The living room preserves a number of important works of art from North Africa and Spain, the latter of which was known as al-Andalus in Arabic and ruled by independent Islamic dynasties for over seven centuries (756-1492) from southern cities such as Cordoba and Granada. The room is dominated by large-scale architectural features custom-made in Morocco in 1937, including a painted and coffered ceiling; a stylized stucco pseudo-inscription frieze running below; and, on the room’s east end, a stucco spandrel flanked by tall painted wood doors (see thumbnails below). The doors surround a large arch that leads into the Mihrab Room and frames the collection’s masterpiece, the Veramin luster mihrab (48.327) dated 663 of the Hijra (1265 of the Common Era). In Moroccan buildings, similar configurations (arch–spandrel–soaring doors) characterize the entrances of rooms located off central courtyards.
The north and south (oceanside) walls of the living room display Doris Duke’s (1912–93) collection of Spanish luster ceramics and tilework, virtually all of which was acquired at the sales of William Randolph Hearst’s private collection in 1941. The dado (lower portion) of the north wall is decorated with over 200 molded luster tiles (48.168) dating to c. 1525–50, of the type that adorn ceilings in churches in Sevilla and Carmona (see similar tiles in the V&A collection). On the wall above the dado, as well as on the south wall, are Spanish luster dishes and basins made in Manises, a suburb of Valencia on the eastern coast. Most date to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—just before, during, and after the Islamic kingdom of Granada (Nasrid dynasty: 1232–1492) was conquered by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in 1492. Many of these vessels bear the coats of arms of Christian—particularly Italian—families, exemplifying Spain’s rich history of cross-cultural exchange. They further demonstrate the taste for luster throughout the Islamic world and provide a western complement to the eastern Islamic tilework preserved in the adjacent Mihrab Room.
In addition to these exemplary works of western Islamic art, the living room features modernist design and technical innovations. The room’s upholsteries and curtains (87.18.1–6) are the work of the mid-century American textile artist Dorothy Liebes (d. 1972). On the Diamond Head–side of the room is a glass wall that descends completely into the floor, granting visitors an unobstructed view of the main axis of the house stretching from the Mihrab Room on the east to the Playhouse on the west. The pierced wood screens and glass doors on the south (oceanside) wall can be pulled aside to provide yet another direct view of the ocean beyond. The living room—like the central courtyard —is therefore also characterized by the fluid interplay of interior and exterior spaces.