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From patchwork to pattern

Bookkeeper, designer and second-hand dandy Matthew Simpson leaves no surface uncovered in his “historic” apartment in Lower Cabbagetown

You can sense the history as soon as you walk into this place; the building is a bit of a ruin. When would you say it was built?

I think it’s around 1888. There probably would have been several families living here, sharing maybe a kitchen. My favourite part is where there was a water leak that I don’t want to paint over because it’s exposed the original wallpaper.

What kind of shape was it in when you moved in?
I looked at the place in August of 2005 and whoever lived here before didn’t let the landlord in for about 15 years, so there was a lot of work that needed to be done. There was a hole in the floor at the top of the stairs and the bath- room door was a saloon door. It took them three months to do the repairs. I had to come over almost every day because the landlord was bound and determined on painting these original hardwood floors and that brick wall.

You also use this as a work space, creating designs including menswear, accessories and even home furnishings like pillows, many of which incorporate piecing together di?er- ent fabrics from di?erent sources.
I’m really interested in quilting right now. I don’t like where quilting has gone, how you go buy fabric for quilts. This is my idea of quilts: fabric that has been used, cut up from something that you don’t use anymore.

Speaking of unused things, please explain the quilt you’re constructing made entirely of old ALF dolls.
I used to go to this second-hand place called By the Pound and I’d always see the same sort of things popping up. I started seeing these ALF dolls and I bought one. And then I’d go back and there would be four of them and, since the things were like 25 cents a pound, I just started buying them. I think I have 106 of them.

Naturally you decided to make a quilt out of them.
This is a long-term project. I filet them and save all the stuffing. They form a perfect triangle and a triangle matches up with a triangle and that goes to the quilting where you have repeated patterns that ?t together. It already weighs a ton.

Did you know they’re planning on making an ALF movie?
I’ve been getting emails about it.

It’s going to be CGI, so I guess, no puppet.
Well, I have all the puppets.

Beyond your design work, I’m noticing an ongoing theme of patchwork even in your home decor — your study covered in clocks, a hallway mosaic of mounting boards, and a kitchen wall of paintings, photography, serving platters and more.
You see patches, I see patterns. I have a thing for pattern. I hardly ever buy anything that doesn’t have a pattern on it. It calms me down. Same with excessive noise calms me down. As long as it’s my noise.

I had an interesting trip to your washroom. What made you decide to cover the walls in mirrors?
I was just collecting them and they always just ended up in the bathroom. That’s where you end up looking at yourself the most, I think. I guess it’s a slow evolution. My neighbour, Gentleman Reg, recorded a music video in there once. It was spectacular. It was shot at nighttime and they had all the lights on and even extra lights. The bathroom was just glowing.


The only blank wall is the one above the stairs to the upper floor.
That wall drives me crazy. I can’t do anything with it because of the angle. I don’t want to paint it because it will close in the space too much. So what I do is I stick things on it. I dunno, white things scare me.

So a blank canvas would…?
Drive me crazy! When I go through magazines and see all these stark, stainless steel, granite counters, I look at it and think, “No one lives there!” No one in their right mind could ever, ever survive in a room that looks like that.

That clearly goes for your wardrobe too.
I don’t know why but I like patterns. I would feel uncomfortable if I was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. It totally freaks me out. I wish I could but I just feel really self-conscious. To tell a story: The one and only image I have in my mind of my grandfather, my father’s father, is at a family picnic. He had on a pair of stars- and-stripes, high-cut running shoes, Hawaiian pants with hula dancers on it, and he had a tank top with Mickey Mouse on it. So I think it’s genetic.

How would you sum up your aesthetic?
There are a few things that come to mind: maximalism, my friends refer to me as the second-hand dandy because I have some pretty spectacular outfits. I have to say I do.

Can we talk about the wall of sombreros?
I used to wear them every gay Pride.

Speaking of Pride, not to mention the Barn recently closing, how have you seen the gay scene change since you moved here in 1985?
In its heyday, as cheesy as it might sound, the Barn was a lot of fun. It was a fire trap; dark, hot, sweaty and it smelled but it was a lot of fun. When I first moved to the city the club district wasn’t there. I lived a block away from Queen and John back in 1985 and Queen Street ended at Spadina, and the only reason to go any further was to go to the Cameron House and that’s only two blocks. That was far, really. There was nothing past there. Bathurst was like no-man’s land. It’s fun to watch things pop up in the West End, you know, the Gladstone, the Beaver, the Hen House, the Garrison. But it’s sort of sad that people are staying away from Church Street. The internet has killed it.

You must have had some crazy nights on the town.
I would say the craziest night involved two friends ending up with their pants down. That was the night we ended up at [now closed booze can] The Matador, which was an anomaly and a really spectacular, bizarre place to go. There was always an interesting way to order alcohol. I remember buying the mix at the counter and then buying the actual booze from someone with a hockey bag. We just ended up out on the street and… it just became a sausage party with some straight boys I was with…. As a friend of mine says, “When did they make fun illegal in this town?” •

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