Back in 2001, Naomi Simson started the online retail company RedBalloon out of the loungeroom of her house, eager to sell Australians on experiences rather than material goods. Now one of five investors on the Ten series Shark Tank, Simson, 53, is enjoying the experience of sharing her expertise. "I do this show to be a role model to others," Simson says, "but if you have a dream and you give it a crack and you work at it relentlessly, who knows what's possible?"
Simson's journey has led her to the doorstep of the Maybanke, a heritage home in Sydney's Inner West that Simson and her husband, consultant Stuart King, 56, have modernised on the inside but restored to its 1870's glory on the outside. When they first saw the property, "Stuart and I hadn't been together for that long, maybe a year," Simson says. "He talked about his love of creating things and projects. We said, 'Well, this really, really is a big project that only certain people would take on.'"
She adds of the final result, "It's a nice kind of reflection, a gratitude."
In this week's WHO magazine, Simson reveals the highlights of their renovation and the beauty of home, which was also the site of their Dec. 4 wedding. "It was absolutely perfect," Simson says, "because it was still a building site, which kind of represented what we were building for our family. It's also that this is a place of celebration and laughter." Adds King, "We wanted to create a space that very much reflected ourselves and our expression of family."
That family consists of King's sons Harrison and Fraser, Simson's daughter Natalia, and her son Oscar. "Those four really get along," Simson says. "They really enjoy each other's company and Natalia tends to be the one who gets them all together."
For Natalia, 21, in her fourth year of a mathematics degree, watching her mum on TV has been a treasure. "She just my dorky mum to me," says Natalia, "so I'm watching a whole other side to her that I seldom witness elsewhere. She's so serious! And her 'deep in thought' face is amazing."
At her new home, though, Simson can relax by painting in a separate room that opens up to the backyard view of the water and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance. "There is a little chaise lounge there, so when I get a bit tired, I sit down and then I look out," she says. "Often my canvases are very large, so I will lay them out flat, so I am crouched over them, and then I'll get up and lay down and look and reflect and have a drink of water."
That more reflective Simson is the person her fellow sharks have come to know. "Over the years, she and probably both of us have mellowed," says Boost Juice founder Janine Allis. "Naomi is very warm and welcoming, but you would not mess with her and you will not die wondering what she thinks of you. What people do not know id that she is also soft as butter, and she is the first to cry if someone is having a hard time. We may even call her the sookie shark."
But leave it to Simson's husband to capture her best. "Sheer energy," he says of what attracted him. "Sheer energy and clarity of purpose. She's very aware of what her contribution can be."
For more on Naomi Simson and photos inside her incredible home, pick up the latest issue of WHO on newsstands today.