It turns out that even the stars of HGTV shows get hate mail.
“A lady in Florida said that those numbers are not realistic at all,” Erin Napier told me, referring to a home in the first episode of season 2 that cost, after renovation, $180,000.
Well, it is for Mississippi, and for Laurel.
“In Laurel, the most expensive house in the last five years was $450,000 and it was just unheard of, (like) ‘I can’t believe that house went for that,’” Erin’s husband, Ben, said.
“For places like New York or L.A., yeah that doesn’t make any sense. But the majority of the United States is not New York or L.A.”
HGTV’s newest hit, “Home Town,” does appeal to those in major cities — Ben was once stopped at an intersection near NYC’s 5th Avenue by a guy with tattoo-covered arms and a flat-bill Yankees hat who said he was a big fan. But it’s rooted in small-town America, and Mississippi.
Laurel’s population is less than 20,000, and the Napiers have been involved for 10 years now with Laurel Main Street, a group trying to revive downtown and help foster small businesses. The question was always how to get the 100,000 people driving daily down I-59 to take the Laurel exit and bring their wallets. It turns out that one of the answers is to make Laurel the setting for an HGTV show.
“We’ve seen people risk everything and not make it, and others that made it are reaping the benefits of it,” Ben said. “We’re also now seeing new people get encouraged and open their own new business.”
But it’s not just tourism traffic, though every time you walk the streets of downtown (I first went in April, in the middle of the first season of the show, and have been back several times) you see more people, coming from all over, and new storefronts.
A season of “Home Town” is 10 episodes, and there were five houses in renovation at any one time during filming. The Napiers and their film crew go to three houses a day, but you can do the math — if it were just the two of them, it’d take a lot longer than it does now to complete a home. They’re upfront about that — there are teams of people hired to work on these projects, and they’re from Laurel.
This season’s filming was changed because of an unexpected event — Erin found out she was pregnant with their first child, on Mother’s Day. Their first call was not to Erin’s parents or Ben’s, but to the producers.
“I’m so sorry, we messed everything up,” Erin recounts telling them.
“So we crammed six months of filming into four months,” Ben said. “So when people talk to us about particular houses, we really have to think.”
“It was 12- to 14-hour days, five or six days a week,” said Erin. “I was just beyond tired.”
Baby Helen is here now, arriving just days before the season 2 premiere earlier this month. The couple is like every set of new parents, beyond thankful when she sleeps through the night and not shy about posting photos of her on Instagram, but don’t expect her to figure prominently into future seasons. If this were a sitcom, she’d be the kid who is playing upstairs.
“We want to give her the most normal childhood possible,” Erin said, “and I don’t see how a little kid can contribute much to refinishing a hardwood floor.”
More from the Napiers
On sticking to a budget: “We (the Napiers, the production team and the construction manager) get together daily to go over budgets,” said Ben.
“Producers say, ‘We’re over on the kitchen by $5.63. How are we going to make it?’” said Erin.
Favorite thing they’ve done so far: “There will be an episode where we were opening up a wall and we uncovered something really special to the history of our house. And we used it as art. It’s really cool. I can’t wait for everyone to see it,” Erin said.
On creating a home for the owners: “Why do you love what you love? It gives you a feeling. It’s not about trends or Pinterest,” Erin said.
“We’re not designing a house that’s beautiful,” Ben said. “We’re designing a home that fits a family. That’s important to us.”