Home Town: Cottage Charm for Two Empty-Nesters

Ben and Erin Napier create a quaint and colorful home, restoring an 1901 cottage-style house for a couple returning to small-town life. And they get to deal with some interesting former tenants in the process.

What's for Supper?

Ben and Erin pose for a pic in the newly renovated dining room of Coy and Kenya Rice. This renovation, on a 1500-square foot home that's more than a century old, included a custom kitchen upgrade, a colorful exterior transformation — and a big surprise in the attic.


The Hill House was built in 1901 and is on an attractive street that's undergoing something of a neighborhood renaissance. In its unadorned state, it's simple and plain, but does offer some of the historic charm and features that the homeowners are seeking — including a Southern cottage feel and a full-width front porch. The house is 1500 square feet, comes with two bedrooms and two baths, and a list price of $62,500.


The exterior gets a color-themed upgrade, going from plain, flat white to a pale yellow with soft blue accents. The concrete porch is painted blue to match the new custom shutters and a single French door is added along with a new porch swing and outdoor furniture. The existing columns get dressed up with sash curtains.

Meet the Homeowners

Coy and Kenya are moving to Mississippi to be closer to their children and grandchildren, and looking to downsize to a comfortably manageable home that has some Southern charm. Coy is a minister and wants a home office where he can meet with parishioners. Kenya, who is returning to her hometown, basically wants a nice kitchen, and likes bright and vibrant colors. Both like a cozy, cottagey vibe, but want space that's adequate for entertaining family. Their all-in budget of $125,000 leaves about $62,500 for renovations — an amount about equal to the purchase price of The Hill House.

Living Room, Before

The living room is dingy and dated, with a closed-up fireplace and harvest gold wall-to-wall carpeting from a bygone era, but the room is spacious enough to suit the homeowners' needs .

Living Room, After

Fresh white paint and new window treatments help brighten up the space, and the old carpeting is removed to reveal the original hardwood floors.

Living Room, Before

If refurbished, the fireplace and built-in shelves offer potential as room highlights.

Living Room, After

The fireplace, now opened up and the interior painted black, along with some framed art and accessories, becomes a strong visual focal point in the room.

Dining Room, Before

The dining room, just off the main living area and adjacent to the kitchen, has the same worn, gold carpeting as the living room, but the majority of changes needed here are simply cosmetic. New paint, updated lighting and rescue of the hardwood flooring would likely be the bulk of what's needed to transform this space.

Dining Room, After

A portion of the dining room wall was removed, opening the space up to the kitchen and making room for a new kitchen peninsula. The framed items in the corner gallery were found in the house and are from the former owner. The photos include Mrs. Hill, who had been flight attendant during the early heyday of air travel, and her sister who had been a model.

Dining Room, Before

Dining Room, After

Exposing the original hardwood flooring and bead-board walls revitalizes this space while paying respect to its history. The bead board, though freshly painted, is left in its semi-distressed state, with original nail holes and cracks from aging.

Study, Before

This space, just off the dining room, brings plenty of natural light into the home, and is ideally suited for a home office for Coy. 

Study, After

The hardwood floors are revealed and refinished, new window treatments added and the walls painted in soft gray. The long wooden table makes for an ideal desk given the narrow dimensions of the room.

Study, Before

Study, After

Kitchen, Before

The kitchen was fairly roomy for the size of the home, but was dated with dark paneled cabinetry, laminate countertops, old appliances and linoleum floors.

Kitchen, After

The kitchen is brightened up, reconfigured and striking new wood flooring, in a contrasting checkerboard motif is added. The butcherblock countertops were custom made by Ben using reclaimed wood and incorporates oak, mahogany and cherry.

Laundry Room, Before

The laundry room, just off the kitchen, could not be relocated given the limits of the renovation budget, but a wall would be added to make it a separate space and less visually intrusive.

Laundry Room, After

The original bead board was retained, but the space gets spruced up with fresh paint and a newly relocated exterior door. Erin utilized the surface of the adjacent wood door to add a custom treatment with chalkboard paint in the traditional chalkboard green.

Front Porch, Before

Front Porch, After

Full, functioning window shutters were custom built by Ben in his woodshop and painted in pale blue to match the painted concrete porch.




Bats in the Belfry. In a rather unexpected turn of events, 600+ bats were discovered nesting in the attic after this renovation got underway. But the end of the story is happy for both former and current residents. The winged occupants — which are ecologically important as insect predators and are now protected by law — were safely removed and relocated by a bat specialist.


Cottage Revival. "This is home," said new homeowner Coy Rice after seeing the completed renovation. "You walk in and go 'This is what we wanted home to be like.'"

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