For Simone Mathews, a mother of four boys, founder of SOUL Home and creator of new holiday destination The PAUSE (the most dreamy new home in Gerringong, NSW), putting her unique stamp on a property is what drives her. And given she’s about to embark on her tenth build – and behind some of Australia’s most sought after holiday homes – she’s also the woman to talk to about how to create your dream home...
Simone moved with her family to Gerringong and fell in love with a coastal farmhouse, SOUL of Gerringong (they have since sold this property). It was her first-holiday renovation project and the beginning of her company SOUL Home, an online platform where holiday property owners come to learn, connect, and be inspired. It’s here Simone shares everything you need to know to take your holiday property to the next level. The family has since relocated back to Sydney’s Cronulla and travel between the two areas. This year, Simone launched her newest project, The Pause. A sprawling six-bedroom holiday property in Gerringong, which is akin to checking into a luxury resort. As the name suggests, The Pause is all about stepping away from daily life and pausing.
“To me, holidays instantly mean relaxation. I want to go on holidays and feel lighter. I want my head to stop. I want the work and other pressures and deadlines to fade away. I just want to simply be,” says Simone. Not surprisingly, her projects have brought new life to the coastal town. “I could see there was a gap in the market for stylish, boutique holiday properties at the time,” she reflects. “There was no relaxed, yet high-end accommodation. As a frequent traveller to both Bryon and Bali, I could see the South Coast was screaming out for a new standard of accommodation.”
Here, we speak to Simone about her business journey, renovating advice (and how to stick to a budget!), and her new online courses such as the ‘How to Guide for Holiday Property Owners’. Also stay tuned – you can read our review of The Pause on the site soon!
Go to soulhome.com.au
How many properties have you renovated, built and transformed and what do you love about the process?
I’ve worked on a number of client projects – more than my two hands can count out right now, though I’ve loved each and every one of them, warts and all. For our own personal home and holiday property projects, we are about to embark on our tenth build… so when I look back, it has been pretty busy.
I really love the process and energy of building. I love the fresh beginnings and getting to put your own stamp on a property, with a personalised vision right from the start; nurturing that vision and then seeing it come to life. So many don’t enjoy the renovation or build process, and I will vouch that at times it can be stressful – though my tip – always work with a team that gives you that good gut feel and that you can trust, and then it really can be enjoyed for the exciting transformation process that it is.
Houses are like babies! You grow them, nurture them, and then they are all grown up and ready to take on the world as the years go by and they mature and develop character with age. Just like children, houses each have their own personality and style too. So my approach for all projects is to first to recognise the inner personality of a property and let it shine.
You’ve said that you had no plans to move to Gerringong – tell me about how you ended up moving there and your journey to SOUL Home…
We had been in Gerringong for a friend’s 40th birthday weekend. At the time, we’d had no intentions of moving and leaving the loved life that we were living in Sydney’s south. Though the coastal farmhouse stole our hearts and before we know it, we had packed up our life in Sydney, closed down our business and moved to the town to live and breathe the holiday property project which soon became known as SOUL of Gerringong – our first-holiday property project.
What was it like moving to a smaller town – did you miss Sydney? What did you love about the sea change?
If I’m honest, it did take a good while to get used to everyone knowing who we were and what we were embarking on with SOUL of Gerringong. There is a certain level of anonymity that you have living in a city. Though country towns don’t offer that, as everyone knows everyone… the same quality we grew to love about living regionally, as you always feel supported and you know everyone is looking out for everyone else.
My husband Ben and I have four boys and Gerringong is very much a sporty town, so from day one, the boys were in demand for the local teams. Before long we were no longer outsiders, though welcomed members of the local South Coast community. With our work, Ben hired local carpenters and apprentices, so we got to know and love the town and its characters.
When we arrived, I think many locals were worried we’d tear down the farmhouse, as it was close to many hearts. Though saving it, restoring it and giving it new life – we created a business which brought a lot of attention to Gerringong and helped shape the town as a destination.
The whole move wasn’t really a sea change for us as we lived by the beach already, so it was a lifestyle we were used to and loved in Cronulla; it was an easy switch with less crowded waves. I guess the most prominent differences involved traffic – so much less than in Sydney which was so easy to get used to. I missed food though… with so many options in Sydney, regional life is getting used to a handful of solid options rather than a plethora.
My husband fell in love with Gerringong very quickly, as did my oldest and youngest son. Though after a few years, I still missed the buzz of Sydney, as did my two middle sons. So after four years living in Gerringong, we’ve finally decided to make the move back to Cronulla. It is a decision we’ve to and fro-ed upon, and I think we’ve changed our minds several times! Though now we feel as if we have two homes, in both Cronulla and Gerringong – and we really do, with our forever home project to be built in 2021 in Cronulla, and our new holiday property The PAUSE in Gerringong.
