Meet 'Home Town': Old Home Love, Small Town Living
Coming in March, HGTV brings you a new renovation show set in a tiny town in the Deep South. Start getting ready now for Home Town.
Heads-up to all you fans of that wildly popular HGTV series featuring that irresistible couple from Waco, Texas. (What’s it called? Fixersomething?) There’s a new show on the horizon — and another compelling young couple — and we’ve got a feeling you’ll fall for them, too. The couple is the Napiers, Ben and Erin to be exact. We’ve only seen a couple of episodes of their new series, but already we’re hooked.
Ten episodes have been shot for the first season, each one featuring a vintage-home renovation set against the backdrop of a tiny Southern town. As for hosts Erin and Ben, well, they’re certifiably adorable.
Home Town Honeys
Here are the basics. Ben and Erin Napier are bona fide Southerners who love fixing up old houses. (And restoring old cars, but that’s another story.) But more than that, they love small town living, and they’re striving, on a variety of fronts, to make their own Mississippi home town more livable, lovable, welcoming and fun.
There’s something about the pace, the sense of community and the common language in a small town that’s got an undeniable appeal. But, on the flip side, those same towns can be at risk when it comes to financial vulnerability, outmigration and potential loss of the very history and features that define their original charm.
Fortunately, in the ultra-finite universe that is a small town, a couple of heroes can make a big difference. "Our town is going through a major rebirth” says Erin, "and it's so exciting to be a part of it." Aside from saving old homes one at a time, the couple is heavily involved in the city's downtown revitalization.
The story began when, as newlyweds, the couple purchased and faithfully restored a 1925 Craftsman style home. Their passion for seeing old homes get a new life grew, and they decided to make a collective career out of doing the same thing for other residents and newcomers to their town.
And when it comes to restoring historic old homes, the couple’s got the necessary skill set. Both are graduates of Ole Miss. Ben has a degree in history as well as first-hand building experience and he’s a skilled woodworker. Erin brings the decorating and design sense, and her background in drawing and graphic design is integral when it comes to communicating style and vision to clients.
Both Ben and Erin cherish the ideals of preserving the past, respecting a home’s history, staying authentic to original architecture, and, whenever possible, incorporating period elements and reclaimed materials into their restorations.
The Willett House Restoration
Take, for example, the restoration featured in Home Town’s pilot episode. A young couple, Ross and Laura, who had tastes (and stature) similar to those of Ben and Erin, were moving to town and in search of a real forever home in a historic neighborhood.
One of the two houses Ben and Erin showed them was a bland brick home known locally as “The Willett House” – so-called for its long-time owner and former resident. "Now, Mr. Willett didn't build this house,” explains Ben “but he lived here for so long that now it's known as 'his' house. You've got to invest a little time and story into a place before it can be 'your' house.” The house was built in 1940 and, on the outside — with its plain brick exterior and porch wrapped in aging louvered glass — left little to write home about.
"So a great thing about living in the South, especially in a small town," continues Ben, "are the porches...Except for this porch." That was before the renovation. But the asking price for the home was right, and the interior came with some nice attributes that offered promise — like high ceilings and a partially finished attic.
Ben and Erin would be content with no less than a complete transformation of the home’s exterior. The sagging porch was made level, the brick skirt removed, and the facade completely redefined with new columns, railings and stairs. "In this small town, the porch is just as important as the living room or kitchen," says Erin. "It's where you gather. It's where you hang out. So [we treated] this porch like a living space." The updated porch is spacious enough to accommodate a seating and dining area, and — a key element for any good Southern home — a porch swing.
The kitchen came with high ceilings and was fairly large, but dated and, in its current configuration, still felt confining. For the renovation, a wall separating the kitchen from the dining room was removed, freeing up the space, and the kitchen was completely remade with the original hardwood floors revealed (once six layers of old flooring were removed) and refinished, and new cabinets added with black honed-granite countertops. Ben custom-made a small center island using wood reclaimed from homeowner Ross’s family cabin.
Stay tuned. You’ll likely be hearing a lot more about the Napiers and this exciting new series. Home Town premieres Tuesday, March 21 at 10p | 9c. Check back at the Home Town show page for updates, and follow along on Twitter: #HGTVHomeTown.
Home Town Heroes
Ben and Erin Napier are whiz kids when it comes to recognizing potential in classic old homes — and turning that potential into reality. But their intentions go well beyond merely fixing up and remodeling old houses. Their stated ambitions have to do with helping the small southern town they love become revitalized while retaining its historic feel and authenticity.
"No one loves a place more than we love our town," Ben says in his endearing native drawl. "We're trying to help it. We're trying to bring it back." Finishing the thought, Erin chimes in: "And the only way we know how to contribute to bringing it back to its heyday is to make it a friendly and welcoming place to new people who are coming here. It's going through a major rebirth and it's so exciting to be a part of it."
The Napiers have allied themselves with some of the best builders and tradespeople in the area, forging a "dream team" who know how to do things right when it comes to restoring old homes. And the two of them are perfectly matched for leading and supervising the efforts. Ben brings grassroots building know-how, woodworking skills and natural craftsmanship to the table while Erin is all about vision, design and decor. It's an ideal partnership; yin and yang with a southern twist.
