Are You Ready for Circus Tent Chic? Designers Weigh in on the Viral Aesthetic

The endless stream of new ideas and design inspiration born by social media has sputtered out yet another interior trend you’ll want to familiarize yourself with: an obsession with the wide stripe. Wide stripes—known as cabana stripes to some or circus tent stripes to others—are popping up more frequently in the online interior sphere, from small details like kitchen light fixtures to an entire room decorated in the geometric pattern. Just by looking at these beautifully designed spaces, it’s not shocking as to why the stripe is having a moment right now—the pattern is the bold decorating choice of the time, similar to “unexpected red”, that brings a fresh, upbeat energy to any room while keeping a sophisticated air about it.

However, like the bookshelf wealth aesthetic, the wide stripe in interiors is anything but new or a trend, and it has always been “that girl” in interior design. People have been doing stripes “since Rome went to war,” as interior designer Miles Redd puts it. And while the “unexpected red theory” can pretty easily be explained away with simple color theory, this most recent surge in striped, well, everything begs the question: Why is this classic, versatile pattern so suddenly and eagerly in the spotlight?

a room with two beds

Carmel Brantley

Villa Aurelia at The Colony Hotel by Mark D. Sikes

Why Are Stripes Having a Moment?

Looking at it from a more technical standpoint rather than a stylistic one, Redd believes it all comes down to the regular trend cycle. “I always feel like every generation discovers style in their own way and brings it forth in a new way,” he explains. “You have all these sort of Millennials, which I love, who are really embracing what I call the Swans’ decorating style, which has always kind of been my taste.” Think heavy traditional style mixed with bursts of an unexpected, more geometric and modern style—basically how Truman Capote’s “swan” Lee Radziwill designed her interior spaces.

Though the pattern itself is timeless, the access we have today into the many ways people style their personal spaces also inspires us to experiment with different aesthetics in our own homes. “That’s the beauty of the stripe. It’s so versatile, it’s so easy to use, and it brings so much impact with it,” Angus Buchanan, co-founder of creative design studio Buchanan Studio, says. “I think people are being more adventurous and braver. And I think that for a while, there was this sort of beige world where decorating was an easy thing to do when you match things together.”

Adding in such a bold pattern tends to make people nervous, but Buchanan Studio’s iconic, striped Studio Chair was only born once the team decided their consumer was courageous enough for it, Buchanan explains. “You put one of these chairs in our case in a room and that’s enough. You’ve made a brave, bold decision. You’ve changed the focus of that room and added something that’s timeless and classic and going to bring joy whenever you walk into that room and see it.”

a couch in front of a book shelf

Alicia Waite
a chair in a room with potted plants

Alicia Waite

From a more stylistic perspective on why we’re reaching for these wide stripes now, interior designer Mark D. Sikes puts it plainly: “[Stripes] are happy.” If you take a second to think about it, it’s right there in the name, whether you preface the pattern with “cabana” or “circus ten.” “There’s something about a cabana stripe where you think about an awning, therefore you think about the beach or you think about the sunny weather,” Sikes says. “I mean, it just kind of evokes a mood of happiness. There’s also the circus nature of a striped tent that evokes joy and happiness and fun.”

Redd mirrors Sikes’s sentiment about the pattern conjuring up images of the beach and adds that the “wide stripe is more country club, if you will. It has a breezier sort of more airy feeling to it.” Fitting that we’re searching for a warmer mindset, as so many of us are still bundling up in our winter coats before we leave the house.

How to Decorate Your Space With Stripes

a bed with a pillow and a pillow

Lucy Alice

Through the geometrical rigor and order of the stripe seen in classical architecture and translated into modern interior design, Redd explains, we can compliment the other prints, patterns, and solids being used in a space. “The stripe, it’s more about being a graphic compliment or a graphic statement. If you do the whole room, it’s a statement. If you want to sort of heighten the mood of, say, a floral, you put a stripe next to it because it’s the tension of disparate elements that always makes decorating exciting. So if you have a stripe next to something organic, that push and pull of the two is what’s so wonderful,” Redd explains. However, there is such thing as a room having too much geometry. You don’t want a checkerboard floor and stripes on the wall—”when you have geometry next to geometry, it doesn’t sing,” he adds.

While Redd believes you should fully lean into the circus aspect of the stripe—”there is a pleasure and a delight and a folly and a fun to go into the circus and that’s why we do it in the first place,” he says—not everyone who wants to incorporate the timeless pattern into their space has the desire to fully embrace circus tent chic. In these cases, Sikes suggests starting out with little accents here and there in the home, like on a few throw pillows or Roman shades or a canopy bed so it’s still an impactful design decision.

“If you just had striped walls, then you could have solid furniture and maybe one printed fabric that’s on pillows in a chair or something,” he explains. That’s not to say he isn’t a fan of diving head first into a striped interior though. “There’s nothing about a striped room that’s trendy, but it does feel fun and it feels adventurous in some ways, but it’s super classic,” Sikes says.

For all three of these designers, the iconic stripe could never be reduced to just a trend. “I can’t think of a project where we haven’t used [a stripe] somewhere because they just are this really classic, really versatile, really easy to use pattern that creates such a dynamic,” Buchanan says. “It’s something we know will add a graphic and a timeless element to the room that won’t feel like a trend and won’t age quickly. It’s going to remain looking as we intended it on the day we put it in five, ten, 15, 20, a hundred years time. The stripe’s never going to go out of style.”

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