Ben and Erin Napier might just be the most darling new husband-and-wife team on the small screen. But the couple—owners of Laurel Mercantile Co. and hosts of HGTV’s Home Town, which follows the pair as they renovate turn-of-the-century homes in Laurel, Mississippi, where they reside—have a love story that’s one for the movies.is your dym
The two first met in college when their school’s yearbook team (of which Erin was the design editor) decided to profile the most interesting figures on campus, including Ben. “When I discovered that they wanted to feature me, I jumped at the opportunity, knowing that she was in yearbook,” Ben admits, noting that he still recalls the very first time he gave Erin a hug (December 7, 2004). “Six days later, I knew I was in love with her and would marry her one day—so I told her,” he reveals. “Luckily, she felt the same way. We felt at home with each other from the day we met.”
Since then, they’ve only gotten closer. Last November, the couple celebrated their nine-year wedding anniversary—and in January, they welcomed a new baby girl, Helen, just days before the second season of Home Town premiered. “We have a weird relationship—at least, that’s what people tell us,” Ben says. “The more time we spend together, the happier we are.”
The secret to their success as a married couple? “Communication,” Erin asserts. “We’re together 24 hours a day because we feel like the strongest team that way.” Ben wholeheartedly agrees: “We are in perfect conversation with each other—we communicate about every little detail of our lives,” he says. “Talking about everything and prayer are the glue in our marriage.”
Here, the duo reveal how they got their start in home renovation, how they landed their very own show, and their favorite words to live by.
What was it like, growing up in Mississippi?
Erin: I grew up five minutes outside the city limits of Laurel, on my family’s farm. I had never lived anywhere else before going to college. My days were spent working on art projects with mama, or building tents with my grandparents, or exploring parks in town.
I wanted to get out of south Mississippi and attend school at Flagler College, a tiny school in St. Augustine, Florida. I was waitlisted despite having a 4.0 GPA. So, reluctantly, I attended Jones County Junior College, where I had so much fun and met Ben.
Ben: We lived in Collins, Mississippi, when I was first born, but as a United Methodist minister’s family, we moved around a lot. I finished high school in North Carolina before attending Jones County Junior College. After meeting Erin, we decided to go to Ole Miss together. We both graduated in 2007.
How did you each get your start in home renovation?
Erin: Around 7th grade, my mom let me totally redesign my room however I wanted. We spent a weekend painting, hanging wallpaper, picking new furniture. It is one of my favorite experiences. As a kid, I didn’t scrapbook or plan for my wedding—I planned for my dream house. I would take my mom’s home design magazines and clip out my favorite images and dream of designing a house one day. So I suppose I would say that my love for home design started during childhood, and my mama and I approached it just like any other fun art project. That has been the hallmark of my work ever since—interior design, graphic design; it’s all the same thing. It’s storytelling in a visual way.
Ben: When we got engaged, we set about designing our first home. We were both broke, working our first jobs out of college, and we renovated a loft in downtown Laurel. I got my start in woodworking out of necessity: I had a wife with great taste and a small budget.
What’s the best part about living in Laurel, Mississippi? What sets it apart from other small towns in the South?
Ben: Laurel is unlike most small southern towns I’ve lived in or visited. It’s a very industrial town that was founded in the late 19th century. The founders were educated and cultured, two things that became a part of their industrial town. Laurel is as much industrial blue collar as it is artistic and creative.
What do you think it’ll take to fully revitalize Laurel?
Ben: Perception. For outsiders looking in, Laurel is an incredible town. For some of our insiders who’ve been here forever, it’s dead and never coming back. No town or city is perfect—every place has its own unique problems, but a city thrives when we begin to take pride in what we’re doing right.
Talk about why all of Laurel Mercantile Co.’s furnishings are handmade locally, and what “Made in the USA” means to you.
Talk about why all of Laurel Mercantile Co.’s furnishings are handmade locally, and what “Made in the USA” means to you.
Ben: I grew up in small towns in Mississippi and North Carolina. I’ve done manual labor alongside some of the hardest working and smartest people in the world. All over America, there are small towns with empty, dilapidated warehouses and factories. The people in those towns have either left or are scraping by. Without American manufacturing, small towns can’t survive. Granted, there are farm towns that will be successful as long as there are farmers to support them. Towns like Laurel, however, need that industrial base.
With regards to your brand’s furniture line, Scotsman Co., do you have a hand in crafting all of the pieces?
Ben: Absolutely. Everything with the Scotsman Co. stamp is designed or built by me. I started the brand on my own a few years ago. It’s almost as important as my name.
How has living in small-town Mississippi shaped your design aesthetic?
Erin: Our style is collected, layered, traveled, and comfortable. I would probably label it something like “eclectic traditional.” It’s very much the story of Mississippi, using whatever you have to make art—our homes are like that!
Which Laurel Mercantile pieces can be found in your own house?
Erin: The majority of our products are designed out of necessity. Ben and I, or one of our partners finds something that we need, or we think of a way to improve something. So, we meet about it and work with manufacturers to develop our products. I have our cutting boards and kitchen towels in our kitchen. I use our vintage silverware for serving. My Scotsman Co. dinner table has a Laurel Mercantile grain-sack runner. Our products are scattered throughout our home.
