Home Town: Thoughtful Renovations in a Small Southern City

Meet Ben and Erin Napier — a couple of good southerners who are passionate about restoring classic old homes, and devoted to their tiny Mississippi hometown. In this, their first project featured in the new HGTV series Home Town, Erin and Ben help another young couple with small-town dreams fashion a forever home with authentic southern charm.

Photo By: Jacques Cornell

Photo By: Jacques Cornell

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

Photo By: KYLEBONOKAPLAN

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.

Higher Purposes

"This town has seen hard times," the couple states in the show's opening montage, "but we're committed to changing that, one house at a time."

Real Roots

"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."

Good People

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.

Community Ties

This the kind of town that's small enough to walk most places, and one where you're likely to run into friends and acquaintances around any corner. Here Erin and Ben take a stroll around the town's historic area with two good friends.

Perfect Symmetry

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.

BEFORE

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.

AFTER

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.

BEFORE

The kitchen came with dramatic, high ceilings but, in its current state, still felt closed-in, claustrophobic and dated.

AFTER

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.

Incorporating History

Ben custom made this solid wood kitchen island using wood from the old studs and beadboard salvaged when the kitchen wall was demolished.

Incorporating History

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, BEFORE

The dining room, just off the main living area, was cosmetically in good shape. The big change here would be the removal of the wall at the far end, thereby merging the dining space and kitchen.

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.

Living Room, Detail

Soft, warm tones, natural wood and classic architectural accents combine to create a comfortable and inviting space.

Upstairs, BEFORE

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.

Upstairs, AFTER

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.

Upstairs, AFTER

To solve the dilemma of the exposed HVAC ductwork, a raised platform was added, covering the exposed equipment and creating the perfect spot for a sleeping nook.

Artist Studio, AFTER

An existing outbuilding in the backyard was updated and converted into this light-filled studio space for Laura, fulfilling one of the homeowners' biggest wish-list items.

BEFORE

"So a great thing about living in the South, especially in a small town," said Ben, "are the porches...Except for this porch." But despite it's condition, the presence of a full-width porch was one of the selling points for the clients.

AFTER

"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 Reveal

Ben and Erin give new homeowners Ross and Laura their first look at their newly renovated home.

The Reveal

Ross and Laura get a first glimpse of the entrance and foyer in their new home.

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.

The Reveal

Laura and Ross get their first look at their newly renovated living room.

New Neighbors

New Neighbors

Ross, Laura, Erin and Ben (L to R) try out the sofa in the newly remodeled living room.

Letters From Home

Erin's sketch rendering for the Willett House renovation becomes custom stationery suitable for the home's new residents.

Small Town Welcome

Mayor Johnny Magee presents homeowners Ross and Laura with a certificate of appreciation from the city. Also in attendance are new neighbors and some of the workers, builders and specialists who helped with the renovation.

In Summary

Ben: "A great family moved here. A great house was saved. Our community grew."

Erin: "They're going to invest their lives and their time and their service and talents here — and that'll just make [our town] even better."

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.

Next Up

'Home Town' Homeowner Profiles: Amanda Matthews

Find out more about Amanda Matthews, Erin and Ben's client featured in the Home Town episode titled "Porch Dreams".

A 'Home Town' Homecoming

Ben and Erin Napier renovate a vintage downtown Craftsman for a couple returning home to Mississippi.

A Home Town Makeover: French Style, Southern Charm

Home Town's Erin and Ben transform a plain, box of a house into a charming home with a European soul.

Bringing 'Home Town' Elegance to a House With History

Erin and Ben Napier revitalize the classic charm in a historic home in need of some TLC.

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.