During her lifetime, tobacco heiress Doris Duke's grand passion was her 14,000-square-foot palace in Honolulu, which she called Shangri La and filled with priceless pieces of Islamic art and design. The woman, once known as "the richest girl in the world," with a net worth of $5.3 billion, had columns outside the dining room that were modeled on Persepolis, painted ceilings from Morocco, a turquoise-glazed prayer niche from Iran, and an entire retrofitted parlor interior from Syria. The palace, now the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, is nothing short of a wonder. This month the fantastical Mughal Suite, which includes Duke's bedroom, private garden, dressing room and bath, opened to the public for the first time after a five-year, multimillion-dollar restoration.
The Mughal Suite, which is modeled as much on the Taj Mahal — it has marble sliding screens — and the Red Fort as Duke's own whims, was restored while consulting original photographs from 1939. The rooms, then as now, are decorated with items she brought back from her grand voyage of a Eastern honeymoon: manuscript paintings, Indian textiles, red velvet divans, and 19th-century metal lamps from Syria. The dressing room's mirror mosaics were inspired by ceilings she saw while traveling in Iran and India, and the bathroom has over two dozen carved marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones.
The photographer Cecil Beaton, who visited Shangri La while Duke was still alive (she died in 1993), told the New York Times that is was a "really fabulous Arabian Nights dream Persian house." Other guests included Errol Flynn and Imelda Marcos. For her part, Doris Duke referred to her palatial home as "a Spanish-Moorish-Persian-Indian complex." For now, tours of her Islamic Art collection and the Mughal Suite (numbers are limited to about a dozen people) require an advance reservation.