Erin Napier won the hearts of millions of people in HGTV’s “Home Town”, as she was instrumental in revitalizing the historic district of the southern city of Laurel, Mississippi, one house at a time. Its pilot episode, aired in 2016, had the highest rating in the network’s history. By its fourth season, it became one of the most-watched on cable television, with 2.5 million viewers per episode. It spawned the spin-off series, “Home Town: Ben’s Workshop,” which showcased her husband’s expertise in carpentry and craftsmanship, and “Home Town Takeover” and “Home Town Kickstart”, as the Napiers and other celebrities breathed new life into small towns. Many believed that Erin was living a charmed life, having a great family and successful show, but she struggled with a mystery illness for quite some time, and developed mental health issues as a result.
Get to know Erin Napier
Erin Jacqueline Rasberry was born on 30 August 1985, apparently in Laurel, to Phil and Karen Clark Rasberry. For a time when she was young, she thought of her father, a Harrison Ford look-a-like, to be Indiana Jones, and her mother, with her style and grace, to be Princess Diana. As she was growing up, Phil worked around the clock as a doctor of physical therapy and the department head of a hospital, while Karen was a homemaker who worked part-time in real estate.
Bullied as a child
She didn’t fit in with kids her age, as she recalled, ‘I didn’t know the right jokes to tell, the right things to like, the right way to blend in our little rural town.’ Erin did have a friend in one, whom she had grown up with in church, but being laughed at, excluded, and bullied by others made her feel lonely and unloved. While she was in fourth grade, she had a sleepover at a girl’s house and fell victim to a prank when she became “it” in a game of hide and seek. Once she finished counting to a hundred and came out, all the girls had gone off to a neighbor’s house as a joke on her. As Erin went on a field trip to Washington, D.C. for sixth graders, she couldn’t find a friendly face when she boarded the bus, and no one wanted to sit beside her. Her mother would often tell her, ‘You are different from those kids and it will set your life apart in all the best ways.’ Being loved by her family might have lessened the sting of rejection, but it couldn’t erase the feeling that she didn’t belong. It took her a while to become confident and comfortable with whom she was.
Growing up with a love for music and the arts
Her mother was creative, and she encouraged the artist in Erin from a young age. The two of them would build history museums out of shoe boxes, paint them with acrylic, and use toy dinosaurs for display. They made animal costumes, hand puppets, and papier-mâché masks. Erin developed her penchant for home design in seventh grade, when she redecorated her bedroom in the way that she wanted. When she was older, she would play the guitar and sing at a coffee shop in downtown Laurel; she had come a long way from the child who performed onstage in a school play accompanied by her father, because she was afraid to do it on her own.
Meet her other half
Ben Napier was born on 24 September 1983, in Mississippi. When he was in sixth grade, his dad sold their farm and truck, went to college, and became a minister. His family moved around a lot, and the only thing that was constant, he said, was having one another. He was never lonely because he was close to his three brothers, Sam, Tom and Jesse. They looked up to their dad and followed his example in that ‘if we didn’t see Daddy doing it, then we didn’t need to do it.’ His father didn’t drink alcohol, smoke, use drugs, or get a tattoo, so Ben didn’t. He said that his dad found a perfect partner in his mom. and treated her like a queen – they were a united front in raising him and his brothers. Ben was taught right from wrong, as well as chores at home from cooking to doing laundry.
Erin and Ben’s love story
Erin attended Jones County Junior College where she met Ben Napier, whom she admired from afar, believing he would never notice her, as he was popular and the center of attention wherever he went. He was always with a cheerleader or a beauty queen, and he admitted to having his fair share of girls during those days. At an off-campus McDonald’s in May 2004, he introduced himself to Erin – she was frozen in place and could only give a lackluster answer, as she felt intimidated partly because of his charisma, and partly his size, as he was six feet six inches tall, or two meters, and weighed close to 300lbs, about 130kgs.
