Living in and loving a small town is the focus of a Laurel couple’s new network program.
“Home Town,” starring Laurel residents Ben and Erin Napier, premieres at 9 p.m. March 21 on HGTV. The series follows the Napiers in their involvement with improving and growing Laurel’s historic hometown district, encouraging restoration of the district’s older homes and giving them “new love.”
It’s something with which they are very familiar. As newlyweds, they bought and restored a 1925 Craftsman-style cottage.
“From Halloween 2011 to Easter 2012,” Erin said during a recent telephone interview with the couple, “every moment we weren’t at work we were working on the house until we were about to drop.”
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When Hurricane Katrina moved upstate in 2005, it blew a pecan tree in the yard onto the house, sparing the kitchen but ruining interior plaster. The previous owners had done a good job of essential repairs, but, with the exception of the kitchen, the Napiers completely renovated the house.
It’s a snapshot of what their series is all about.
“‘Home Town’ is about the rebirth of a hometown,” Erin said.
“You see towns across Mississippi going through this,” Ben said. “It’s about restoring homes as well as restoring towns.”
The Napiers also emphasize the importance of supporting local business owners.
In the first episode, they help a military family with three small children find a home and adjust to small-town life. The restoration is a rundown Craftsman-style cottage built in 1917 that gets an open-concept kitchen, a kid-friendly homeschool room and an attached mudroom. The Napiers also use a vintage bowling alley floor to build an island countertop.
A whirlwind romance
The couple met while at community college.
“We actually met at Jones Junior College,” Ben said. “It’s basically a community college but still calls itself a junior college. We transferred from there to Ole Miss.”
“We met on freshman move-out day, at the McDonald’s in Ellisville,” Erin added.
Mutual crushes contributed.
“Well, we were moving out of the dorm, and my friends and I decided to get lunch. I saw Erin sitting with a friend, and I walked over and put my moves on,” Ben said with a laugh. Even though Erin had been admiring him all year, she didn’t immediately respond.
Then, as a sophomore, she was the design editor for the school’s yearbook. A story on the 10 most interesting people on campus gave her the opportunity to choose one of the people on the list. She just happened to choose Ben — casually, of course.
“I wanted it to be fun and silly,” Ben said. They talked for the interview, and then that led to hanging out together the rest of the day.
“Then we hung out for the next six days, and on that sixth day, he told me he loved me and wanted to marry me, and of course I told him I loved him and wanted to marry him, too,” Erin said.
They waited to marry until after their graduation from Ole Miss. Erin is an artist whose career started in corporate graphic design, and Ben has a degree in history. He’s a woodworker, and for 10 years, he served in student ministry.
Faith is big factor
Faith is a strong part of the couple’s life.
“Both of us grew up in the church, and it was a part of everything we did growing up,” Ben said.
“Whatever we do, we pray about it,” Erin said. “We listen for cues. Everyone has a calling, and it’s important to listen to him to follow that calling, whatever it is.”
“Part of being called is being mindful in everything you do,” Ben added. “Everything you do should glorify God.”
That everyday faith can be seen in Erin’s blog, laurelmercantile.com/journal/. And her online writings were part of what brought her and Ben to the attention of HGTV.
“I was documenting small-town life in Mississippi. I had absolutely no expectations,” she said. An executive at HGTV came across her writings, and “one thing led to another.” A pilot for “Home Town,” which aired in January 2016, got good ratings and led to the series that debuts this month.
On debut night, the Napiers are planning a “big block party, mostly a big thank-you to everyone who has made this a success,” Ben said. “It’s something the whole town has been a part of — the garbage man, the police department, everyone.”
Sam Napier of Ocean Springs will be one of those celebrating. He’s Ben’s brother, and joining him in celebrating will be wife Lyn and children Jared and Ellie Claire.