At first the arrangements to visit Doris Duke’s residence seem a little strange and intriguing. We are to meet at the Honolulu Museum of Art at a designated time, then from there our small group shall be shuttled to a secret address, where we are promised that all will be revealed.
During her life, Doris Duke took extreme measures to protect her privacy and escape the publicity that plagues a wealthy heiress, so it seems fitting that there is a secret air to our invasion of her most intimate sanctuary. The anticipation grows as our group shares with each other what prompted their visit – to see the architecture and unique art collection, or to get a glimpse of how Hawaii’s rich and famous lived.
Nestled in 5 acres and hidden by lush vegetation, the entrance to the property is modest and the façade of the house is equally demure, but when those doors open – wow. You’re immediately captivated by the extraordinary attention to detail. Natural light falls in exactly the right place and each piece of furniture, tile or artwork has obviously been meticulously chosen for its feature position. The Pacific breeze moves through the rooms with a waft of calm and there is a brilliant juxtaposition of Hawaiian and Islamic design.
It appears that during her childhood travels Duke developed a passion for Islamic art, and in 1935 when the newlywed decided to build her Shangri La in Hawaii, this was her opportunity to indulge that obsession. She employed Muslim artisans alongside American architects and worked with Islamic art specialists to ensure that her creative dreams were realised. She travelled the world collecting artworks and engaged the services of Islamic art dealers to acquire the perfect pieces.
The result that you can see today is a creative, chic, colourful and stunning celebration of Islamic art and culture. We are so fortunate that prior to her passing in 1993, Doris Duke made arrangements for her beautiful Shangri La to be open to the public. Amidst all the wonderful treasures from around the globe, her love of her time in Hawaii is obvious. Spending a few hours gaining an insight into the fascinating life of Doris Duke, and the world she wanted to create for herself and others to enjoy, is a fantastic experience.