"Our parties don’t require fancy catering—just corn dogs, cotton candy, and hot pretzels. We definitely have embraced the circus theme," says Rebecca.

That includes decorating. Circus art enlivens walls, and elephant-themed accessories have migrated into most of the rooms. "I tried to persuade them to confine circus memorabilia to the breakfast room,"  laughs Cincinnati interior designer Betty Murdock. Short of that, "My goal was to encourage them to be playful but not too cute." By all accounts, she succeeded, thanks in large part to fine fabrics in bright, clear colors. These textiles in splashy solids and contemporary patterns walk the high-wire of fun without a single misstep into kitsch. "Believe it or not, you can’t find this palette of clear raspberries, lime greens, aquas, and hot pinks in anything but high-end fabrics," says the designer. "Most of my clients are very traditional and prefer neutral palettes. This house forced me to bust out of my skin, and I loved it. I especially loved their passion for the history of the circus. No previous owners had pursued that."

The house’s original architecture provides a sober backdrop for the parade of color. In the living room, the white marble fireplace and elaborate crown moldings inject gravitas to the grouping of four hot-pink Designer Guild velvet chairs that radiate around a pouf upholstered in a Manuel Canovas pink-lime-yellow stripe. Equally exclamatory, Osborne & Little woven florals cover pillows. Then back to sobriety. "Unlined Ralph Lauren woven linen curtains trimmed with crystal work like sheers to keep the backgrounds soft and clean for all this playful vibrancy," Murdock notes.

Homeowners Doug and Rebecca Worple with their children Owen and Emma, and the family’s rescued retriever Buddy.

Leaving no circus cue untended, designer Murdock encouraged Rebecca to enlarge and display circus photographs taken a generation earlier by Lois Teegarden, who is Rebecca’s aunt. "It’s such a nice coincidence that her own aunt was a photographer and took circus pictures," the designer reflects. Teegarden’s black-and-white photo of a clown is now a focal point in the living room.

Like the living room, the family room is extra-long. Pocket doors separate it from the dining room.

The apple-green walls energize the family room.

Raspberry silk draperies brighten the dining room. The chandelier was moved from the Worples’ previous home. The botanicals flanking the window are by Ohio artist Calista Bockenstette.

Designer Betty Murdock presented the Worples with the pair of harlequin vases on the dining-room mantel as a thank-you. The circus juggler painting is by Jean-Louis Toutain. 

The landing’s terrific curtains are made of two different fabrics.

In pursuing the circus theme, Murdock uncovered a few white elephants of her own. "I’d had this ivory-colored elephant-motif fabric sample in my library for 12 years, and I realized it would be perfect for upholstering their headboard," she recalls. Though at first doubtful about an upholstered headboard in the master bedroom, Rebecca Worple now loves it.

Detail of the discontinued elephant-motif fabric used to upholster the headboard.

The T-shaped front window honors  Tillie the elephant, star of the John Robinson Circus, who lived to the incredible age of 120. "She was said to be very attached to John Robinson, and would call out ‘Papa!’ whenever he entered the ring," says Rebecca. Tillie’s headstone is in the Worples’ yard, where she is allegedly buried. "Rumors have it that John Robinson housed the lions in the basement and the monkeys in the attic," Rebecca says. "The people we bought the house from supposedly had to clear out the lion cages from the basement because the cages scared their kids so much."

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Three Ring Style

A playful parade of color permeates an Ohio home as a tribute to its past

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
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John Bessler

When Rebecca Worple says "Send in the clowns," she’s not crooning song lyrics. As owners of the circa-1840s Italianate house that was built as the winter headquarters for John Robinson’s Circus (the largest circus of its day), Rebecca and her husband, Doug, an ad agency owner, have indeed had occasion to send in the clowns.

Last spring, for instance. Fifteen Ringling Brothers performers visited the Worples’ Terrace Park, Ohio, home (address: One Circus Place) to perform for 200 elementary school kids. Jugglers, a Brazilian dance team, and, of course, clowns all got into the act. The children, including the Worples’ own kids, Emma, 9, and Owen, 6, were riveted. "Children love the circus, and I love children, which makes this the perfect house for me," observes Rebecca, a children’s photographer who works from her studio on the home’s third floor.

Interior Design: Betty Murdock, Betty Murdock Interiors, 3603 Center St., Cincinnati, OH 45227; 513/561-5060.

Photography: John Bessler

Rose-colored chairs (#825): Taylor King, 828/632-7731.
Chair fabric (#F1190-28 by Designers Guild): Osborne & Little, 212/751-3333, trade only.
Ottoman: Century Furniture, 800/852-5552.
Ottoman fabric ("Farandole’’ #4549/04 by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900), trade only.
Floral pillow (#ML556): Osborne & Little, 212/751-3333, trade only.
Sisal rug ("Natura’’/Seagrass): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/751-9000, trade only.
Mantels: original to house.
Fireplace surround ("Off White’’ #6896-1): Porter Paints, 800/332-6270.
Bowl on mantel: Betty Murdock Interiors and Erin Oblinger, 513/321-0900.
Gold tables: Worlds Away, 901/529-0844.
Floor lamp (Barley Twist Floor Lamp #4043): Busbin, 704/374-0536, busbin.com.
Drapery (#LCF40781F): Ralph Lauren, 888/475-7674.
Trim (#M29943/inj): Brimar Inc., 800/274-1205, trade only.
Aqua pillow: Jim Thompson, 800/262-0336, trade only.

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