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Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Shangri La

Why not have a living room outside? If you’re one of the richest people in the world, you can live any way you want. Doris Duke wanted to live in Hawaii so she built this five-acre estate near Diamond Head on Oahu. Not just a vacation hide-away for the wealthy, Shangri La is a labor of love.

Duke had fallen in love with Islamic art and architecture on her honeymoon world tour, commissioning a marble bed and bathroom suite inspired by a visit to the Taj Mahal. Hawaii was the final stop on the tour; a stop that turned into a four-month stay convincing Duke to combine her passions. She had the suite shipped to Hawaii and built the house around it. Beginning in 1936, Duke continued to craft the home over the next 60 years. It opened for tours after her death.

The estate presents a plain white wall to the street; a carved wood door flanked by camels leads inside. Behind the wall are public and private rooms, manicured grounds, a pool, the Playhouse and water garden. It is difficult to describe the beauty without becoming as ornate as its tile work. Photos are available online but they cannot convey the sense of peace and tranquility that abides. Duke loved this place and it returned the favor, sustaining and restoring her to the end.

Tours are operated through the Honolulu Academy of Arts. You MUST arrive on an academy shuttle bus or you will be turned away. Tours are three times a day Wednesday through Saturday (the estate closes each September for conservation work).

Insider tip: keep an eye on the “cultural programs” section of the website for upcoming events. They sell out almost immediately so click quickly if there will be one during your visit.

Cindy Scheopner lives in Hawaii. Find her on Twitter as @scheopner. That’s her photo of the Duke estate, above.