a­bly has it all to­gether.’ Then you think, ‘Oh, wait he doesn’t have it all to­gether; maybe I was wrong.’”

In his mind, he’s still that goofy kid in the too-tight hand-me-down red sweat­pants who used hu­mor to try to fit in ev­ery time his fam­ily m oved as his step­fa­ther tried to find enough work to sup­port the fam­ily.

“I’m still so con­nected to that time in my life be­cause it was a real ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says. “It so af­fected me in so many ways.”

He re­memb ers as a kid walk­ing out to the fam­ily car and see­ing a black garbage bag full of gen­tly used clothes left there for his fam­ily. All the other kids had the cool new clothes with the lo­gos on them, he says. “I’m thank­ful for those days,” he says. “They keep me grounded. Even though I had those days, it didn’t mean I couldn’t make some

thing of my life.” Those lessons built re­siliency, some­thing he wants his own three kids to have. “Challenge is what cre­ates all the good stuff in our world,” he says. “If any­thing, I don’t want you guys to have a smooth life,” he says of his chil­dren.

What you didn’t know

Harp had many dif­fer­ent ca­reers be­fore he be­came the founder of Harp De­sign Co.

A benev­o­lent pro­fes­sor and some fast talk­ing as­sured his grad­u­a­tion from Bay­lor Univer­sity with a busi­ness de­gree even though he ba­si­cally failed his last class. He headed off to Florida with gui­tar in hand to be a youth min­is­ter. He and Kelly then raised enough money through fam­ily friends and churches to be able to go to Europe to start new churches. Af­ter be­ing broke and ow­ing money to the IRS, they had to come back to the States and to Dal­las.

He worked in mort­gage li­cens­ing, he sold copiers — his low­est ca­reer point be­cause no one wanted copiers — and he chased the prom­ise of a six-fig­ure salary in med­i­cal sales to Hous­ton.

Harp was very good at that Hous­ton job. He dressed in scrubs and got to know doc­tors and pa­tients, but he didn’t like the idea that he saw a dol­lar sign in front of each en­counter with a pa­tient.

With two kids and a car pay­ment, he quit that se­cure job and tried to pur­sue fur­ni­ture-mak­ing full time.

“My wife bravely stepped out into the un­known, and

we did it,” he says.

They skirted the edge of real things such as bank­ruptcy and stu­dent loan de­faults. They al­ways knew that if those hap­pened, they would have to pick them­selves back up, but, he says, “we didn’t want to die and never go for our dreams .”

There were low points when they thought they

might have to throw in the towel and get a “real” job, but suc­cess al­ways was right in front of them like a car­rot dan­gling.

They met Chip Gain esat a gas sta­tion af­ter hav­ing left a voice­mail that went unan­swered.

Their fam­ily and the Gaine­ses had a spaghetti dinn erat which Joanna Gaines talked about fur­ni­ture ideas for a de­sign party she was go­ing to throw and asked Harp if he could make them.

Like he has al­ways done, Harp said yes, even though he wasn’t sure how to go about mak­ing them and

didn’t have a work­shop or any wood. His tools were all in stor­age, and he didn’t own a lathe or know how to op­er­ate one to turn the legs of the ta­ble the way Gaines wanted the legs to look.

Within a few months of meet­ing the Gaine­ses, he se­cured a work­shop through Habitat for Hu­man­ity, where he had been vol­un­teer­ing; he

found wood at old con­struc­tion sites and from gro­cery­s­tore pal­lets; and he bought a $300 lathe and learned how to use it.

Harp de­scribes in de­tail all the times it didn’t work, all the blis­ters and in­juries to him­self, all the frus­tra­tions, all the sleep­less nights and un­cer­tainty.

But he de­liv­ered those first pieces, and they all sold out of the Gaines house.

Shortly after­ward, Joanna Gaines was con­tacted by pro­duc­ers about de­vel­op­ing the show that would be­come “Fixer Up­per.” She brought Harp along for the ride. Still, there were mul­ti­ple

times when doubt was there. When they were shoot­ing the pi­lot for “Fixer Up­per,” Harp was check­ing his email to see if he had re­ceived any bites from the ré­sumés he sent out to po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers.

“It was years be­fore we started draw­ing salaries,” Harp says of Harp De­sign Co. In fact, he hired his first em­ployee and paid him $750 a month well be­fore be­ing able to af­ford a salary for him­self.

