Interior Tile Lifestyle

Tile Inspiration From Shangri-La

Tile Inspiration From Shangri-LaShangri-La is the Hawaiian home of Doris Duke (1912 – 1993), built in the late 1930’s around her love of Islamic art and architecture. Today it stands a gleaming example of how to incorporate a passion into one’s home. definition of Shangri-LaQuite possibly the worlds largest collection of decorative historic tiles representing Islamic art from various early periods, Shangri-La is an exciting home to visit. Walk through the inner sanctum of one of history’s greatest collectors.

Playhouse at Shangri-LaBrief History: After a whirlwind honeymoon across the globe with her new husband James Cromwell, in 1935, spending time in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, then in British India, a 22 year old Miss Duke “fell in love” with the Taj Mahal. She began her life long enjoyment with collecting Islamic art and her appreciation for the culture. The couple ended their honeymoon in Hawaii where in 1936 Miss Duke bought 4.9 acres on the picturesque south shore of Oahu and begin plans to build a home. In 1937 the Cromwells spent time in Morocco then back to the Middle East in the Spring of 1938, all this time studying and taking photographs of architectural details to forward to architect Marion Sims Wyeth, commissioned to design and build Shangri-La. The project began in 1936 and was completed in 1938, though Miss Duke continued to add and revise the home over the next 50 years.

Rear of the Jali Pavilion at Shangri-LaThese marble Jali screens were commissioned by the Cromwells on their honeymoon. Each screen is carved from one solid piece of carved of Makrana marble, the same marble used in the Taj Mahal. They form a pavilion on top of the Mughal Suite (aka master bedroom suite) and are open on the front facing the sea.

Tile in private hall at Shangri-LaThis private exterior hall, leading to the Mughal Suite which was specifically styled after their visit to the Taj Mahal, was later updated in 1941 with these Spanish tiles from 1921.

Marble colum at Shangri-LaDetail of one of six  six marble columns made during the Nasrid period (1232–1492) purchased from William Randolph Hearst for the hall redo.

Dining Room Lanai at Shangri-LaHere is one of the few spots we were allowed to photograph, the dining room lanai with walls of stunning mosaic tile from Iran, probably 19th century. While a number of items were specifically commissioned for the home, many tiles, tile panels, walls of tile, and other architectural details from previous centuries were found and repurposed into the design of the home.

Playhouse detailsMiss Duke called this poolside building, The Playhouse, seen larger in second photo above. Inspired by the 1938 Middle East tour where the Cromwells photographed architectural and tile details at the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, which they had recreated here.

Tile outside of Damascas RoomMoorish, Turkish, Persian, Indian, and Islamic tiles and details are woven together throughout the home. Large tiles with raised calligraphy from different periods and nations appear intermittently, but all translate into borderless ideas of peace and tranquility.

Entrance garden at Shangri-LaAfter a visit to Shangri-La, one can appreciate decorative tile as artwork, and how Miss Duke built a home specifically to live with her collection. The walls are covered with tile, very colorful tiles from different areas of the world yet they form the visual art and unify the different rooms in the home. If you’re looking for a great tiler, check out Tilers Dublin. I promise, you’ll feel very different the next time you visit a tile store. Tile is art, use accordingly.


In accordance with Miss Duke’s wishes the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art was established after her death to promote the study and understanding of Islamic arts and cultures.  The foundation is charged with the management and preservation of Shangri La, her desire that her Honolulu home be open to the public and utilized for educational purposes. Tours are available by advance reservation on select days.