Ben was drawn to Erin, and he recalled flirting with her once but was rebuffed, which made him like her even more. He gladly took the opportunity to be with her, when he was asked in December 2004 to feature him as one of the most interesting persons on campus, for a yearbook project in which she was a design editor. The time they spent together was way more than what was necessary for the project, as he wanted to get to know her better. It was true what his mom had told him when he was younger, ‘One day you’ll find the girl you’ll always want to talk to. That’s how you’ll know that’s the one you want to spend the rest of your life with.’
He had fallen in love with Erin after just three days of knowing her, and although it sounded ridiculous even to him, he was sure of his feelings. Within six days, he knew that he was going to marry her; her father’s condition was that Ben needed to finish college first. The couple had been inseparable since that yearbook project, and all through their college years at the University of Mississippi where Erin earned her fine arts degree and Ben his history degree.
Ben proposed to her in 2007 at Square Books, their favorite place in Oxford, Mississippi. It was a big production as he wanted it to be special, something that was worthy of their love story. They were married in 2008 at the Paris-Yates Chapel in Ole Miss. For their anniversaries, Ben would give her a book that documented things that happened in their lives for a year, with photos or illustrations, and he promised her that as long as she was his girl, she would get that book.
The couple had two daughters, Helen and Mae, and although Erin would often share photos of them on her Instagram, she was careful not to show their faces. It was their personal choice, as they didn’t want their baby’s image to be used for promoting an international kids’ brand. Aside from that, they were quite disturbed when people who came to Laurel for their show, would become familiar and reach out to embrace her daughter when she didn’t even know them. One time, a 54-year-old man, who bought a house a few blocks from theirs, was wearing a Star Wars stormtrooper costume and an ankle monitor bracelet and said things such as ‘God sent me here to protect the women of Laurel, specifically little Helen.’ The family had 24-hour security officers at home and at work as a precautionary step, until the strange man left.
Living in Laurel
For Ben, home had been more of a state of mind than a place, as he called several towns his home. However, he was happy to put down roots in Laurel, Erin’s hometown. Her family owned a hundred-year-old flatiron building that they renovated and transformed into their first home. They were on a limited budget, so they found creative ways to execute the design they had in mind. As Ben developed the skills and passion for woodworking, he built a few pieces of furniture from lumber he salvaged from Erin’s great-grandparents’ home. They used things that came from or had ties to their families, so that it would make them feel connected.
When they first settled in Laurel it was a sleepy town, and for some a dying town. However, when looking at old, dilapidated buildings, what Erin and Ben saw were possibilities. Both joined Laurel Main Street, an organization of business and building owners who wanted ‘to save the historic integrity of the downtown’, and attract new investors. It became their mission to return the place to its former glory, to change people’s perception of living in a small town, and to preserve the value of a tight-knit community. They set out to do just that and started holding festivals to bring people together. Erin designed big murals and signage to promote what was great about Laurel.
She launched an online stationery boutique called Lucky Luxe, that offered custom designs for special occasions. She used to blog about her designs, and soon, “Martha Stewart Weddings” was interested in featuring her and the ivory handkerchief wedding invite she designed for a client. It became a hit, as people wanted something different yet personal for their special event. As her business expanded, by 2011 it took too much space in their home, so the couple bought a Craftsman cottage, which was her favorite house when she was little, and renovated it, working side by side with experts to make sure that everything was done right.
In July 2014, Lindsey Weidhorn, HGTV’s Director for Original Programming & Development, emailed Erin about the possibility of doing a TV series about Laurel. It seemed that she had been ‘stalking’ her on Instagram, and become interested in their small town. Soon they were meeting the production company RTR Media via Skype, and then filming a sizzle, a five-minute promotion clip, so the producers could pitch the show’s idea to network executives. Erin was also asked to submit sketches she’d made from photographs of rooms, as they would be included in the sizzle. She had doubts that anything would come of it, as she said, ‘We love it [Laurel] very much, but that doesn’t mean everybody else would…So, we had fun and never had any expectations.’