While peo­ple think of Clint Harp as the wood­worker for “Fixer Up­per,” he never had any con­tract with the show. Joanna Gaines could have stopped calling him to turn her ideas into fur­ni­ture at any point.

“We just went with what was handed to us,” he says of “Fixer Up­per.” By the se­cond sea­son, it started turn

ing around. He made a set of can­dle­sticks with Gaines, and once that episode aired,

overnight they started get­ting or­ders for can­dle­sticks.

Peo­ple couldn’t nec­es­sar­ily af­ford a farm ta­ble, but they could buy a set of can­dle­sticks, he says. Now in ad­di­tion to sell­ing ta­bles that they ship all over the coun­try, Harp De­sign Co. tries to hire crafts­peo­ple to make small goods such as cut­ting boards.

“Peo­ple want some­thing that some­one has put their hands on,” he says. They

also want a piece of Harp De­sign Co.

In some ways, Harp De­sign Co. right now feels like the Gaine­ses’ Mag­no­lia brand felt be­fore “Fixer Up­per” and dur­ing the early sea­sons, he says: just on the verge.

The end of ‘Fixer Up­per’

Harp learned that “Fixer Up­per” was end­ing just like the rest of us, with a filmed on­line an­nounce­ment.

“I was sad,” he says. “It was an amaz­ing chap­ter in ev­ery­one’s life, but I’m so

happy for them. They’ve worked so hard.”

He says he’s “thank­ful for ev­ery mo­ment that I got to do it.”

His work with Joanna Gaines didn’t end with the show. He just built a 7-foot- by-7-foot ta­ble for the pri­vate din­ing area in Mag­no­lia Ta­ble Restau­rant. He jokes that he has his phone set so that any time Joanna Gaines calls, the phone will slap him so he will take the call.

His busi­ness has changed in many ways with “Fixer Up­per.”

Harp has been able to buy new tools, in­clud­ing a new lathe that cost 10 times as much as his first one. “We are in big-boy tools now,” he says.

And while he started with only re­claimed wood found in

pal­lets and con­struc­tion sites, he now also uses re­spon­si­bly sourced wood or wood that some­one else has pre­served in a ware­house in Dal­las to keep up with the de­mand for Harp De­sign Co. prod­ucts.

“I just can’t just make it out of some­thing I find in a garbage can any­more,” he says.

These days, he’s also do­ing more su­per­vis­ing of em­ploy­ees, but he’ll spend time be­hind a lathe work­ing out a new de­sign. They now of­fice out of a larger ware­house they re­stored. It fea­tures a gi­ant con­fer­ence ta­ble they built.

He’s also toy­ing with buyin­ganew­shop,awayfrom the one peo­ple know, where he can qui­etly work for hours at a time with­out in­ter­rup­tion, just like he used to do when he was a one-man op­er­a­tion with a dream.

“I wanted to build things,” he says. “I wanted to build fur­ni­ture, but I also wanted to build a busi­ness, to be some­body that was con­tribut­ing to this planet, to be liv­ing a life of ad­ven­ture. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”

CON­TRIB­UTED BY SARAH WILSON/GETTY IM­AGES

Clint Harp still does work for the Gaine­ses, even though “Fixer Up­per” is no longer film­ing.

Clint Harp wrote “Hand­crafted: A Wood­worker’s Story” ($26.99, Touch­stone) about his life be­fore “Fixer Up­per” and af­ter.

PHOTOS CON­TRIB­UTED BY HGTV

Clint Harp launched his busi­ness in a shop that was owned by the Habitat for Hu­man­ity chap­ter in Waco. They rented it to him for $20 a month, and some­times he didn’t re­ally have enough to keep the lights on.

Clint Harp of Harp De­sign Co. has built a fur­ni­ture-mak­ing busi­ness that has landed him on “Fixer Up­per” with host Joanna Gaines and now his own show, “Wood Work,” on DIY Net­work.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY SARAH WILSON/GETTY IM­AGES

Clint and Kelly Harp filmed a “Fixer Up­per” episode with Chip and Joanna Gaines. They now rent out the house they re­mod­eled next to their shop.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY DIY NET­WORK

Clint Harp stars in “Wood Work,” a show about Harp De­sign Co., the busi­ness he and his wife started, and the projects they do. They are wait­ing to hear whether the show will be re­newed on DIY Net­work.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY SARAH WILSON/GETTY IM­AGES

Clint and Kelly Harp got fa­mil­iar with TV on “Fixer Up­per” and then got their own show, “Wood Work,” on DIY Net­work.

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