Shangri-La, what does it mean to you? In 1935, Doris Duke (22) with her husband James Cameron spent their honeymoon in Egypt, India, Indonesia and China. The Taj Mahal made a huge impression on Doris Duke. Her husband wrote friends that Duke had “fallen in love with the Taj Mahal…”. The last stop on their honeymoon was Hawaii, where Duke also fell in love with the islands and decided to build a house on Oahu in the shadow of Diamond Head.
Doris Duke, as the only child of millionaire entrepreneur James Buchanan Duke, was exposed to the arts of many cultures but it was Persian and Islamic work that touched her most. She began to collect and commission work on her honeymoon.
Extending their Hawaiian stay to four months, they purchased a tract of land in Ka’alawai on which to build a Near Eastern house. It was Duke’s most private home. She lived in it part of each year until her death in 1993, when it became the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The photograph shows the stairway leading down to the main courtyard from the entrance foyer which is lined with exquisite Spanish glass.
The stairs lead to an intimate garden centered on a sparkling fountain. The surrounding covered galleries lead to gardens and the rooms of Shangri-La. In contrast to the stark unornamented façade of white stucco, in interior walls are lined with ceramic tiles and objects collected from Central and South Asia, North Africa and the Near and Middle East.
Many of the significant pieces in Duke’s collection were displayed in the living room. The pierced screen window overlooking the garden opens for inside/outside living – the glass drops down into the floor and the pierced screens fold back.
This huge Baccarat chandelier hangs in the dining room. Before Duke died, there was a more eclectic mix in the house. Now as is consistent with a study center, the house is more exclusively focused on the Arts of the Islamic World.
As judges for the Garden Club of Honolulu flower show, we were privileged to have cocktails and dinner in this magical setting. The house was open to us to walk around and enjoy. There was music on the lawns, friends to see and a scrumptious buffet supper.