— Erin Napier (@ErinRNapier) May 28, 2020
The pilot episode aired on 24 January 2016, and attracted high ratings, so they were then greenlit for a whole season, that aired from March to May 2017. The premise was that Erin and Ben would meet a couple, and talk about the kind of home that they wanted. The hunt for possible homes would be narrowed down to two choices and then the Napiers would explain what they could do to fix them, mindful of the client’s budget – once a house was bought, the renovations would begin. After the construction was finished, Erin, often accompanied by her best friend Mallory, would shop for items and decorate the house, making sure to include something that was personal to the client. At his shop, Ben would build a piece of furniture as a gift to the new homeowner. The episode would end with the big revelation.
Transforming a home was a moving experience for Erin and Ben. They said that it wasn’t about the fresh coat of paint or the new tile, but about the moment when the client stared with wide-eyed wonder at their new home – the realization of a dream.
Health update on Erin
One would think upon watching Erin on “Home Town” that everything about her life was great, be it her family, friends, community, and career. Not many knew that she was plagued with a mysterious illness for several years, and was struggling with mental health issues.
Mystery illness revealed
Erin was a sophomore in college when she woke up feeling pain at the bottom of her rib cage. She ‘twisted and writhed’ as she tried to find a comfortable position, but to no avail; however, the very next day, the pain was gone. For a time, it would happen once or twice a year, and she’d always thought that it was just a stomachache and was self-medicating. However, the pain became more intense and she was running a fever, so she had to go to a hospital where she was given painkillers. After a series of tests and bloodwork, nothing abnormal was found except for an elevated white blood cell count, which indicated that the body was fighting off something,
Over the years, the pain would last for days and occur more often, so she consulted with many doctors, and underwent various tests, but they couldn’t get to the bottom of it. One doctor even said that Erin was the one ‘creating’ these symptoms and prescribed her with a drug, the effect of which made her not want to try it again. She began to feel hopeless, as the fear of not knowing was worse than the pain; she thought it was cancer or some other life-threatening disease. It took a toll on her life and her business, as she was sometimes too sick, unable to move without pain.
In 2014, her ultrasound results came back and a doctor performed exploratory surgery. It was discovered that her ‘internal organs were completely fused together by bands of scar tissue.’ Her appendix was perforated, which meant that it had been bursting and healing itself over and over again until it spread into the abdominal cavity. That small thin pouch had partially ruptured and was covered by scar tissue, making it appear normal on CT scans. The appendix and all the scar tissue along with a benign cyst from her ovary were removed – finally, she was on the mend.
Her panic attacks
Erin no longer suffered from debilitating pain, but she began to have panic attacks. Apparently, her condition left a mark on her brain causing her to become preoccupied with sickness. ‘My brain, without my permission, sets off on a fight or flight mission to save my life, when my life is not in any danger at all.’ She opened up about her mental health issues in January 2022, because she was hoping that it would help someone who was going through the same thing. Her Instagram posts were often happy and positive, despite her personal struggles, as she said that it was ‘nice to have this place for editing the hard parts out.’ There was an outpouring of support and love from people all over, including the actress Drew Barrymore, who left a comment on her post that said, ‘I love you @erinapier and THIS DOES HELP TO KNOW and I believe we are lucky to have a window into you that will also help others!’
Erin Napier continued to inspire people via the TV series, “Home Town,” her journal, and social media posts as she spread positivity, and love for family and community. She was passionate about supporting American manufacturers, by featuring products made in the US at her store, Laurel Mercantile, even if she was criticized for how expensive their goods were – as she said, ‘If we’re going to be serious about revitalizing small town America, we have to be serious about making things here to keep our hometowns strong.’
Her children’s book “The Lantern House” published in 2022 made it on the New York Times’ best-selling list. Clearly, Erin isn’t one to let the grass grow under her feet, especially with Ben as her husband, best friend and partner in all the businesses they operate.