Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dreaming of Shangri La

It’s been a rainy week in San Francisco, but I’m thankful because California is suffering from a drought. These rainy days, however, makes me daydream of being on a warm beach somewhere.

Mr. Peacock took this photo of Jason, on Christmas Eve a few years ago, on a beach in Kauai.

Mr. Peacock and his partner usually make a pilgrimage during the winter holiday season to the Hawaiian Islands, however, this past holiday season we stayed home and didn’t travel. A few years ago, on a trip to Oahu, we toured the Doris Duke estate—Shangri La, which is maintained by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Doris Duke built the estate from scratch, after her around-the-world honeymoon in the early 1930’s. I'm assuming she named it Shangri La, after the concept of Shambhala or maybe even the novel, Lost Horizon.

You have to purchase and make reservations for the Shangri La tour through the Honolulu Academy of Arts, which I believe is also funded through an endowment from Ms. Duke. Our reservation was in the late afternoon, so we spent the first part of the day at the Honolulu Academy of Arts admiring their lovely collection of Asian and European art, which is displayed in traditional old school style galleries. We felt like we were alone in the galleries most of the time and it was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. Then we had a lovely organic lunch at their Pavilion Café, which served very Californian cuisine on Heath Ceramics, and then we boarded the bus to Shangri La. There were less than a dozen other people on the bus, and we were probably the youngest
and the least conservative, but everyone was very polite. We drove through Honolulu traffic for about a half an hour to a suburb on the other side of Diamond Head.

As we entered the Doris Duke estate, it did not look like much from the outside—a circle drive, with what looked like a single story structure and a pair of camels at the entryway. A very nice docent lady greeted us and led us through a gate on the right side towards the gardens.

The gardens are classically Islamic—very symmetrical and geometric, with water and shade. We were instructed to stay on the path and with the docent.

The size of Shangri La is deceiving, because the architecture and design of the home is so graceful and intimate. Mr. Peacock was immediately imagining moving in, and how to incorporate his own belongs into the décor.

The house is built on a cliff, with the structure of the home wrapped around an interior (outdoor) courtyard. The courtyard is tiled with a patchwork of tile (many of the tile sections are from Ms. Duke's trips) and has columns with inlaid mirrors.

The living room has a huge custom sectional covered in a wide wale corduroy, that looks like something current from B&B Italia or Ligne Roset. I had to keep reminding myself that the house and most of its contents were from the 1930's. Doris Duke was, in both her taste and her beliefs, very daring and modern.

The dining room was huge and could accommodate large parties, but still felt intimate and cozy.

We didn't get to see the bathroom or the bedroom, due to renovations. Both rooms are made with inlaid marble, reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Ms. Duke, in fact, brought many workers and craftsmen from the Middle East and Southern Asia to work on Shangri La.

Mr. Peacock adored the hypnotic Islamic typography on the geometric tile work, which included quotations from the Qur’an.

Towards the end of the tour (which was my favorite part), an older man from India, who had been a longtime assistant for Ms. Duke, told anecdotes about Doris and Shangri La. He said she loved to swim everyday in her pool with all of her children—8 dogs. He also told us that she was both thrifty and crafty, and would frequently be up on ladders repairing and replacing loose tiles, and often gluing bric-a-brac on things around Shangri La. I love that about Doris Duke!

Above: Doris Duke in the 1930's, Doris Duke's Shangri La booklet, Arabesque—Modern Arabic and Persian graphic design book.

The architecture and planning of the estate is fascinating, but too lengthy and detailed to chat about here. If you want more information about Shangri La, I recommend purchasing the booklet here. The recent book, Arabesque, is about modern Arabic and Persian typography and graphic design. You can order a copy here. There are also many wonderful books about the principles of Islamic gardening here.

Above: We were served juice on this terrace at the end of our tour. You can see Diamond Head, off in the distance on the left side.

If you’re planning a trip to Honolulu, make sure you add a visit to Doris Duke's Shangri La to your itinerary. More information and reservations here. Until then, you can take a virtual video tour here. Enjoy!

1 comment:

kelly jo said...

This is beaUTiful! If you haven't yet, you should also check out Lamu Island in northern Kenya...