Completed in 1796, the one-of-a-kind, 16-sided home known as A La Ronde was built to the specifications of a woman with no allegiance to the ordinary.
Several years before, Jane Parminter – the daughter of a wealthy Devon wine merchant – embarked on a grand tour of Europe. She was accompanied by her sister Elizabeth, a girlhood friend from London, and her orphaned cousin Mary, who would later become Jane’s ward. The four women spent ten years exploring and collecting souvenirs from around the continent, stopping in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and likely also Spain and Portugal.
By most accounts, Jane was the visionary behind A La Ronde. The house was built for Jane and Mary upon their return, as both a home and a display case of sorts for the treasures they collected along their journey. The inspiration behind the building’s design is often attributed to the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, with its many-sided shape and vaulted octagonal tower. The finished structure consists of 20 rooms, all intricately decorated by the cousins themselves.
The fantastical details making up A La Ronde’s interior are nearly too many to catalogue. Seemingly every last bit of space has been ornamented in some fashion, using feathers, shells, cut paper, stones and handpainted patterns. There are hidden cupboards inside the walls, and a full-to-bursting curiosity cabinet displaying some of the cousin’s favorite treasures, including several watercolor paintings. The home’s most notable room is a gallery space covered from floor to ceiling in shells, feathers, glass, bones, and a whole other mélange of odds and ends.
Jane and Mary lived in their beloved, peculiar home for many years, until Jane’s death in 1811. Neither woman ever married. Jane’s will specifically mandated that the house must be kept intact and inherited only by “unmarried kinswomen.” The second of those stipulations held true until 1886, when the house was transferred to the Reverend Oswald Reichel, a brother of an occupant. The first stipulation has fared better. Thanks to the work of the National Trust, A La Ronde will continue to delight and confuse visitors for many years to come.
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