The bright side: hanging out with Simon Backhouse
“The sun shines here every day” is the mantra emblazoned in zesty neon yellow on the print hanging in Simon Backhouse’ living room, and after a couple of hours in his company, we’re entirely persuaded that it’s true. His bright and beautiful Walthamstow home is an apt reflection of the positive energy that radiates out of its owner, whose self-effacing take on himself is “smiley, beardy and northern”.
Simon works in commercial consultancy, and is currently helping Swoon open retail outposts around the UK. A creative at heart, he’s obsessed with all things home, as the interior of his Victorian terrace house shows. He bought the property in February 2018, and quickly set to work filling it with colour and putting his unique, uplifting stamp on the place.
He’s a man with a busy schedule, so we felt chuffed to get invited over for the afternoon. When he’s not travelling the country for work, you might well spot him singing backing vocals at big-name gigs with the London Gay Men’s Chorus, racing around the city streets with his run club, London Frontrunners, or heading for the seaside in search of vintage furniture.
Excited to have a nose around his house (also home to two cats, Bridget and Monty) we settled in to chat to Simon about the things that make him tick, which, we discovered, include coffee, neon and old-fashioned pubs. Pleased to be aligned on the important things in life, we looked forward to finding out more.
How long have you lived here?
I bought this house in February 2018, but I’ve been in the area for four-and-a-half years, apart from an 18-month stint in New York.
Living in New York must have been amazing. We’re a bit jealous.
I loved it. It was just like the movies. I was living right on 7th Avenue in Chelsea and had a great group of friends. I walked past the Flatiron building every day on my way to work, and spent the evenings just trying out all the great bars and restaurants NYC has to offer.
That sounds very SATC. Did you miss London at all?
Yes I missed the little things, like a trip to the pub or a good market. It made me appreciate London more. New York is so busy all the time, and sometimes it feels like the buildings all look the same. London has so much variety, you can hop on the tube and find yourself somewhere that feels totally different from where you’ve just been.
Did you grow up in London?
No, I’m from a mining village in South Yorkshire; my dad worked as a coal miner for most of his life. It was pretty sleepy in comparison but a wonderful place to grow up, very true to its roots.
And what was your family home like?
It was an ex-council house; it was immaculate and really homely. My parents were very proud of what they’d achieved and the house is testament to that. My mum redecorated every year, I think I must have inherited my love of interiors from her. They had a very united partnership when it came to sharing all elements of home life, but interiors are really my mum’s thing. I think it’s partly how she expresses herself… and my dad went along with it for an easy life.
Very wise. Is there anything you miss about your hometown?
I miss the simplicity of life there sometimes. There really isn’t that much to do, so London has an overwhelming amount of choice in comparison, and it can be hard to just do nothing. I’m definitely starting to think more about balance and wellbeing than I used to. I’ve started meditating every morning before I start work and I’ve also joined a local running club. We normally do 10K once a week, after which, I feel I’ve got the green light to indulge.
Well, that’s the point of exercise, right? What’s your favourite way to indulge?
I love a proper Sunday roast in the pub, but I also really like having people round to dinner. My old house was pretty small, so it’s nice to have the space to entertain, and I really enjoy cooking. My go-to is normally a pasta dish, like pork ragù or puttanesca. Then it’s just about having a few salads, a dessert, and lots of good chat.
You make it sound so easy. Who’s your dream dinner guest?
I think it would have to be Madonna. It might seem a bit obvious but she’s lived a life and a half, and is also incredibly fierce/scary. I’m kind of curious about what she’s like to hang out with on a Friday night.
Come to think of it, so are we. Would you make her your pork ragù?
No, I think I’d have to step it up a notch. Although, I’d imagine she’d probably come with a list of requirements.
Yep, we reckon you’re probably right. So, when you’re not hosting, running or singing, how do you spend your downtime?
Downtime for me is a Saturday morning on the sofa with a new issue of Livingetc and a coffee. The house is never quite finished, so I’m always on the lookout for new pieces. I love the process of seeing a room come together, and picking things up along the way.
We totally feel you. What’s your favourite item that you’ve bought so far?
It has to be the neon sign in the living room, which once hung in Dreamland in Margate. I spotted it in a shop when I was down there, and decided that it shouldn’t be too difficult to get it back to London on the train. How wrong I was. The comedy value, combined with the sheer amount of effort and my love of neon, currently puts it in first place.
You did mention that you’re partial to a seaside trip. Could you see yourself living there?
Absolutely. I’ve always loved quintessential British seaside towns with all their grand houses and faded glory. I’ve really fallen in love with Margate. I can see myself running a B&B and living in one of those a beautiful old Regency-era townhouses. I think it would be nice work-life balance… enjoying the sea air, runs on the beaches with the dog…
Uh oh. The d word. What do you think the cats would feel about this?
I think they’d get used to it. They’re pretty adaptable, they even came to New York with me. Bridget certainly isn’t fazed by much, she was a rescue and, despite being really friendly, has no homing instinct. One time, I got a call saying she’d strolled into a hospital, another, a taxi driver discovered her miles away from here, and she arrived home in style in a black cab.
Intrigued by the escapades of this cab-hailing cat, we persuaded Simon to go off in search of the famous Bridget, who was very pleased to see us and most definitely ready for her close up. We also made him promise to keep us posted on the Margate Regency B&B dream – we’ll be the first to book in for a visit.
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