I think we’re the only ones moving back to Sydney post-Covid. Always like me to buck a trend!
You’re the creator of SOUL Home, SOUL of Gerringong, SOUL Cottage and The PAUSE – where do you begin with each property you create?
I always begin with a clear end in mind. When I say this, I mean how I want my guests to feel when they come and stay while on holidays. It is that magical feeling that can’t be bottled, though needs to be captured. Once I understand and have a clear vision of that, it is all systems go. For The PAUSE, it is about my guests feeling like they can step away from their every day and, excuse the pun, but have a pause from their everyday.
What do holidays mean for you? How do you want your guests to feel when they’re on holidays?
To me, holidays instantly mean relaxation. I want to go on holidays and feel lighter. I want my head to stop. I want the work and other pressures and deadlines to fade away. I just want to simply be. For my guests, the special holiday feeling is often something different for each of them. Though generally, I like to sum up the holiday feeling as when you take a deep breath out, you feel lighter, your shoulders relax and you feel more malleable … that is the holiday feeling.
Why do you think your properties are so unique?
I guess it’s because I like to think of them as individuals, each with their own character and story. I am a big believer that everyone’s property, whether it be a holiday property or your everyday home, needs to find their own style and personality. They also need to be designed (or re-fashioned) with a floorplan that works for the people that will stay and live there.
From there, it’s about creating that holiday feeling through the use of materials, from flooring to lighting, to furnishings and the linens on the bed. Each element is considered and that is how ultimately I am able to create that unique feeling, so that when people come and see, stay or just stalk socially, they are captivated by that welcoming feeling.
What’s your approach to clutter in a home – do you prefer a minimal home?
I would say I sit right in the middle. I believe less is more, clear space equals a clear mind. But I also believe a home has to feel lived in. It needs to have a personality. I love to use things that are practical to style with, like wall lights for mood lighting, to a stack of breadboards used as practical décor in the kitchen. It is about using everyday pieces to make a statement in your styling – keep it out on display rather than hidden away in cupboards.
A couple of days away can have a big impact on our mental health – what changes did you notice when you relocated to the south coast?
Relocating, I found myself with more time on my hands and that allowed for more magical thinking time, creating more opportunities, more work. I felt like because the life around me wasn’t as busy as I was used to, that I had to create the busy-ness in my every day.
After a couple of years, the balance shifted and I created a little too much of that ‘busy’. I felt burnt out. So it was a lesson for me that I needed to simplify, and that to be productive didn’t mean needing to be doing something every moment of every day.
It is quite ironic as now living in Sydney, I am a lot calmer and feel like I have more space. I’ve come full circle I guess.
Looking at the accommodation options on the south coast, what did you see was missing?
I could see there was a gap in the market for stylish, boutique holiday properties at the time. There was no relaxed, yet high-end accommodation. As a frequent traveller to both Bryon and Bali, I could see the South Coast was screaming out for a new standard of accommodation. I also knew that I could attract the corporate market with the close proximity of Sydney. And now, there is accommodation popping up everywhere on the South Coast. I love it, and love that I have inspired this new standard of accommodation locally – raising the bar for the region.
You’re the mother of four boys – did you always want a big family? And what do you love about raising four boys?
I am the youngest of four girls. I was that mum who said I was only having girls and look what happened! Let’s just say nothing goes to plan, and in a good way on the boy front. I adore my boys. Boys are busy, boisterous and big teddy bears when it comes down to it. They definitely are wired differently to girls. My boys are very boyish boys, love sport, love tackling and love stirring the pot with each other. I am also an honest mum; my boys fight all the time! They are very different in their personalities so it has its challenges. But the thing I love about boys is that they get over things so quickly. They can be fighting it out one minute, though two minutes later are back to best mates. The boys are also very protective of me as their mum, which I find super sweet. They want me to be there for them when they need, and Ben to do all the ‘boy things’ with them.
What are your time management tips – how do you juggling running your company with raising four boys?
I believe that there is no such thing as work-life balance. You just need time allocated to what is the main priority. So if I am deep in a design project or writing and editing one of my online courses, my time with the family does get compromised. But then when it is time for us to go away on holidays or the boys have something special happening (usually involved a sporting thing) then work is put aside.
It is just juggling what is more important. Organisation and planning is the key to managing my business and family worlds. I have to plan the day or night before otherwise, it is just too overwhelming for my anxiety. I also love to get up early, go to the gym then come back with a clear head and have the house side of things ready before the boys get up. I also try not to jump on to emails/socials until the boys are at school, which is working at the moment and has made a huge difference to my day.
