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Sensitive conservation works to Grade I listed National Trust property underway

— 31 May 2023


The Grade I listed A La Ronde is being conserved so that its unique designs, collections and stories can be enjoyed by visitors.

Grade I listed building renovation a la ronde Copy

Further to our blog about our work on the National Trust’s Killerton Chapel, Jonathan Rhind Architects have also been undertaking sensitive conservation repairs to the unique grade I listed A La Ronde house near Exmouth in Devon, to include surveys, detailed drawings and specification, liaising with the National Trust’s in-house team and external consultants.  

A la Ronde is a unique 16-sided house built in the late 18th Century by dynamic cousins Jane and Mary Parminter. Following a Grand Tour of Europe spanning almost a decade, and inspired by the Byzantine Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, they designed and built A la Ronde as a place where they could indulge their passion for design and expression through craft and creativity, using the house as a canvas through which they could display their vast collection of curious objects and demonstrate their considerable handicraft skills. The resulting property has many unusual features, such as an octagonal central room from which all other rooms are connected; diamond shaped windows to make best use of natural daylight pre-electricity, and interior decorative schemes including a frieze made entirely of tiny feathers, a grotto staircase, and an intricate Shell Gallery at the apex of the building.  

The Shell Gallery is one of the distinctive features of A la Ronde but is a fragile space, designed to be viewed from the Octagon at the heart of the house below. The gallery is made of not just shells (over 25,000 of them) but also bone, lichen, ceramics, stones, crystal, feathers, sandpaper and cut paper, all embedded in plaster and attached to the walls of the gallery. Through a combination of external water ingress, natural processes, accidental visitor damage, previous misjudgements allowing access and conservation attempts, the condition of the gallery had significantly deteriorated and its decline was accelerating. Following periods of attack from both the elements outside, being positioned above the river estuary and subjected to strong sea winds, and also from inside, from the impact of breath, hands and feet, entire plaster panels have fallen from the walls and shells regularly drop to the floor. Major conservation work has now started to conserve these elements of the building and secure them for future generations. As part of the work to protect the Shell Gallery from external forces the roof of the building was renewed in 2020, but there has been a long-term issue of water getting into the building through the chimney masonry. This was not addressed by the renewed roofwork and therefore prior to conservation starting in the gallery beneath, the chimneys required significant attention.

We have been progressing investigations since the summer of 2022 to understand how and where this water is getting in particularly in the light of extremely prolonged wet weather events which appear to be a driven by climate change.

There has been a staged approach to try and understand the dynamics of bricks and lead to the chimneys and how they connect with the upper, octagonal slate roof. This eventually resulted in the careful dismantling of the brickwork and introducing robust lead weatherings.

Keep an eye on our blog page for more updates.

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