"She told me to be exactly who I wanted to be and to never ever do anything just to fit in.”

By Mimi Read
April 14, 2020
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Credit: Amy Dickerson; Hair and Makeup: Melissa Hayes

When she was a girl growing up in tiny Laurel, Mississippi, Erin Napier remembers being bullied from fourth through seventh grade. “I was a bit strange and introverted,” says Erin, who wasn’t interested in makeup or clothes. “Library time was my favorite. I had a fossil collection. I would put together natural history dioramas in old shoeboxes. Or I’d stay home and make a tiger costume—that was really exciting to me.” Other girls would occasionally invite her to slumber parties only to leave her out of games and confidences. “One time, during hide-and-seek, I was it, and they all left me there and went to the house next door,” she recalls.

Today, Erin is the radiantly optimistic host of HGTV’s Home Town. The successful reality series showcases the downtown renewal and lifestyle renaissance that Erin and her husband, Ben, have helped spur throughout Laurel, an architecturally captivating town that was settled in the 19th century by lumber barons. The show also chronicles the Napiers’ storybook marriage and professional life together as decorator (Erin), renovator (Ben), and irrepressible creative duo (both). It all came about almost by accident when a New York producer began following Erin’s Instagram posts and then asked her to audition for a TV pilot.

WATCH: Erin Napier Pens Inspiring Note About How Far Laurel, MS, Has Come

Erin doesn’t mind crediting her mom, Karen Rasberry (a Realtor and children’s book author who lives on the rural outskirts of Laurel), with helping her build the emotional bedrock for her current success a long time ago. “My mother had been a stereotypical Southern popular girl—the head cheerleader in high school and college,” Erin says. “But she never tried to push me into that mold. She told me to be exactly who I wanted to be and to never ever do anything just to fit in.”

In her gently offhand way, Karen made sure the activities that seemed to gratify Erin happened on a regular basis. “We’d do art together every day,” Erin recalls. “We made macramé and papier-mâché.” When Erin felt bad, she and her mother would bake pizzas, chasing away sorrow with garlic, cheese, and (of course) the cooking project itself.

Now on the verge of retirement, Karen and her husband spend lots of their time tending grandchildren. Otherwise, they like relaxing at their vacation condo on the Alabama Gulf Coast, located a mile from the fabled Flora-Bama Lounge, a landmark for generations of beach-bound Southerners. “Oh, it’s bigger and better than ever—they’ve got real floors now, not just sand,” Karen reports of the bar. Erin and Ben have updates of their own, namely a daughter, Helen, who’s 2 years old. As Erin wheels her stroller to downtown Laurel to get a plate lunch at Pearl’s Diner or stop by Cottage Books, which is tucked inside Southern Antiques, she can see the first brushstrokes of Helen’s future personality.

“She’s still so little, but I think she’s going to be much more outgoing than I am,” Erin says. “As her introverted mom, I’ll try to nurture that. If she’s the life of the party, so be it! Like me, she loves music—Elton John most of all—and she dances whenever she hears him. I’m excited about that. I hope she’ll be a little weird. I think weird people are wonderful, and we’re all a bit weird.”