Design Inspiration from Ca’ d’Zan’s Venetian Grandeur

Considered Venetian Gothic in architectural style, Ca’ d’Zan is the oceanside home of John and Mable Ringling in Sarasota, Florida. After spending 26 Christmases in Sarasota, I finally got a tour of the stunning home of one of the circus founders and saw several inspiring and adaptable design ideas. (Unprepared for the opportunity to take pictures, please forgive the iPhone photography.)

Brick exterior is dressed with stucco and stunning tile.

Construction for Ca’ d’Zan, or House of John, began in 1924 and cost $1.5 million to complete. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice, with Sarasota Bay as its Grand Canal, it took one year to complete the 56-room mansion. No three-ring home decorating binder for Mabel, she had an oilskin filled with postcards, sketches and photos of her travels for her architect’s inspiration and several are displayed in the downstairs rooms. The team for the home was architect Dwight James Baum and builder Owen Burns with faux artisan Robert Webb, Jr.

Hoping for an open courtyard, Mabel had to compromise due to weather factors and enclose this large area which they adorned with a chandelier from the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel which was being torn down to make way for the Empire State Building. As you look up at the ceiling of the room, that’s pecky cypress which was painted by Webb. The home suffered from many years of neglect and bread dough was used to clean and restore the ceiling. (This was a tour detail.)

Chandelier from old NYC Waldorf Astoria

Bread dough was used to clean the pecky cypress ceiling.

The tour for $25 each takes you through several main rooms including the Tap Room with this gorgeous mosaic tile floor.

Gorgeous mosaic tap room floor.

The dining room has an intricate coffered ceiling with stunning faux work. During the tour, the docent indicated Ca’ d’Zan was the first US home to have an Otis elevator.  I couldn’t actually substantiate this but the time period is just about right.

Gothic style coffered ceiling with an intricate faux finish.

First residential Otis elevator in US? Perhaps.

Upstairs, Mabel and John had adjacent bedrooms. Mabel’s room was just under the third story vault and the ceiling had steel beam reinforcements.  It was suggested that the ceiling design was done to cleverly conceal the beams. The reason for the punctuation marks was not historically supported, but Mabel must have enjoyed whimsey to have had these in her bedroom.

Beamed ceiling of Mabel's bedroom accented with punctuation marks! and coats of arms.

The home had numerous gorgeous baths with marble accents. I love the arched opening.

Tons of marble throughout home.

The guest bedroom had two clever, adaptable ideas.  The backside of the medicine cabinet door and the closet door had been faux painted.  The girl loved her faux!

I love using paintings & cute framed pics in closets. This is a neat idea.

Incredible kitchen boasts an early refrigerator.

Well-appointed kitchen's fridge.

Finally, the outside terrace overlooking Sarasota Bay has a gorgeous dock with tons of inlaid tile.

Huge terrace outside the grand courtyard steps down to an impressive tiled dock.

Points to remember: Non-flash photography is allowed. It costs $20 to tour museums and grounds. The miniature circus is impressive. An extra $5 will get you a docent tour of main areas of the mansion which I recommend. For an additional $20, you can see additional upstairs spaces/bedrooms and the belvedere tower with an incredible view.  They are obviously underwriting their museum with this pricing structure which is understandable but annoying. It’s a stunning home including Mabel’s gorgeous, well-maintained rose garden and so worth the visit. More info,



About Nancy McNulty

PR & marketing practitioner, wife/mom, writer, tennis player, cook & lover of the arts & pop culture. Began as a Nashville Banner & WMCP Radio Station reporter. Communications grad - Univ.of TN - Knoxville including working at WUTK & The Daily Beacon. Spent two summers interning in Washington, DC w/ one stint in the Majority Leader's Press Office - "yes, I can give you directions Mr. Kissinger." Now living, loving & working in Nashville, TN w/ my integrated marketing biz - Forest Home Media.. Love sharing great tips on what to do & where to go with folks via this NanceSense experience blog.Twitter & Instagram @NanceSense & Pinterest@NancyMcNulty
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2 Responses to Design Inspiration from Ca’ d’Zan’s Venetian Grandeur

  1. Leisa A. HammettNo Gravatar says:


  2. Ruthmary WilliamsNo Gravatar says:

    I would question the docent’s statement about the elevtor as the Biltmore House in Asheville has an Otis elevator and that I believe was installed prior to the 1920s.

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