It’s not just the miniature circus at The Ringling that draws tourists to dreamy Sarasota, Florida. It’s also the lure of how the wealthy once lived. And who doesn’t like a glimpse of the lavish lifestyles of the past? If you’re visiting The Ringling, save time for a tour of the dramatic, highly patterned Ca’ d’Zan.
Ca’ d’Zan (House of John), the historic home of John and Mable Ringling, stands tall at water’s edge. Inspired by the architecture of Venice’s iconic structures — Ducal Palace, Ca’ d’Oro, and the Grunwald Hotel, the Ringlings commissioned New York architect Dwight James Baum in 1924 to create a masterpiece incorporating European design motifs and the creative ideas of Mable Ringling. But as much time and effort that Mrs. Ringling poured into the home (completed in 1926), the time she actually spent living in it was cut short by her death three years afterward.
The 36,00-square foot home, Ca’ d’Zan, is a study in patterns inside and out. Overall, the style is known as Venetian Gothic, evident in the typical arched windows and doors, layering of terra cotta tiles, and zig-zag patterns of imported marble in the bayfront terrace. Stained glass, mosaics, and graceful arches add to the ambiance of this showcase home.
Patterns repeat themselves inside, too. Similar arched doorways, black and white tile floors, and ornamentation on stairwells and balustrades reveal an attention to detail and love of Italianate style.
Furniture pieces, frequently embellished with delicate hand painting, often utilize floral motifs similar to art of the old masters. Don’t know marquetry from faux painting? Talented docents (some of the best we’ve encountered on historic home tours) willingly share their knowledge of styles and periods of architecture, ceramics, furniture, and art. (And answer questions!)
Ca’ d’Zan stands with the best historic homes in America — European and Asian influence but a lavish, well-executed style all its own. It’s definitely worth seeing when you visit the world of the Ringlings, even if it does make you realize that most of us live in ordinary abodes, compared to the stunning home of John and Mable!
For more information:
Ca’ d’Zan, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida, 34243; 941-359-5700; https://www.ringling.org/ca-dzan
Open daily 10-5; Thursdays ’til 8.
Boomer travel tip: All areas on the tour of Ca’ d’Zan are accessible. Tour guides are some of the best we’ve encountered — knowledgeable, yet approachable and patient with all who have questions!