An Interview with TikTok Star Caleb Simpson
What he's learned from getting strangers to give him countless tours of their apartments
There are many things unique to New York, but perhaps none as shocking as the fact that it’s completely acceptable to ask friends — even new acquaintances — how much they pay in rent. What’s intrusive and gauche anywhere else in the world is as common here as pizza slice joints and yellow cabs. Just ask Caleb Simpson. The 31-year-old has become a TikTok, Instagram and YouTube star by getting strangers to reveal their rents and invite him up to their homes for a tour. While that voyeurism would be enough to make his accounts must-sees, his contagious curiosity, effervescent enthusiasm and sweet-as-can-be smile make him one of social media’s best discoveries. I chatted with Caleb about why his videos are so popular, and what he’s learned along the way.
NPH: Why do we love to look at other people’s apartments?
CS: The number one reason is genuine curiosity. So much of life is behind closed doors…like, when you’re walking down the street in New York City, you look in the windows of the buildings and you’re like, “What’s in there?” Or you go into a friend’s apartment, and you’re like, “How much do you pay for rent?” Or you walk through the apartment and see how someone else lives and sets up their space. Plus, when I first moved to New York, I didn’t know any of my neighbors — so it’s kind of cool to actually be able to see inside. It’s funny: my roommate in college used to watch house tours and stuff on HGTV, and I’d look at him like, “Why do you watch this stuff?” And now, 10 years later, here I am doing it. [laughs]
NPH: What’s the wildest place you’ve ever visited?
CS: One of the most memorable ones was Sampson. He lives inside a commercial space: a laundromat. He’s an artist through and through — he built out his apartment there, and it’s an artists’ haven, and anyone can come in and do anything. There’s a stage and he has shows there a couple times a month. But then he lives there, too! It’s just really interesting. He has a fridge outside, where people in the neighborhood can put food in there for the homeless. Another memorable tour was seeing inside Barbara Corcoran’s apartment, which was definitely a highlight. What stuck out to me was that she takes two baths a day. She doesn’t even have a shower.
NPH: You’ve toured hundreds of apartments. Are there any common design trends you’ve noticed?
CS: One pattern I see is that everyone needs a bar cart. And they will make it happen no matter what — no matter if the apartment is big or small. And everybody likes to point it out. Maybe because drinking culture in New York is such a thing, or maybe it’s being able to host people and have people over and have cocktails. Another trend, especially in smaller apartments, is this thing from IKEA that you can buy and put on your wall. It folds out and is meant for shoes, but a lot of people use it to store different items. Another thing that a lot of people do is find cool stuff, like, on the street, and put it in their apartments. Like, “Oh yeah, this luxury building down the street throws stuff out once a month.”
NPH: One of the best things about your videos is that they’re always positive. You never critique or negatively judge anyone’s place. But I can’t let you off the hook that easily! Are there any common design mistakes you’ve seen people make over and over?
CS: In smaller apartments, I’ve noticed sometimes people put their beds in the middle of the apartment. Which doesn’t make any sense to me. I feel like the bed needs to be on one side so that [it’s easier to move around the space]. There are people who have better feng shui, though. Everything feels meticulous. It has a different feel to it — it’s more like art, almost. It’s like, the people who put more thought into it, it feels like they’re thinking more about the other person’s experience when they walk in.
NPH: Your videos are a delight. What’s your social media delight?
CS: I watch fitness stuff. I’ve been getting into calisthenics recently. And I love DJ drops…I really love the dance party scene. Like, I’m in the deep, dark underground scene in New York. And comedians — people making me laugh!
NPH: You often end your videos by lying on your hosts’ beds. Which means it’s only fair we end this chat in a similar way. What kind of bed do you sleep on? If you say a ratty futon I’m gonna be sooo disappointed.
CS: Funny enough, I’ve got a mattress from a box…that I don’t like very much! [laughs]
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