Sam Walton’s 1950 five-and-dime variety store still stands in Bentonville, Ark. — the city that’s now headquarters for Walton’s Walmart chain, the world’s largest retailer, which he launched in 1962.
“When times are good people shop at Walmart, but when times are bad they shop at Walmart more,” said Dave Marrs, who with wife, Jenny, hosts HGTV’s Bentonville-based “Fixer to Fabulous,” which premiered Oct. 22. Bentonville (pop. 51,000) is wedged into the state’s northwest corner, near the Ozark Mountains.
Walmart’s presence is a boon for the region’s real estate market — and for the couple’s business, Marrs Developing, which has built about 30 homes a year since 2004. “We can’t build fast enough — a great problem to have,” Dave Marrs said.
We reached the couple at their renovated 1903 five-bedroom farmhouse, set on a 56-acre farm 15 minutes from downtown Bentonville, where they live with their five children, one adopted from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
You’ve mentioned that some folks have a skewed perception of Arkansas — here’s your chance to set them straight.
Dave: I went to college in Colorado and was offered a job to move out here. My friends said, “Why in God’s name would you move from Colorado to Arkansas?” Two of them came to check it out and they now live here. We have a small-town feel with front-porch living. People are active and friendly. Cost of living is fairly low but wages are fairly high.
Jenny: Dave always describes it as Mayberry. There’s a big art scene and mountain biking is huge. As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, it really is about the people. Everyone is very welcoming, very open — more so than anywhere I’ve lived.
Tell us more about the effect of Walmart’s behemoth presence in your small town.
Dave: If a supplier has a product in Walmart, they have an office here. Tyson Chicken is based here (Tyson Foods, Springdale), also J.B. Hunt (a transportation firm in Lowell). We have so many people that are not from here — it’s a melting pot from all over the country and world. It gives us freedom with homeowners to do different things. Someone selling a million-dollar apartment in San Francisco can buy a 5,000-square-foot home here. A family can move here and get a three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car garage home for $175,000.
You transformed a 1930s rundown Craftsman into a Creole cottage. Given that style’s vibrancy, how did you dial down the owners’ desire for a “white on white on white” look?
Jenny: A black island (in their white kitchen) was a bold, unexpected piece I was able to talk her into — painted Benjamin Moore’s Onyx with a Calacatta marble top. She was still a bit nervous, but when she saw it, she loved it. We added color in her study too: Benjamin Moore’s Bavarian Forest.
You also convinced her to create wide arches instead of knocking down walls — a nod to pushback we’ve seen against the de rigueur togetherness of open-concept design.
Jenny: Having a touch of privacy in that particular house created a cozier space, like how houses used to be. It is a nod back to the home’s original architecture. It also helped us make the fireplace the central point of both those rooms (kitchen and living room) without it feeling overly modern.
Your farm includes a “U-pick” blueberry enterprise, animals, an event barn and an old red barn where you mill local trees for home renovations.
Dave: Anytime we clear a lot and take out a tree, I want to salvage as much of that tree as I can. We custom mill white and red oak, silver maple, walnut, sycamore, sassafras and some exotic hardwoods like pecan. We do quite a bit of flooring and we make a ton of furniture — porch swings, beams for mantles, you name it.
Jenny: Our kids have been involved in the berry farm from Day One. We went as a family to Africa (profits from the berry farm benefit orphaned and at-risk Zimbabwean youth via Help One Now). And leaders from Zimbabwe came last fall and stayed with us. It’s been really important for our kids to be exposed to other cultures and to develop those relationships.