Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

I so enjoy my Elle Decor subscription.

Because I love to travel (and have a touch of  wander lust) I adore the monthly travel feature.

Last summer they featured Honolulu and that is where I was introduced to Shangri La…

From Elle Decor Goes to Honolulu

Shangri-La was built in Honolulu Hawaii in 1937 by Doris Duke, the only child of  a tobacco and electric energy tycoon.

The press dubbed her “the richest girl in the world” when she inherited a fortune from her father, Duke University founder James B. Duke, in 1925 at the age of twelve.

In 1935 Doris married James Cromwell and they embarked on an around the world honeymoon (my kind of gal).  While in India she fell in love with the art and architecture of the Mughal style and this began her obsession for Islamic arts.

On their way home, they landed in Hawaii.  Doris fell in love with the beauty, the people, and the privacy that Hawaii provided.  After befriending the Kahanamoku brothers who became her surfing companions and friends, she decided to purchase 5 acres of land and build her Shangri-La in devotion to Persian arts.

Doris and her husband set out on a buying trip to the middle east in 1938 for items to decorate and incorporate into the design of Shangri-La.  I absolutely adore this photo of her shopping for mother of pearl inlaid chests in Damascus.

Doris Duke and James Cromwell at Shangri-La c. 1939

Doris and James would divorce in 1940 but she continued to collect, build, and live at Shangri-La.  Her collection includes about 3,500 objects, the majority of which were made in the Islamic world.  She was fascinating.  Truly her father’s daughter and known as a shrewd business woman and philanthropist. After her death in 1993 Shangri-La became a public museum and Center for Islamic Arts and Architecture

This means that Shangri La is open for tours.  To my delight I was able to experience the property first hand earlier this month.

Interior photos are not allowed, but I did manage to snap a few shots of the exterior.  Here is the very unassuming front door.

The gardens are absolutely incredible.  From the dining room terrace looking toward the playhouse past the pool.

Did I mention the views were incredible?

Everywhere you look there are gorgeous installations of tile murals from India, Turkey, and Persia.

One of the gorgeous hallways of Shangri-La.


The interiors are AH-MAZ-ING.  I had this visit on my bucket list for a while now and it did not disappoint.  If you have an ounce of interest in Islamic Arts I HIGHLY recommend you plan a visit to Oahu.  I’m certain you will enjoy your visit as much as I did.

For information regarding tours please visit The Shangri-La Center For Islamic Arts

Photos of Doris Duke From The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

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3 Comments

Filed under Travel treasures

3 responses to “Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

  1. Shangri-La is right…such a gorgeous estate…and boy did you wear the right color…you look amazing, too!

    Jermaine

  2. Such a wonderful place . Merci for sharing this fantastic story

  3. Jill

    Great post, Kari! Good to know about, don’t you just love design tourism? It’s the most fun!

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