Pushing Forward

By Kevin Tankersley

If you’re looking for direction on how to start and maintain a small business, Clint Harp’s new book might not be for you. It might be worth your time, however, if you want to read about a random meeting at a gas station and a far-fetched home loan application from a couple with $615 to their names.

“Handcrafted: A Woodworker’s Story” was released in September, and “it’s not a self-help book,” Harp said. “I’m not telling you, ‘Hey, here’s how to do it.’ I’m just telling you how I did it.”

The book details Harp’s journey from his time at a high-paying sales job in Houston to the lean years when he was trying to establish his handmade furniture business to today, as the star of the DIY Network show “Wood Work” and co-owner — along with his wife, Kelly — of Harp Design Co. in Waco. The TV roles came about thanks to his work as the carpenter on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” which he, eventually, landed after meeting Chip Gaines at the H-E-B gas station on Wooded Acres Drive.

“We didn’t know each other at all, but somehow, that afternoon, we ended up driving around Waco for three hours just talking,” Harp wrote. Later in the first chapter, Harp wrote about going to dinner at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ house and how a long evening ended with Joanna asking, “Clint, do you think if I drew up some designs on a piece of paper, you could possibly build them?”

But Harp realizes that things don’t always fall into place that easily.

“Everything just happened super-fast,” he said. “I’ve talked to so many people who are in business and they go, ‘You know, people would kill for this kind of growth.’ Just a short period of time, to go from literally your garage to here. It just doesn’t happen. What I talk about with people when I do home shows, I want to put the message out there to go for your dreams. I tell them, ‘Look, it could get harder, but if you don’t go for it, you’ll never know.’”

Harp said he spent three to four months writing the 80,000 or so words that make up “Handcrafted.” Much of his writing time was spent at the Armstrong Browning Library on the Baylor campus.

“It’s quiet, it’s beautiful and it’s inspiring,” he said of the building that houses original works of the Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “It feels like an episode of ‘Downton Abbey.’ I’ve always been drawn to that kind of place. It was very inspiring to sit there and write there.”

Harp actually began writing a book 17 years ago during the first year that he and Kelly were married. They had gotten a little money back in a tax return, he said, and bought a Toshiba Satellite laptop. At the time, he was working in youth ministry at a church, so he wrote what it was like being a child of divorced parents and splitting time between two households.

“I love my family, and I’m so thankful for what I went through because it made me who I am today,” he said. “I don’t regret any of it, but I wanted to talk about … split families and dysfunctionalism, where you have to grow up in it and grow up out of it, if you will. And I wanted to write a book sharing about my experience just with the hopes that somebody, young kids, or kids my age or older people would read it and think about the decisions they were making in their lives or maybe not feel so alone if they were a kid of divorce.”

That would have been, he admits, a pretty heavy topic with which to begin his writing career, but some of the stories and lessons from that stage of his life made their way into “Handcrafted.”

After the writing of the book, Harp had to work through the editing and publishing process, which took many more months, and he said he wouldn’t have been able to do that without Kelly at the helm of their business.

“When I was busy doing this, she was taking it to the next level, and we were constantly working together to keep pushing Harp Design Co. further and further,” he said. “I’m just very fortunate to have someone who is incredibly smart and gifted and capable, and we are where we are today because she’s helped push it forward.”

Harp said that despite the publicity surrounding their TV appearances, he and his family try to live life as normally as possible. He’s coached his children’s sports teams, and when he takes lunch to his kids at school, their classmates “know me as Coach more than anything else.”

Still, life in front of the camera means getting recognized and approached in public, and Harp said he understands that’s part of the job.

“For the most part, it’s at a level where people just want to take a selfie and say what the show meant to them, that it’s helped push them forward and some dreams they were wanting to do,” he said. “That’s an amazing thing that I don’t take for granted.”

Harp also said he tries to feature as many local artisans and workers on his show as possible to show gratitude for chances that he’s been given.

“Paying it forward is just so incredibly important, and it’s something that Chip and Jo did for me and something that other people before that did,” he said. “My grandfather gave me opportunities to get down on the job site and work. I’ve had bosses that gave me opportunities to try and take something to the next level. My parents, coaches, teachers. And, of course, Chip and Jo, giving me the opportunity to be on there and play carpenter, my real-life role, doing it on TV. For me, [‘Wood Work’] is just another opportunity to continue to spread that love and spread that opportunity because there’s just so many talented people out there, and I think we all should do our best to highlight and push each other forward.”

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