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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
  • 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,
    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.

  • John Bessler

    "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.

    Sofa ("High-Back Rolled-Arm Sofa’’ #821-86, by Barbara Barry): Baker, 800/592-2537.
    Zebra pillow (by 123 Creations): Details Store, 513/271-1073.
    Sofa fabric ("Corfou’’ #8751/86): Nobilis Inc., 800/464-6670,  trade only.
    Pink pillows ("Varese’’ #F1190-28, by Designers Guild): Osborne & Little, 212/751-3333, trade only.
    Ottoman: DRNC Inc., 888/565-8130,, trade only.
    Fabric ("Farandole’’ #4549/04 by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900, trade only.
    Chairs ("Double X-Back Chair’’ #479 by Barbara Barry); nesting table (#3462): Baker, 800/592-2537.
    Chair fabric (#ML556, discontinued): Osborne & Little, 212/751-3333, trade only.
    Sisal rug ("Natura’’/Seagrass): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000, trade only.
    Art over sofa: Lois Teegarden, 970/925-6489.
    Wall bracket; lion: Betty Murdock Interiors and Erin Oblinger, 513/321-0900.
    Zebra rug: Jonathan Adler, 877/287-1910.
    Clown photo: Lois Teegarden, 970/925-6489.

  • John Bessler

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

  • John Bessler

    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.

  • John Bessler

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

    Paint ("Spring Clover’’ #6987-1): Porter Paints, 800/332-6270.
    Club chairs (#409): Pearson, 336/882-8135,
    Ottoman: owner’s collection.
    Table between club chairs ("Nesting Tables’’ #3462): Baker, 800/592-2537.
    Floral fabric on club chairs (#180513H/91): Highland Court, 800/275-3872, trade only.
    Fabric on club-chair base ("Sganarelle’’/ Groseille #4444-04 by Manuel Canovas); ottoman fabric (#4549/04 by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900, trade only.
    Area rug ("Rosetti’’/Lantana #81862): Helios Carpet, 800/241-4900.
    Carpet banding (#180486H/299): Highland Court, 800/275-3872, trade only.
    Pillows on club chairs ("Camden Woven Texture’’ #89176-308): Brunschwig & Fils, 212/838-7878, trade only.
    Bookcase/cabinetry: Marc Michaelson, Michaelson Homes, 513/965-9555.
    Secretary with elephant: owner’s collection.

  • John Bessler

    The apple-green walls energize the family room.

    Paint ("Spring Clover’’ #6987-1): Porter Paints, 800/332-6270.
    Area rug ("Rosetti’’/Lantana #81862): Helios Carpet, 800/241-4900.
    Carpet banding (#180486H/299): Highland Court, 800/275-3872, trade only.
    Game table ("Louis XIII GameTable,’’ #18713): The Elysée Collection,, trade only.
    Game chairs (#13166-60): Hickory White, 336/884-2244.
    Game-chair fabric (#740/26): Bergamo Fabrics Inc., 914/665-0800, trade only.
    Game-chair fabric ("Scorney Check’’/Sun #2002192/40): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563, trade only. (The checked fabric on the back of the game chair is easier to see in the previous slide.)

  • John Bessler

    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.

    Drapery (#3159/04): Jim Thompson, 800/262-0336, trade only.
    Rug: Masland Carpets Inc., 800/633-0468.
    Table; flatware; chandelier: owner’s collection.
    Botanicals: Calista Bockenstette, 513/772-0027.
    Art (Toutain): Atlas Galleries, 800/545-2929.
    Armchairs (#6659/2); side chairs (#6659/1): Decorative Crafts,  800/431-4455, trade only.
    Checkered vases; brackets; pineapples: Betty Murdock Interiors and Erin Oblinger, 513/321-0900.
    Paint ("Off White’’ #6896-1): Porter Paints, 800/332-6270. 

  • John Bessler

    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. 

    Crystal ("Lucerne’’); dinnerware: Waterford Wedgwood USA Inc., 800/955-1550,
    Mantel: original to house.
    Checkered vases: Betty Murdock Interiors and Erin Oblinger, 513/321-0900.

  • John Bessler

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

    Drapery, raspberry fabric (#800020H/503): Highland Court, 800/275-3872, trade only.
    Drapery, yellow fabric (#6215/446): JAB through Stroheim & Romann, 718/706-7000, trade only.
    Fringe (#33059/9102): Houlès USA, 310/652-6171, trade only.
    Runner ("Pretty Things 2’’/Crimson, by Eastport): owner’s collection.
    Chandelier (#6772-6H by Candice Olson): AF Lighting, 800/881-5483.
    Mahogany inlay floor: custom.

  • John Bessler

    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.

    Headboard (custom): Betty Murdock Interiors, 513/561-5060.
    Headboard fabric: discontinued.
    Mantel: original to house.
    Bedding ("Legacy’’): Yves Delorme, 800/322-3911.
    Duvet: Pottery Barn, 800/922-5507.
    Chest: Arhaus Furniture, 866/427-4287.
    Lamp: Wildwood Lamps, 252/446-3266.
    Rug; accessories: owner’s collection.
    Aqua pillow: Betty Murdock Interiors and Erin Oblinger, 513/321-0900.

  • John Bessler

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

  • John Bessler

    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."