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Dining Room

Old and new tent fabric. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The dining room at Shangri La is located on the eastern axis of the property, just yards from the Pacific Ocean. Two façades of the room (west and south) are made entirely of glass, providing exquisite views of the ocean and Diamond Head. In the 1960s, Doris Duke (1912–93) transformed her aquatic-inspired dining room into a space recalling imperial tents of the Islamic world. To create her "tent," Duke purchased striped blue fabric in India and draped it throughout the interior. The blue fabric was also used to upholster the low sofa in the room. To add to the décor, eight Egyptian and Indian textiles were sewn directly onto the retractable shades located on the glass façades. The shades could be raised or lowered, depending on preference, by a mechanical system. During Duke's lifetime, the shades were often raised to reveal the dramatic view.

Over the next 40 years, the historic textiles and the blue fabric were exposed to natural elements such as wind, salt and sun, resulting in extremes of temperature, humidity and light. By 2001, the year of Shangri La's initial Textile Conservation Survey, the once strikingly blue fabric of the tent was severely discolored, degraded and structurally unsound. The decision was made to replace, over a period of several years, all of the blue fabric that constituted the tent.

Nineteenth-century Baccarat chandelier. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

An extensive search to replace the tent fabric successfully ended at a textile mill in India. A piece of the original cotton fabric was sent to the mill, and 900 yards of replica fabric were woven to specification and shipped to Shangri La.

Shangri La is annually closed to the public for repairs and renovation during the month of September, so in September 2003 the process of replacing the degraded tent components began. The sofa was reupholstered, and the retractable shades were replaced with the newly woven fabric. The glass windows and doors were coated with an ultraviolet barrier, and 100% ultraviolet barrier shades were hung directly in front of the glass. Both of these precautions significantly decreased the temperature and ultraviolet levels in the room. After undergoing conservation treatment, the textiles were remounted to the retractable shades using Velcro (as opposed to the original stitching).

A year later, in September 2004, the highly discolored ceiling fabric of the tent was replaced. This extensive and collaborative on-site project required the complete deinstallation of the dining room. Most notably, a nineteenth-century Baccarat chandelier (5' x 8') was removed from the ceiling, and its 200 pieces were individually wet-cleaned by hand. Concurrently, a 30' x 20' fabrication of the ceiling, consisting of 14 separate sections, was created on-site and subsequently raised with the help of scaffolding and numerous hands and eyes. Months of careful planning and coordination resulted in a nearly flawless installation of the ceiling fabric, ahead of schedule.

Egyptian textiles line the walls of the dining room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

Since additional time existed in the September 2004 schedule, and the room was already fully deinstalled, the decision was made to complete the tent replacement in 2004. The fabric of the east wall, which surrounds a twentieth-century mosaic tile panel from Iran, was replaced and reinstalled using a Velcro mount system. New trefoil pink trim and multi-ply pink cording were installed throughout the tent, and the draping curtains of the north wall were replaced. Finally, the chandelier was reinstalled, as were the other objects and furnishings in the room. This brief history of events indicates the substantial amount of time, effort, flexibility and collaboration needed to pitch Shangri La's stunning new tent.

2004 also witnessed a shift from the general preservation of the room to the conservation of individual objects within the interior. Two large Egyptian textiles previously flanking the oceanside (south) door were removed from view. Of the eight textiles exhibited in the dining room, these two were in the best condition. The textile conservator recommended they be removed from the dining room and relocated to storage, an environment with controlled humidity and temperature, for a rest. After removing the two textiles, the oceanside shades were raised slightly, as they often were during Duke's lifetime.

For the time being, the preservation of the dining room is complete. However, preservation remains a perpetual project, for the dining room is a space that requires ongoing maintenance and reassessment.

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