Squiggles, bold stripes, checkerboard patterns, and circus tents. Design is having a fun-house moment, and we are here for the party. The trend is called carnivalcore, and its exuberant neon-and-disco-balls aesthetic will infuse your home with joy. If cottagecore represents warm and fuzzy nostalgia, carnivalcore is its candy-colored, sugar-fueled cousin. It also embraces maximalism, but with a whimsical, youthful twist, along with literal carnival and circus references. And it's not just for kids' rooms, either.
Model and actress Cara Delevingne's Los Angeles home exudes this vibe. She worked with architect Nicolò Bini to create the adult Alice in Wonderland-esque playhouse of her dreams, complete with a chandelier outfitted with colored lights and a disco ball in the middle, and a ball pit room painted to look like a circus tent. These touches are a hallmark of carnivalcore style, which also takes cues from a resurgence of interest in '80s and 90s-era cartoons like The Care Bears and Sailor Moon, as well as clowncore, a TikTok trend featuring circus-inspired style that first gained momentum in the early days of the pandemic.
Video of the Day
But if a carousel, or even a heavy dose of primary colors, feels like too much for your home, you can still embrace the trend in a more measured way, as designer Kelly Wearstler did in the dining room of the Harper Avenue residence seen above. Its carnival-inspired striped table grounds the room and sets a tone of polished playfulness. Read on for 13 other ways to incorporate carnivalcore into your home.
1. Add a checkerboard rug.
Carnivalcore or not, checkerboards are a tried and true classic, so they're a good gateway into this exuberant trend. A checkered rug adds immediate visual interest to a room, as Dani Dazey's design demonstrates. Here, she's chosen to go bold with color and scale, but a more neutral color or smaller-scale check could easily create an entirely different vibe.
2. Go big with color, stripes, and scalloped edges.
The circus theme is a classic for children's rooms for a reason. Designer Chloe Jonason of Chloe Jonason Interiors takes a literal approach to the trend in this space with circus striped curtains, scalloped paint around the ceiling, and a toy elephant head on the wall. But she also manages to offset the cute by choosing serious dark wood furnishings and a more sophisticated muted red color for the walls.
3. Add some shimmer with a disco ball or five.
Most of us probably visualize disco balls in dark rooms, thanks to their dance hall origins. But in this space, Orlando Plant Lady shows us what a ball of mirrors can do in a room with abundant natural light. Between the many orbs and wall of squiggly mirrors, the play of light and shadow is truly enchanting.
4. Offset checkerboards with some round edges.
Checkerboard floors and walls? Designer Sarah Sherman Samuel goes for it here, but keeps the space from looking too busy by choosing a muted color palette and adding curved elements. Look closely and see if you can count the at-least nine curvy accents in the picture, adding up to a beautifully balanced room.
5. Incorporate wide, colorful stripes.
This room by Miki of Plot Twist Interiors has several carnivalcore elements. You've got the checkerboard coffee table. You've got a cotton candy-like cloud light fixture hanging from a sky blue ceiling. And you've got a rainbow-colored, wide-striped, wall-to-wall rug. In the wrong hands, those ingredients could add up to too much, but the neutral white sofa and walls give the eye a place to rest amid all this delight.
6. Evoke the circus with harlequin patterns.
You don't need a primary color palette to bring circus-inspired decor into your home. Take this black-and-white chest, from the home of British designer Sue Timney, for example. The harlequin pattern brings to mind vintage jester costumes, turning this space into a modern medieval fantasy.
7. Step through the looking glass.
Alice in Wonderland is a popular theme within the carnivalcore trend. This room designed by Merve Kahraman pays clear homage, but in a refined and minimalist way. The white rabbit King Louis chair is a quiet star, and the harlequin table subtly brings home the reference to the classic children's tale.
8. Add a circus theme to a child's room.
It's easier to lean all the way into a theme in a children's room. Interiors blogger Jens Den does so in this space, while still keeping it modern, thanks to a soft color palette and some retro touches. Note the pattern mixing, which also elevates the space. The tent creates a fun hiding spot for a young child, while its bold stripes play off the spots on the giraffe's neck and the rainbow-colored stars on the floor.
9. Add visual interest with a pop of circus stripes.
How to do red and white stripes without feeling clownish? Artist Sarah Blomfield nails it by keeping the pattern to just two little hand-painted lampshades, juxtaposed against navy floral art, for a lovely little moment.
10. Hang some neon art.
Neon art will always make a statement, and that statement is "fun and cool." Jollie Ollie Designs' studio is big fun, indeed. With a neon sign, disco ball, bright streamers, and pastel striped walls, the vibe is unabashedly maximalist and completely joyful.
11. Mix patterns large and small.
Sometimes more is more, and the trick to keeping it from looking overwhelming is all in the details. Designer Hayley Stuart accomplishes this by painting her living room walls and ceiling the same pink as her sofa, creating a monochromatic blush backdrop upon which to layer on the patterns and accents of green.
12. Tent the whole room.
Tenting an entire room takes real confidence, but designer MA Allen shows how it can pay off. This bedroom presented a challenge because of its low ceiling and lack of natural light. By enveloping it in beautiful fabric and creating a visual peak in the center of the ceiling with magenta piping, Allen created a jewel box effect and the illusion of a higher ceiling.
13. Disco balls, but make it rainbow.
Nothing says carnivalcore more than upping the ante on disco balls from their usual silver to gold and pink. Greengate Studio suspends nine of them from a high ceiling in two sizes, and gilds the proverbial lily with artificial flowers to boot. The color-blocked banister and bright blue walls also reflect off the mirrored balls, making them look positively rainbow. Can't say we've ever seen a happier stairwell.