Doris Duke’s SHANGRI LA – A House in Paradise

May 6, 2020 | Uncategorised

Planning your next trip to Honolulu and think you’ve seen and done it all? One of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets is a little known tour through the magnificent 5-acre estate created by philanthropist and creative icon Doris Duke.

Situated in the exclusive neighbourhood of Honolulu’s Diamond Head, it is an idyllic and jaw-dropping paradise of swimming pools, terraced gardens, jewelled chandeliers, textured silks, carved marble doorways and guild ceilings.

Born in  New York in 1912, Doris was the heiress to a billion-dollar Tobacco business. She was a colourful yet private person (never out of the gossip columns), with a passion for Islamic art and architecture. As an avid traveller, she began to cultivate her extensive collection of ceramic tiles, silk textiles, paintings and architectural panels. This is now ultimately one of the best collections in the world.

Doris had many homes but in the 1930’ she built and named Shangri LA which became one of her life passions. She visited India, Morocco and Iran with her first husband James Cromwell and that generated the desire to re-create aspects of Islamic architecture in her own home. The following years were spent commissioning everything from marble columns, mosaic tiles, carved sculptures and arched backdrops. The curation of her stunning collection resulted in what can only be described as stunning interior design and breathtaking architecture.

Shangri La

On my first visit to Shangri La I was a little underwhelmed by the simple facade guarded by stone camels, but what lay ahead once that carved door was opened was truly mind blowing. You first enter the foyer – the grandness of which needs to be seen for yourself. The attention to detail in the ceiling, the tiles , the chandeliers and the brass inlay makes you wonder just how someone can have such imagination. 

Leading down the stairs you enter the Central courtyard , a dramatic space with mirrored pillars and fountain. Every tile lined doorway from there leads to a room that is more grand than the last. Doris was purposely not accurate in her decorating. Her living room sofas are upholstered in a thoroughly modern textured velour while her blue tented Moroccan dining room features fucsia piping and a massive Baccarat crystal chandelier. Quite Eclectic !!!



Terraced Gardens and Interior Opulence

Of course in a location like this, the crowning glory is the terraced garden dropping down to the grand Pacific Ocean. The swimming pool, the Playhouse, the cascading stone walls and the swaying Hawaiian palm trees all create a magnificent sight…. You could stay there forever and just picture the parties and passions of the rich and famous back in the heyday. Doris partied with the Kennedys and had a rumoured affair with Errol Flynn.

Whilst your neck gets sore from looking skyward, take the time to admire the little curios dotted around the house which are all perfectly polished and lovingly restored. 

Carefully placed Inside the bone and pearl inlay cabinets which date back to the 17th and 18th century, you will see tickets and treasures from gemstones to jugs, glazed pots and hand-blown glass, bohemian bottles and coloured beads. The engraved glass ceiling of her bedroom and dressing room makes a home for more truly delightful treasures and opulent furniture- the craftsmanship of which you just can’t fathom.

Doris Duke died in 1993 aged 80 surrounded by a little bit of controversy. Her magnificent Shangri La home has been left to charge by the Honolulu Museum of Art. Small tours of no more than 9 people run daily but remember to book online before you leave home – it fills up fast.

Shangri LA is one of those places that you could re-visit time and time again and still see magic in every detail in every corner. Doris is one of my favourite style icons and the stories of her rich and famous liaisons, rumoured affairs, private jets and extravagant whims are all touched on in this exclusive 3-hour tour that truly is one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets.

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