Caleb Simpson Is the 'MTV Cribs' of the TikTok Generation

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Meet the 'MTV Cribs' of the TikTok GenerationCaleb Simpson
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We’ll be the first to admit it: It’s fun to see inside other people’s homes. Do they have a backyard? An in-unit washer-dryer? You ask yourself a litany of questions: Would I live there? Would I pay that much to live there?

That universal curiosity—and element of surprise—is what fuels 32-year-old content creator Caleb Simpson. His popular social series “How Much Do You Pay for Rent?” follows a simple recipe: asking people on the street how much they pay for rent and then touring their apartments. The format was a hit, and the videos consistently go viral among his audience of 8.2 million TikTok followers.

A year and a half since launching the series, he’s captured even bigger names with tours like “Inside Christie Brinkley’s $30 Million Hampton’s Castle” and “Inside Shark Tank Star Barbara Corcoran's $1 Million LA Mobile Home.” But he still features the homes of everyday people, which is probably part of the reason the series is so relevant.

“When I first moved to New York City, I'm googling, ‘What neighborhood should I live in?’ ‘What neighborhood is safe and what do these apartments look like?’” Simpson remembers. “There’s not that much real information, and it’s like, wait, how am I supposed to see what's going on here?” Below, the content creator talks to House Beautiful about his own design style, the number-one thing people want to show him, and how he keeps viewers on their toes.

House Beautiful: What was the origin story behind starting the home tour series?

Caleb Simpson: I was trying to think of a new idea, something that excited me. One of my friends who is a YouTuber and content creator said, “Make something you want to see.” I was watching this street interview clip [about income and rent in New York], and I had this light bulb moment. I was like, I would love to see inside that person’s home.

That’s actually such a fascinating question, especially living in New York City. Walking around, you’re always curious what it’s like up in that building or when you’re walking into somebody else’s apartment, you’re kind of like, “How much are you paying?” It was also the peak of high rents, especially in New York City. So it was a big topic of conversation.

HB: What has resonated so much with the internet? Why has this been so popular?

CS: We all live in a box. That’s the one thing we have in common, all around the entire globe. I don’t think there’s really been anything in media that’s shown off how collectively how everyone lives. TV shows like MTV Cribs and outlets like Architectural Digest, they all just focus on lifestyles of the rich and famous and not just that everyday person that we could see ourselves in that person’s shoes.

HB: Were there any initial challenges getting it off the ground?

CS: There was definitely a lot of pushback initially. Even now there’s still some. It’s extremely vulnerable, and I get that. You’re letting millions of people into your world. And especially when it first started, there wasn’t a proven concept. I was just some random guy who’s like, I want to come to your home and I want to film it.

House Beautiful: What inspired you to take the show on the road outside New York to neighborhoods in L.A. and Tokyo?

CS: Just my own curiosity, really. And I was curious to see if people would resonate. Everyone having a collective travel experience of these places outside of where they live. I just hopped on a plane and went. I was nervous about it, but people enjoyed it.

House Beautiful: What are people most excited to show you?

CS: This is going to sound funny, but if it’s more of just a basic apartment where someone hasn’t spent that much time curating, there are specific pieces they want to show me, like a bar cart. Everyone loves pointing out their bar cart.

People also like talking about the neighborhood. A lot of people feel like they got a deal, too, whether they did or didn’t. I don’t tell them if I think it’s a bad deal. One person in DUMBO told me, “We pay six grand a month, it’s a great deal!” And I was looking at the guy, like, this is not a good deal.

HB: Has the series inspired your own design aesthetic?

CS: I recently got rid of everything in my bedroom and turned it into a Japanese-style room. I cleared everything out to make it as minimal as possible, and then built it from the floor up. I got tatami mats and put down just a futon, then I got a floor lamp, a low table, and ordered a tea set. The whole point is that the room can function as different rooms during the day. It can be a bedroom at night and then maybe a playroom or a tea room or whatever you want to turn it into. Really, I just wanted something different from the traditional American bedroom I’d been sleeping in my entire life. I was like, let’s change it up for a year and see how I feel.

I have no idea what I’m doing, so it kind of feels like painting a canvas. You don’t really know how it’s going to affect the space until you put the piece in there and then you look at it and then you make a judgment call.

HB: What’s your own apartment like?

CS: I think my apartment’s actually very eclectic. Everything downstairs has very low furniture. There’s a fireplace with a cuddle cushion corner where me and Drew Barrymore cuddled in that video. We have two outdoor spaces. There’s a roof deck, and I have a cold plunge and sauna out there.

We turned one of the offices into a pole dancing room because one of my roommates started taking pole dancing classes. So we put up mirrors, the pole, there’s an old fireplace, and then just to play to the theme, I bought $500,000 of fake hundred dollar bills. It’s just random but kind of funny.

HB: You’ve been intentional about showing a mix of housing across the spectrum, from celebrity homes to public housing projects. How do you make decisions on what you’re choosing to show the audience?

CS: I think it just goes back to inclusion, and that’s what I try to think about. The full spectrum of how people live. When I was in Hong Kong, I went to see the low poverty income housing and made videos about that, which is just a deep, dark, heavy topic that most people don’t even like to talk about. I was nervous about highlighting it, I just didn’t want it to come off the wrong way.

But it was received well, and I was like, okay, and those are things I’m curious about seeing and talking with people about housing issues and things of that nature, even though I might not share all the information, just my own curiosity.

So I think that’s it. It’s just trying to show the full spectrum of how the world lives and what I'm curious about.

And then obviously I pay attention to what the audience responds to as well. There’s a style of video or something I’m showing off a lot and people aren’t receiving it well. I’m like, okay, well, maybe I should go in a little bit different of a direction.

I kind of want to surprise myself, which in turn I know will surprise the audience. So I’ll stop somebody and then see what they pay for rent or maybe they won’t even share, and then I want it to be a complete surprise on what’s going to be on the other side of that door.

Follow House Beautiful on Instagram and TikTok.

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