Homebound with Home Town

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

Since the pandemic hit I’ve been spending most of my time secured in my bunker in our own little white house here in Storm Lake.

I venture out for a couple hours each day to walk to the office to see if there is anything that needs my attention there. Other than look over the bills and sign a few checks, no, they don’t miss me one bit at Times Square.

So I march back home.

Without much else to do, I write this column once a week and watch more television than I should. I enjoy Andy Griffith and Seinfeld in the mornings. And I stumbled on a pretty good show in the afternoon, “Home Town” on HGTV.

I’m not sure how I came upon HGTV. I thought all that channel ran was the Property Brothers. But “Home Town” caught my attention. I still haven’t figured out exactly when it runs. It’s not on for several days, then there will be three or four of the hour-long episodes back-to-back.

It features a couple named Ben and Erin Napier who like to fix up old homes in their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, a place not much bigger than Storm Lake. This area of southeast Mississippi has seen some tough times and Ben and Erin are trying to rejuvenate the town. Ben is a woodworker by trade and Erin is an artist.

Like Storm Lake, there’s a lot of affordable but not-worn-out homes in Laurel, many of them around a century old, that time has passed by. Unlike so many cookie-cutter modern homes, these old places have character that just needs to be brought back with the right touch. Most of the homes the Napiers work on are modestly priced in the $30,000-$60,000 range and, working within the buyers’ budgets, they fix up both the outsides and the insides affordably, generally spending between $50,000-$70,000 on renovations that add far more than that in value to the property. The kitchen almost always accounts for the lion’s share of the expense.

I can’t pound a nail in straight, but I’m still fascinated by how folks like the Napiers, who have a vision, can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with a coat of paint and a few 2x4s.

I used to watch “This Old House” Saturday afternoons on PBS, but I got out of the habit  a few years ago when it ran up against Notre Dame football on TV. Plus, some of those projects seemed to get unrealistic for the average homeowner. A lawyer-doctor couple would buy a house in New England for a half million dollars and then spend another half mill on the renovations. It makes for an interesting show, but it seems unattainable for most folks. Over the years I became acquainted with characters like original host Bob Vila (now Kevin O’Connor), master carpenter Norm Abram, contractor Tom Silva and plumber Rich Trethewey.

I like the Napiers because they aren’t as annoying as the other big HGTV stars, the Property Brothers, who seem to be on that channel 24/7.

Apparently I’m not alone. “Home Town” has become one of HGTV’s most-watched shows.

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