return to shangri la

If you were fabulously rich and could own a home anywhere, where would you build your dream house? I’m not sure of my own answer, but let’s talk about Doris Duke, since in her case this was not a hypothetical question. Sole heir to the Duke tobacco fortune, this reclusive billionaire discovered Hawaii as she traveled the world on her honeymoon. After building Shangri La on the shore near Diamond Head in 1937, Duke spent the rest of her life conintually evolving her Hawaii home into a showcase for her Islamic art collection. The property is still under restoration, but was opened to the public a few years ago. Our trip in March was my second time on this escorted tour of the Shangri La house and grounds.
If you want to tour this house in person, you’ll want to get a reservation well in advance. There are only three tours a day and they often sell out. The tour begins at the Honolulu Academy of Art. As a sidebar, during my childhood summers I used to take drawing classes here and I have fond memories of camping out in the shaded courtyards to paint or draw. Museum admission is included in the price of the Shangri La tour!
Your tour ticket includes transportation to Shangri La. Ladies, when you board the bus, you’ll be greeted with one of these large hisbiscus flowers just to remind you that you’re about to visit a true tropical oasis. Our final destination is strikingly close to my family’s home near Diamond Head. We could have walked there, but I’m sure the Kahala neighbors wanted to cut down on parking issues and foot traffic in this exclusive oceanfront stretch.Upon arriving we were split into 2 groups and left at this unassuming entrance. It’s decidedly unassuming and will leave you unprepared for the breathtaking entrance hall screen and courtyard on the other side of the front door. You’ll have to visit or take my word for it… I wish I had photos, but they do not allow interior photography!So you’ll have to take the online tour to see the inside, but what a backyard!  Need to dock your boat? Of course!? Duke had this little harbor blasted into the shoreline and when she wasn’t in residence, it became a popular swimming spot for locals…and still is, as you can see below.. What a killer view from the main house!  Behind the pool is the Playhouse, with Diamond Head looming in the background.On the lanai, here is just a taste Duke’s art collection that you will see throughout the interior of the house. In college I took an Islamic art and architecture class from Sussan Babaie and for a while I contemplated pursuing art history. That phase has passed, but I still love the colorful tile-work and complex geometric patterns.A little floral breather…Exterior view of Doris Duke’s bedroom.And we’re back at the Academy of Art!

Grapefruits? Every time I see this photo I just love this fruit and floral arrangement! This vignette is right next to the covered outdoor seating at the museum restaurant. Need to fuel up before browsing the Academy collection? There’s lovely lunch menu and you don’t even have to leave the building.

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  1. So beautiful! What a gorgeous, magical place for some of your formative studies in drawing and design! btw isn’t it wonderful to see wealth expressed in beauty and taste? These photos should be included in a primer issued to today’s “barons” of industry, wherever they may nest.

  2. Michele

    I’m there. SO there…

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