The Napiers and their clients Ross and Laura are of like mind when it comes to what "home" means. Ross and Laura are newcomers to the area and would like to find something in the town's historic district. "We want a home with a story," says Ross. "You know, when the history books come out about [this town] 100 years from now, we want to be part of the group that really made it great and brought it back."
The couple is looking to find their forever home on a budget of $215,000 — a healthy budget in such a small town. Laura is an avid potter and wants something with studio space, and space for entertaining is important to both.
The Willett House, as it's known around town, was built in 1940 and comes with three bedrooms, three baths and around 2500 square feet. "History matters," says Ben. "Now, Mr. Willett didn't build this house, but he lived here for so long that now it's known as 'his' house. You've got to invest a little time and story into a place before it can be 'your' house." The home's exterior, in its current state, is less than spectacular, and the porch and entry are in sad shape. But the asking price is $159,000, which would potentially leave prospective buyers Ross and Laura with more than $50,000 for renovations.
The Willett House. The louvered glass and brick skirt were removed, and the porch entirely reframed with new columns, railing and stairs. The porch floor was leveled and old laminate floor covering was removed to reveal the original wood underneath. The original floor was then painted with gray porch paint.
A wall separating the kitchen from the dining room was removed, opening the space to the main living area and providing the kitchen with a whole new sense of scale. A peninsula and serving bar was added where the old wall had been, and a cased opening with 9-foot door height incorporated into the new design. No less than six layers of old flooring were removed before reaching the original floors underneath which, to Erin's delight, were hardwood. Other kitchen upgrades included black honed-granite countertops, white subway tile backsplash and new cabinets that were custom built on-site.
In addition to wood reclaimed and repurposed from the renovation, Ben's custom island also includes wood salvaged from new homeowner Ross's family cabin. "It's a little bit of your family history," says Ben "and a little bit of y'all's new history."
Dining Room, AFTER
The dining room and kitchen coordinate visually in the new floorplan. A new addition in the kitchen is a pantry added in what had formerly been an enclosed and unused "dead space" in the home's layout. Erin and Ben found a vintage door to use for the pantry, and Ben modified it, replacing original wood panels with screen-door inserts. "There's nothing more southern than a screen door," says Erin.
A new chandelier, pendant lights and fresh paint help tie the spaces together, and a mix of vintage wooden chairs surrounds the new dining table. As with the kitchen island, the dining table was custom built by Ben Napier using wood salvaged from homeowner Ross's family cabin in nearby Stringer, Mississippi. The cabin had originally belonged to Ross's great-great-grandparents.
Living Room, BEFORE
The living room was in fairly good shape and visually impressive with wood floors, high ceilings and French doors opening onto the dining room. The fireplace was non-functional and the tile hearth was damaged. Though the fireplace couldn't be made functional, it did get a visual makeover. The hearth was repaired, with the broken tile replaced by highly sought-after embossed vintage bricks made by a local brick company.
Living Room, AFTER
A neutral color palette and white wainscoting and moldings allow the wall decor to really stand out. For the gallery wall, Erin blended the masculine with the feminine, combining a trophy deer head with a collection of mismatched and vintage mirrors. Comfortable leather armchairs pair with a deep-seated sofa for cozy seating. Adding softness and style underfoot is a striped blue-and-white area rug. Erin, who prides herself in tasteful, low-cost solutions, created the window treatments from ordinary hardware-store drop cloths. Total fabric expenditure per window: $10.
The unfinished upstairs offered a blank slate for a new living space, potentially adding another 1500 square feet or so, bringing the home's overall square footage to more than 3500. The main challenge would be how to deal with the exposed HVAC equipment and ductwork in the alcove at one end of the space.
Finishing the upstairs was done economically but in a manner that adds charm and visual interest. The wood walls were painted white, and the doors and trim in gray-green, to brighten up the space. Inexpensive but classic looking new flooring was added in the form of simple 1x4 pine planks, butted tight, sanded and given a clear-coat finish. A rustic table pairs with woven chairs and a deep red rug in a new seating area, while an oversized leather chair makes for a perfect reading nook.
"The porch is the star of this house; it's the reason Ross and Laura bought the house," says Erin "In this small town, the porch is just as important as the living room or kitchen. It's where you gather. It's where you hang out. So [we treated] this porch like a living space." The updated porch is spacious enough to accommodate a seating and dining area, and — a key element for any good southern home — a porch swing.
The Foyer, AFTER
Erin contacted Laura and Ross's parents to get family photos and had them framed to create a gallery wall in the foyer. "The first thing I want you to feel is welcomed and like you're in an embrace," said Erin, "I chose a dark color for in here, so you feel immediately cozy when you come in from outside." Prior to the renovation, the foyer's original hardwood floors had been covered over with OSB and carpeting. With the carpeting removed, the original pinewood floors were revealed and found to be in near perfect condition.
Come on over and sit a spell.
If you're dining on someone's front porch and the menu includes homemade pies or cobbler, sweet tea and lemonade, then you just might be in the Deep South. And if you enjoyed this Home Town renovation, keep checking back at the show's home page for updates, new photo galleries, videos and more.