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Playhouse

Located on the west end of the property and adjacent to the ocean, the Playhouse at Shangri La is a poolside pavilion inspired by the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722. 

Syrian Room

The Syrian Room is one of Shangri La’s most cohesive spaces: a period room created for posterity, echoing those found in a number of other museums.

Damascus Room

The Damascus Room is a highlight of the Islamic art collection assembled by Doris Duke (1912–93) and is one of two Syrian interiors preserved at Shangri La.

Entry Courtyard

Visitors to Shangri La descend a long driveway shielded by dense foliage and first encounter the main house from within an open-air space known variously as the entry or banyan courtyard.

Foyer

The foyer is the first room that visitors enter in the main house, and it provides an introduction to Doris Duke (1912–93) as a collector and patron, to the visual language of Islamic art, and to the experience of Islamic art that Shangri La offers.

Central Courtyard

The main house at Shangri La revolves around a central courtyard, an architectural feature central to a number of buildings in the Islamic world.

Living Room

The living room preserves a number of important works of art from North Africa and Spain.

Mihrab Room

The Mihrab Room preserves a number of masterpieces in the DDFIA collection, particularly architectural tilework produced during the Ilkhanid period (1226–1353).

Dining Room

The dining room is Doris Duke’s (1912–93) interpretation of an Islamic-style tent.

Playhouse

Located on the west end of the property and adjacent to the ocean, the Playhouse at Shangri La is a poolside pavilion inspired by the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722. 

Mughal Garden

The Mughal Garden is Shangri La’s microcosm of the royal gardens found throughout the Indian subcontinent. 

Private Hall

The private hall is located off the central courtyard and terminates in the Mughal Suite.

Mughal Suite

The Mughal Suite is located at the end of a private hall extending from the central courtyard.

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Pool with the Playhouse beyond. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Playhouse lanai. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Geometric panels on the Playhouse's talar (porch) were inspired by the Chehel Sutun (Forty Columns, c. 1647–50) in Isfahan, Iran. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Playhouse at night. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)

Virtual Tour Exclusive (not viewable on Guided Tour)

Located on the west end of the property and adjacent to the ocean, the Playhouse at Shangri La is a poolside pavilion inspired by the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722. The Playhouse features a large central living room, small kitchen, and two bedroom suites on its mountain and ocean sides. Its façade has a large lanai with a painted wood ceiling supported by 14 columns and facing a pool. In positioning Shangri La’s pool directly in front of the Playhouse, Doris Duke (1912–93) and her architects were likely inspired by a similar arrangement at the Chehel Sutun, where the pool in front of the Safavid palace reflects the 18 slender columns on its porch (talar), thereby creating an illusion of many more columns (chehel sutun means “forty columns” in Persian).

By the time Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell departed for their Middle East tour in March 1938, the Playhouse was largely complete. What remained to be done, however, was the decoration of its lanai, including the designs of its roof and the columns below. In this instance, the Cromwells desired that the Persian prototype, the Chehel Sutun’s talar, be carefully copied. While in Isfahan in 1938, they meticulously photographed and filmed the Safavid palace’s porch. This documentation was passed on to Shangri La’s architects, who created stencils, and then painted the Playhouse’s lanai to parallel that of the Chehel Sutun (64.118). Approximately two years later, mosaic tilework commissioned in Isfahan during the 1938 trip and inspired by that on the entrance portal of Isfahan’s Masjid-i Shah (Shah Mosque, 1612–c. 1630) was installed on the building’s façade, thereby completing the overall Persian aesthetic.   

The living room in the Playhouse has undergone numerous transformations over the course of Shangri La’s history. In its earliest guise, c. 1938, it was conceived as a tented space. Plain fabric created a draped ceiling, while printed cottons custom-made in India in the late 1930s constituted the “walls” below. Central Asian suzanis, many of which were purchased during the Cromwells’ honeymoon in 1935, further sheathed the walls, and a large Central Asian carpet covered the floor. Divans (low couches) were located in the corners of the room, and Duke was known to have sat here and played music with friends. By 1941, the tented ceiling had been removed and replaced with a painted one with bold geometric designs (64.89) echoing those found on the ceilings of seventeenth-century Persian palaces, like the Chehel Sutun. The room was further “Persianized” by the inclusion of a number of nineteenth-century Qajar Iranian works of art, including a tile panel with scenes of elite merriment (48.429), several sets of lacquer doors with similar depictions of courtly leisure (64.88a–b), a carved screen inset with geometric shapes of colored glass (64.90a–f), a pair of colored-glass arched windows (46.14, 46.15), and several examples of large-scale paintings of female court entertainers (musicians, dancers) (34.7, 34.3). In the 1980s, the oceanside bedroom became home to two highlights of Duke’s Qajar art collection—a ceiling painting on canvas (34.9) and a wall painting on canvas (34.10)—which were installed on the ceiling and north wall, respectively.

Since 2002, the Playhouse has functioned as a space for public programs supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Given its oceanside location, the Playhouse remains the focus of ongoing conservation efforts, including the preservation of the custom-made Iranian tilework on its façade.

Historical Images

Duke’s friend and advisor Mary Crane in front of the Chehel Sutun (Forty Columns, c. 1647–50) in Isfahan, Iran, 1938. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. The Playhouse under construction, 1938. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. The Playhouse under construction, 1938. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Block-printed curtains from India framed doorways, walls, and windows in the Playhouse to enhance the effect of a tented interior, 1939. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Doris Duke and Sam Kahanamoku playing guitars in the Playhouse, 1939. Photo by Martin Munkácsi. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. A Qajar tile panel (48.429) surrounds the Playhouse fireplace, mid–late 1941. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Playhouse living room, 1947. Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Playhouse ladies' room, with its Qajar ceiling painting (34.9). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)
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Available on this website:

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Commissions and Recreations, 1935-1938: Iran, 1938,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012.

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Qajar Iran: Painting,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012.

Damascus Room
Private Hall
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