Erin, what prompted you to start a daily blog? Did you launch it with an audience in mind, or was it initially just meant for you?
I decided to write Make Something Good Today, my daily journal, as a remedy to assuage the worry and negativity that comes so naturally to me, the day I started my own company and became totally self-employed on January 1, 2010. I committed to writing down at least one good thing that happened every single day of our life, and it changed my life. I started looking for the good instead of waiting for the bad to happen. It was like looking at life through rose-colored glasses by habit, which was very good for me.
I never imagined anyone reading it besides my mom and Ben. But committing to writing it in a public way held me accountable, so I kept doing it day after day. I didn’t want my mom to ask, “Why didn’t you write today?”
What’s the story behind how you two landed your very own show?
Ben: I had just resigned from my position as full-time youth director at our church after feeling that I was aging out of it, and my heart wasn’t in it like it needed to be anymore. So, we were in a state of “have we done the right thing?” when we received an email from HGTV’s Lindsey Weidhorn, asking if we’d ever considered being on TV. It didn’t feel like it would actually happen, but it felt like an affirmation that I had done the right thing.
Erin: We agreed that we would have fun with it and see where it went. Once it came to the point of no return, we knew we had to do it. It was less about this huge opportunity for our family, and more about shining a positive spotlight on our town and our state.
How did the making of Home Town impact your relationship/work dynamic?
Erin: We had to become very regimented. As small business owners, our schedules had always been very scattered and flexible. We might be working on a project at 1:00 in the morning, and then have a coffee meeting with a client at 8:00 am. We made our own schedules. With filming, our schedule is made for us. Every minute of every day has been planned for us.
How does the show’s second season differ from the first?
Ben: The viewers get to see more of our processes. Erin gets to paint in her art studio a little bit, while we spend more time filming in my woodshop. Viewers will also see us getting to know the homeowners on a more personal level, something that is really important to us in designing a home.
Are there any Season Two episodes in particular that excited you?
Erin: We got to work with some small business owners from downtown Laurel this season. One of them was featured in a shopping scene in season 1. We were able to help them with a completely different style of home from what they’ve been living in. In that episode, Ben gets to work on a surprise for me and Helen. It’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever built.
Which Home Town project has been your favorite thus far?
Erin: I would say they’ve all been memorable and unique. As far as the houses go, Jodi and Bill Holloway’s home has been a favorite of mine. The house was in really sad condition, and they’re good friends of ours, so it was doubly exciting. Anytime I can work with my mom or our friends on a project, those stand out. I love seeing Ben and Jim and Josh going out on their excursions because it's just like real life with them.
What’s the easiest (and most economical) renovation project homeowners can take on themselves?
Ben: Anything DIY is always going to be the most economical. Painting rooms or cabinets can really transform a home. Painting a kitchen, walls and cabinets, then changing out cabinet hardware can add a lot of value and personal accomplishment to a home. If you want to take it another step that’s affordable and transformative, you can order new cabinet doors from a company like Morgan Brothers Millworks here in Laurel.
What’s one interior design project homeowners should always leave to the professionals?
Erin: I’m afraid of all things electrical and always vote to phone that work in! But design-wise, I don’t think there’s much you should be afraid of tackling yourself. Except maybe refinishing a bathtub. Call the pros for that!
Congrats on the new baby! Talk about what it’s like having to juggle taking care of a newborn on top of the family businesses.
Ben: Luckily, the new year is always a slow time in retail. So, we’ve been able to spend a lot of time at home with her. We have been doing a lot of conference call meetings and interviews.
Erin: Honestly, she is easier than we thought. Right now, she sleeps and eats. She is a little angel baby. However, we are struggling with cabin fever. We never turn on our TV and are rarely at home between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. So 24 hours a day at home, lots of movies and TV, and not being able to go anywhere to keep her safe from this year’s crazy flu season has us at our wits’ end!
Can fans expect to see Helen on the show in future seasons?
Ben: We aren’t so sure about that. We want her to grow up with as normal of a childhood as possible, the way we grew up.
If you could turn back time and relive a single moment, what would it be?
Erin: I would probably go back to the week we met in 2004. I wouldn’t change anything about it, though. I’d just like to fall in love with Ben again. It was the most magical week of my life.
Ben: I’d want to relive 2010, the first year of Erin’s self-employment. Getting to see her blossom as an artist and the traveling we did together all over again would be incredible.
What are your favorite words to live by, and why do you subscribe to them?
Ben: “Do the best you can, and don’t worry about it.” That’s really all any of us can do.
Erin: “Bloom where you’re planted,” because each of us has some skill or gift specific to us and no one else. Our communities thrive and grow when we all use those gifts together, in tandem. Also, “fake it ‘til you make it!” Act as if you’re the professional you want to be until someday you become that. It’s the art of practicing confidence.
What’s next for the Napiers?
Erin: There are a lot of big projects that we can’t discuss yet. We are constantly working on something. Small projects can be as important as big ones. One big one is we are wanting to expand our companies. We want to take on more manufacturing and begin wholesaling our products all over the country, but we’re taking baby steps!
Ben: It’s a dream of mine for Scotsman Co. products to be available in stores in all 50 states.
At the end of the day, the most important thing in life is…
Ben: Family. Nothing is as important as the ones you love.
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