About six years ago, Clint Harp was watching YouTube videos to learn how to operate a wood lathe. Now, Harp is widely known across the U.S. and beyond for his woodworking and furniture artistry on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”
Harp always knew he wanted to work with his hands, and after four unfulfilling years of working in the medical sales industry, he decided it was time to follow his dream. He quit his six-figure-salary career and began down the path that would lead him to found his own carpentry business with his wife, Kelly Harp.
The two moved to Waco, Texas, in 2011 and founded Harp Design Co., which has grown to include furniture pieces, as well as home goods and decor that Kelly procures. We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Clint Harp; here’s what he had to say.
How did you decide to quit your medical sales career to become a carpenter?
I grew up around my grandfather, who built houses and did a lot of amazing things with his hands. I always knew that I wanted to do that to some degree, but didn’t necessarily know how.
I found myself moving to Houston in 2007 — I’m originally from Atlanta — and getting what I called a “big-boy” job in the medical field, in sales. I did that for about four years, and really just didn’t enjoy my life at all.
After a lot of soul-searching and many interesting turns of events, I decided to quit my job and go for my dream of building furniture and owning a company with my wife, Kelly.
We both wanted to do something we felt passionate about, so we had this crazy idea and what I would describe as an incredibly loose business plan. Then we jumped off a cliff with our little plan in hand and the next thing you know, everything got turned upside down.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you faced in your early days as a carpenter?
A lot of it was just figuring out how to do certain things, even simple stuff. Like if you’re sanding a table and you don’t realize that the sander is leaving squiggly vibration marks on the table, so when you stain it you’re like “what in the world, why does my table have these crazy marks on it?”
I didn’t have a master carpenter standing next to me at all times; I had to figure it out on my own. But if I’m good at something, it’s figuring it out. I might be frustrated and want to quit, but I’ll stick with it until I figure it out.
How did you make the decision to always use 100-percent recycled or reclaimed wood?
In the beginning, the decision to use 100 percent reclaimed wood was made because we wanted to do something that helped the environment and it was all we could afford.
We still use reclaimed wood, but not all of the time, simply because I no longer have the time to go out and search for it. We also have to be a bit more consistent with our wood now because of our Harp Design Co. furniture line.
What have you learned from owning a small business?
I’ve learned that the reason small businesses are so important is because one small business spawns another. For instance, if more people are building stuff out of reclaimed wood, that creates jobs for people who like tearing down houses and salvaging all the wood.
I could almost help somebody here in Waco start a salvage business just by funneling all of the requests we get to salvage wood out of old houses or barns that are being torn down.
How would you describe the aesthetic of Harp Design Co.?
Kelly and I want our furniture and home goods to fit in a lot of different places. We steer away from terms like “rustic” or “shabby chic,” which are fine, and there are people that do that and do it very well, but we like more clean lines.
I want someone who lives on a country ranch to look at my table and say “that’s great woodwork,” and I want someone in Los Angeles who’s designing a multimillion-dollar house to look at the same table and say “to anchor this room, I want this table right here.”
Tell readers about your new show, “Against the Grain.”
Kelly and I are working on a new project with DIY Network, and we’re really excited about it. The pilot went great, and I’ll be announcing more details soon.
Will you be on Season 4 of “Fixer Upper?”
Absolutely. I won’t be in every episode, but I’m on every episode they ask me to be. I love being a part of the show.
What’s happening at Harp Design?
Kelly and I started Harp Design Co. in 2011. She was going to graduate school at Baylor University, which is why we moved to Waco. Then, when things took off, she decided not to finish her degree because the business needed her, which was exciting. We have a storefront attached to our shop with all of the things that we make as well as home goods and décor that Kelly has procured. Whatever she brings in, she matches to the aesthetics of the furniture. We like to sell things from small businesses or artisans to help expose their work.
What is the dynamic like working with your wife, Kelly?
It’s an interesting dynamic because you’ve got a husband and wife working together, and every time you talk about that in front of a big group of people you’ll hear someone say “oh lord, I could never do that,” and I understand why, and so does Kelly. We certainly have frustrating moments, and we’ve had to lay down rules. I give my full attention to the business during the week, and Kelly — while our kids are young — may only be able to work three days a week.
If I come home from work and we hang out with the kids, put them down for bed and then we start talking about work, we won’t have any personal time for other things, like watching the Olympics, laughing at some stupid show or going on a date. So we really try hard to balance that.
I understand why couples think it’s crazy to work together as husband and wife, but it is possible. We don’t know how to do it perfectly, but we’re committed every day to trying to figure out how.
What advice would you give to aspiring carpenters, or someone looking to complete a small project?
Try something new. It’s probably not going to work out like you think, but it’s definitely not going to work out if you don’t try. But always be safe — if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t just grab a tool that’s easily more powerful than you and go to town. Some of my biggest failures have become some of my biggest successes.
At the end of the day if something is a dream, you should do everything possible to take steps toward it. Don’t worry about what other people might think, or if they think it’s stupid or that you’re crazy. Just try it, because you honestly never know where things are going to end up.
This story originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Fall Home & Garden Show special section.