Close your eyes, and take a moment to conjure the most beautiful village you could imagine. What do you see?
Perhaps you’re strolling down a cobbled path. The sky is blue, and your cup of coffee waits under the shade of an umbrella. A water fountain trickles nearby, and the walls of a stone castle frame the picture-perfect scene.
Or maybe your creativity has whisked you away to an ethereal garden. Vines weave their way up ancient pillars, and fallen stars glisten among the flowers.
Now, open your eyes. What do you see?
These are just a couple of the awe-inspiring Animal Crossing designs found on Instagram, where a community of New Horizons players meet, make friends, and craft new worlds.
As an Animal Crossing: New Horizons player, I’ve enjoyed the in-game freedoms that come with decorating my house, landscaping the gardens of my island, and embracing design commissions in Happy Home Paradise. Yet these activities barely scratch the surface of what’s possible in this game.
While players like me tinker casually with our villages, there’s an entire Animal Crossing subculture just waiting to be explored – one where players share custom designs, decorate lifelike cafés and living spaces, and grow thriving orchards that burst with colour. And you can find it all on Instagram.
On the platform, Animal Crossing: New Horizons players reveal their treasure trove of heavily landscaped villages and immaculately designed interiors – all to an astoundingly professional level. While custom furniture, wallpapers, and thoughtfully placed objects contribute to these highly detailed settings, there’s a human story to be told through every original creation.
Kayleen Sanchez – who goes by the gaming name Kayleen’s Coffee – has generated more than 40,000 followers on her Instagram account. Her journey into this Animal Crossing subculture started as the pandemic began.
‘I knew, since I would be spending an extended amount of time at home, that I wanted to play something that would be low stakes, comforting, and relaxing,’ Kayleen says.
As the pandemic forced the world into lockdown, Kayleen was also determined to continue her hobbies – photography and editing – even if it meant pursuing them through a digital outlet. This meant learning how to design the full picture she wanted to capture; ‘Animal Crossing was my chance!’.
Before the pandemic, the coffee-loving gamer would walk into a new café every day, selecting venues based on their pleasing aesthetic. She also spent her weekends hiking. On each of these occasions, she’d take photos.
Naturally, Kayleen’s impressive ACNH designs are now infused with ‘cottagecore’, ‘gardencore’, and ‘cafecore’ aesthetics. ‘I leaned towards those styles because I wanted to bring back those experiences I used to love so much,’ Kayleen explains.
Kayleen has built an expansive community of followers who she says feel a similar yearning for these real-world experiences and their ‘sense of normalcy and satisfaction’.
‘People want to be outside, they want to experience an aesthetic place, they want things to feel beautiful and normal again. But since that’s kind of hard to do physically, the next best thing is to make those dreams come true via a game like Animal Crossing.’
Kayleen’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons designs are inspired by pictures she finds on Pinterest, places in the ‘real world’, and her passion for Italy. Each design can take up to three hours of work – literally, work. Her account @kayleens_coffee showcases her gaming setup, an attractive space of its own that has inspired companies to reach out to her for collaboration and product partnerships.
‘I even call it my second job now!’ Kayleen says. She also facilitates multiple social media accounts, and runs an Etsy store where she sells digital presets – Autumn Warmth, White Breeze, and Fresh Bloom among some of her soothingly named Animal Crossing designs.
It’s important to remember, though, that ‘it’s meant to be fun’. This is why the creator doesn’t go it alone. Through Instagram, she’s developed more than empty worlds: she’s made friends to share them with.
‘This community has seriously become a bigger part of my life than just a game,’ Kayleen says.
‘The game itself was only the instigator for so many relationships I’ve formed […] I’ve made some incredible friends that I truly talk to every day. We all lean on each other for everything, whether it has to do with the game or not.’
While Kayleen focuses on rustic café and cottage designs, Instagrammer Vivian – @gamewithvivian – spins her own imaginary landscapes.
As with most ACNH profiles on this social media platform, Vivian’s designs also follow a themed aesthetic. Hers is otherworldly; she describes it as ‘celestial’, ‘witchy’, and ‘fairycore’.
‘For me, I’ve always been drawn to the moon, stars, and fairies, and wanted to incorporate the things that I find beautiful into my island and posts,’ Vivian reflects. She feels joy when her designs bring ‘a sense of peace’ to her Instagram followers.
Vivian also started playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons through the pandemic, falling in love with its ‘cute and wholesome’ atmosphere. But to Vivian, it offered more than a way to continue the hobbies of pre-pandemic life. It became a lifeline that would support her – and others – through a universally challenging time.
Having experienced anxiety and depression since she was a teenager, Vivian says Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the Instagram community have helped her feel ‘more positive and upbeat’.
‘I love logging in everyday and tending to tasks around my island. Something as simple as picking up weeds or watering flowers was so satisfying,’ Vivian says. ‘It definitely gave me a sense of purpose, and I think most people would agree that they have the same feeling as well.’
On her profile, Vivian proudly states that she is a ‘mental health advocate’. She is conscious of her potential to make a positive difference to the lives of her 11,000 followers.
In each of her Instagram posts, Vivian shares a calming sentiment. Her heart-warming messages and Animal Crossing designs are often intertwined in a symbolic way. Placing two quarter-moons beside each other, she posts: ‘You don’t have to be whole to shine’. On a flowery beach before sunset, she writes: ‘Wash your worries away’. And next to a pumpkin patch at the base of a waterfall, she reveals her feelings of self-doubt, ending with a reminder to others: ‘You are not alone. We’ll get through this together.’
‘I always thought I didn’t have a voice, or I wouldn’t be heard by anyone. After gaining quite a following, I knew I had to use my platform to advocate for myself and others,’ Vivian says.
‘I want to help break the stigma behind mental health. That starts with sharing my story, creating a safe place for others, encouraging others to share their story, and sharing information and supportive resources.’
Your own Animal Crossing design journey
If you’re a fellow Animal Crossing: New Horizons villager, you can embrace this community with as much depth as you like – admiring the worlds of designers like Kayleen and Vivian, or collaborating with others you meet along the way.
Here are some top tips for your own design journey, whether you craft a secret escape, or share your world on Instagram too.
- ‘Know your theme. You have to know what your goal is before you even start a design. With how many items are available in-game, it can be overwhelming. Knowing your themes allows you to cut down on the items you’ll use, because usually you’ll stick to a select few!’ – Kayleen
- ‘Gather or craft any items you’ll need before you start designing. It’s always good to have more items made than you’ll need. Once you’re in the grind of designing, if you have to stop to craft or gather more furniture, it can be distracting and make you feel like stopping, which slows the process!’ – Kayleen
- ‘Draw inspiration from art, shows, or places in real life. Save posts, or follow amazing creators that you look up to.’ – Vivian
- ‘Design during your favourite season. Everyone has a favourite season in the game, and building your design during your favourite is just a morale boost’ – Kayleen
- ‘Go with the flow, and have fun. If you’re in a creative rut, remember to take breaks and come back later.’ – Vivian