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Since the age of fourteen, Karla Harper has been transforming furniture. “I started with my aunt. We re-did my mom’s couch, then she helped me do an old dresser,” Karla said. “She also taught me how to sew and make this stuff.”
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Karla and her husband began traveling with his job as he works for the state of Illinois, building bridges. “We traveled from state to state doing bridges. I’d go for awhile, come back to take care of everything and do it again,” Harper said.
Traveling plans changed when her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Karla then balanced her time between her home in Illinois to Colorado, Florida, Texas and Arizona to take care of him. After she stopped traveling with her husband, Karla began ‘re-loving’ furniture full time.
“I raised my grandson, so I didn’t go anywhere. I was here for him,” Harper said.
In 2008, the Harpers bought a home in between Chrisman and Paris. Karla had planned to make it a bed and breakfast. “It was finally calmed down and we had just finished the house except for two rooms needed re-wiring and it burned down,” Harper said. “We lost about ninety-five percent of what we owned. We literally started over.”
After the fire, only thirteen pieces of furniture was able to be recovered. After settling into a new home just outside of Metcalf, things began to look up until a tornado came through Edgar County in December. “I went outside to pick some things up that had blown in the yard. I pulled open the door and the wind sucked me outside and threw me on the sidewalk,” Harper said. “I fractured my jaw, cut my face open, dislocated my shoulder and sprained my hand and foot.”
As the months went on, Karla was able to regain strength in her arm and do more furniture. The pieces that she receives comes from trades with friends or just things people don’t want anymore.
“My friend Jason lives in Villa Grove and he does the same thing,” Karla said. “He doesn’t fix them, he just cleans out houses and needs extra money, so we get deals.”
With some of the furniture, it needs work done to it and varies on what pieces they are. Recently, Karla received an old cedar chest and a secretary’s desk. “I’ve got beds, tables, dressers, all kinds of stuff.”
The timeline on a piece depends on how much has to be done with it. Some pieces require sanding, repainting or adding more material to the piece.
To give her pieces a unique look, Karla likes to use transfers on her projects.
“Once you put them on the piece, you take a transfer stick and rub it off on the wood,” Karla said. Transfers have to be ordered on Amazon or Etsy and can vary from stencils to transfers that look like it was painted onto the piece.
Karla isn’t the only crafty person in her family. Her husband, when he’s home on the weekends, also has made pieces and the pair work together. He has carved faces into metal pins, spinning art for their lawn, even a tractor from an old sewing machine table.
Her once crazy life has finally settled down and Karla couldn’t be happier with it. “I’m sixty five, I work on furniture all day long and play with dogs and chickens,” she said. “It’s a good life.”
If you’re interested in seeing some of Karla’s work you can find her page, Karla Reloved Furniture on Facebook.