Do you find boys need you more or less the older they get –and how is mothering a teen different to a toddler… is it more or less demanding?
It is very different. When they are young they demand your attention. When they are older it is more you who is trying to get their attention. Hello my Mr 15, who is currently at the grunting stage! I feel like with the boys ages currently, at 7, 11,13 and 15, it is a juggle as they are all at fairly different stages. I have the youngest Koah still learning the basics of English and writing, and then I have the older two, Marley and Archie going through puberty. Not forgetting Tully who is approaching high school next year. So I think mothering now is more demanding to stay on top of things, to juggle work and home life, especially now in the world of digital everything and social media, which is always on. But on the social side of things, Ben and I have our lives back again as we can go out for walks, coffee, date nights without the babysitter… it’s a game changer!
When it comes to renovating, what’s your advice on sticking to a budget…
Know what is on your ‘must’ list and your ‘wish’ list. Every build or renovation goes over budget, from the vision in your head to the reality. So you need to be clear about what is on your absolute must list, and what can be culled when it’s time to sacrifice to save some budget. I often call Ben and myself as the “dream killers”, as we go into clients’ homes and they are all excited to build their forever home that they have been dreaming about for years. And pretty much straight away we know that we are going to crush them with that budget versus what they have in their minds to make it happen. So I am really passionate about educating others on this, so we can transform to “dream creators” together. I am currently finishing off my online ‘How-To Guide’ on this very subject, about creating projects working to a realistic budget and where to splurge or spend.
You’ve developed online courses including the ‘How to Guide for Holiday Property Owners’ – what is your goal with your online education?
I have just come back from Byron, which I call my writing place, finishing off my fifth online ‘How To’ guide; they are all themed to empower others as they build, design and style. My guides are designed to educate so that people understand what is involved, and ultimately to take away the overwhelm. The more that people can be prepared, the better the outcome no matter with the project is. I am a big believer in working with experts rather than DIY. But I also know so many people are intimated with the process. So ultimately the goal with my guides is to empower people with the knowledge they need to know for a smoother process. I encourage people to finish my guides, take what they need, and stamp out their own educated and individual journey.
The Pause is your latest project – tell us about it?
It is a holiday property that has been created as an oasis, a place where you go to simply relax and “pause”. A place where you can just be. As for style, I always use my 70/20/10 styling rule; The PAUSE was designed to be a mix of 70% organic, 20% minimalist and a 10% classic layer, to bring it altogether. It is a property where I want guests to feel as if they have space to really breathe from the moment they arrive (myself included!). I want them to feel like they can walk inside with sand between their toes, and to really embrace that relaxed and rejuvenating holiday feeling.
I also want people to be inspired whilst they are staying at the property for that they can do at their own homes or on their own holiday property projects, and that is why I created the online series for The PAUSE to share the journey of the actual build from start to finish, and where others can ‘shop the look’ to replicate any of the style touches that resonate with them. I like to pay it forward by sharing my own design and style projects.
What is your favourite room/area at The Pause?
If I had to play favourites, I love the entry hall. It’s the abundance of space and the softness; it takes my breath away every time I walk through the front door. It is a statement entrance. I also love the outdoor space, and how it flows on from the kitchen and living area. There is a feeling like being in your own resort. I know that when I am staying there, there is that feeling of never wanting to leave… everything is so easy and relaxed.
What are some key features at The Pause?
The use of space still blows my mind with this project. The PAUSE is built on a very small footprint, yet the property feels so grand and spacious. I also adore the natural materials we used. The concrete floors set the foundation for all the other materials. The timber doors steal the show in my eyes. We had these designed and made in Bali, and all going to plan we will launch a line of these for others to buy in 2021. The brass lighting finishes that I also designed and sourced are another favourite feature; they are simplistic, classic and stunning to look at. These doors and lighting will all be available next year in 2021, should all go to plan in this Covid-19 new world. Yikes!
How do you approach goals – do you write yours down? Do you manifest?
It’s really a bit of both, and I love a vision board… a very detailed vision board. My vision board is broken down into categories, i.e. family, health, work, home. From there, I then specifically seek out what I want for each of these segments, rather than just find things at random. So it’s a very visual process for me, and then it manifests from there. I also believe that manifesting isn’t enough, you need to do the action to put it in motion. You will also quite often find me mapping out my goals on paper, with the actions needed to get there. When I’m unclear, I find this the easiest way to see the path ahead. I try to get my boys into this as well and they think I am a bit “woo-woo”, but hey if I keep on doing it, surely it will have to catch on eventually. Right?!