At Smith Brothers, we’re always hunting for spectacular design inspiration, especially from the locales that we serve. This summer, we’re especially loving Hawaii’s very own Shangri La estate.

Named after the fictional idea of paradise on earth, Shangri La is the stunning Honolulu home of American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke, who began its construction in 1937. According to the official website, Shangri La was “inspired by Duke’s extensive travels throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and reflects architectural traditions from India, Iran, Morocco and Syria.” Currently, the estate functions as a museum dedicated to the study and appreciation of Islamic arts, but it’s still considered one of Hawaii’s most architecturally significant homes.

Here are some of our favorite elements from the Shangri La estate—and ideas on how you can integrate these aspects into the design of your own custom home.


Gorgeous Persian and Moroccan tile work abound at Shangri La, but arguably the most stunning arrangement is the series of bright floral mosaics in the estate’s central courtyard. Establishing a sense of harmony with the star-shaped fountain and shady palms, the courtyard’s mosaics were custom built and inspired by historic palaces Duke visited during her travels.

If you also love the look of tile artwork but don’t want to commit to a full mosaic like Duke, consider using a fun pattern as a concentrated accent—like a kitchen backsplash or bold shower interior.



Jalis are decorative sliding panels or screens that are commonly found in Indian architecture. They can be seen throughout Shangri La in place of windows and doors to maintain a breezy atmosphere and reduce harsh light, while simultaneously creating playful shadow designs on interior floors and walls.

In your own home, try using jail screens as an unexpected separator between rooms, as ornamental shutters, or even integrate decorative concrete screen blocks into your yard for a hint of sun-shielding, mid century flair.


Although Shangri La is bursting with extravagant textures and patterns, what pulls all of these elements together is the use of sporadic, simple white space.

In your own home, a clean white aesthetic can open up a room, making it feel bigger and brighter while also evoking a calming effect. Further, if you have a special piece of art or other ornate embellishment that you want to highlight, surrounding the piece with whites will help draw attention to it without making the space seem busy or cluttered.



In addition to its exquisite indoor areas, Shangri La also boasts serene courtyards, cheerful lanais, lush gardens, and gorgeous water features. These outdoor spaces are stunning on their own, but it’s the synthesis between indoor and outdoor spaces that makes Shangri La feels truly luxurious.

If you live in an area with frequently pleasant weather and dazzling tropical landscapes, like Hawaii, consider how your home’s architecture can enhance this. For example, the integration of a retractable wall can turn your home into a resort-like oasis that blends inside with outside.

Pool Playhouse Shangri La House


Another highlight of Shangri La is the 75-foot-long saltwater swimming pool and the estate’s adjoining Playhouse, or poolside pavilion. The pool’s simple design allows the surrounding gardens and architecture to truly shine. Further, the design of the Playhouse—which features a large lanai and sits directly in front of the pool, thereby functioning together to create a cohesive whole—is a great twist on the traditional pool/guest house, which is often offset and not wholly integrated into the rest of the design.

(Want to learn more about constructing stunning pools? Check out this article out Six Creative Ways to Customize Your Swimming Pool.)


Perhaps our favorite aspect of Shangri La, and the greatest lesson we can learn from Doris Duke, is this: build your home around the elements you love. Duke’s careful planning and curation ensured that Shangri La catered to her wants and needs, and thus brought her joy throughout her life. The same should apply to you.

Whether you want to spotlight art you’ve collected during your travels, create a space perfect for entertaining, or build a house in harmony with its natural surroundings, your custom home should be innately yours. And Smith Brothers can help you get there.


As a full-service firm comprised of architects, designers, contractors, and builders, we will develop your project from the ground up. Whatever your design inspiration, budget, and needs may be, Smith Brothers promises that your custom home—and the home building process—will be tailored to you.

[images from Wikipedia]

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