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Bohemian Rhapsody

Moroccan and beach vibes collide at a free-spirited house.

Lisa Marie Hart Home & Design, Real Estate

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A beachy sensibility was Kenya Knight's first layer of décor. She has since added Moroccan spice, but the shark and surfboard remain.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN ELLIS

Real estate agents in Palm Springs know better than to let a little rain keep them from hosting an open house. Desert downpours can sell homes, as Kenya Knight can attest.

“It was a fluke that I even bought this home 13 years ago,” she says. “I was on vacation, and it rained. And I thought, ‘What do you do in Palm Springs if you’re not sitting by the pool drinking cocktails?’ ” Knight was inclined to drive around and pop into a few open houses just to “see what your money gets you out here,” she recalls. “I was blown away.”

From her impromptu shopping, she picked up her dream house — one she estimates would have cost three times as much in L.A., where she and her modeling agency, Nous Models, are based.

Knight’s purchase coincided with the time when Jonathan Adler was first putting his stamp on the Parker Palm Springs. “I loved his take on midcentury and vintage,” she says. “It was whimsical, happy, and warm.” Having grown up in Old Hollywood–style homes with crown moldings and wood floors, Knight reveled in the fresh contrast offered by the local architecture and resulting design.

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Moroccan throw pillows and a rug join jute artwork from the 1970s.

“I wanted to pay respect to the kind of house it is, which is an Alexander, but I also wanted it to be warm and welcoming, which is how I like to live and entertain guests,” she notes.
Her quest for vintage décor shaped the home’s quirky, vacation-style hospitality. Several key pieces in the backyard have been mainstays in Knight’s design, even while the rest has evolved.

“The happy Buddha, the surfboard, and the shark have all lived at the house as long as I have,” Knight says. The Buddha, who weighs in at more than 500 pounds, hasn’t moved from his current poolside spot, where he looks over the house, in more than 12 years.

Those three backyard elements formed the foundation for her “beach shack in the desert” concept. A California girl who spent years by the sea, she envisioned her Palm Springs home as an extension of the relaxation she always experienced there. Her furnishings were chosen to handle indoor-outdoor living and wet bathing suits, grouped into informal conversation areas where friends can catch up in the sun or shade.

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Kenya Knight and her husband, Taib Lotfi, share a smile over their 500-pound happy Buddha.

Filling one wall in the living area is another relic from the initial design phase. “She’s called The Big Lady,” says Knight of a snappy poster of a dancing showgirl in a bikini top and cotton-candy skirt. “As soon as I saw her, I knew she was coming to live with me.”

So there she has stayed, while Knight’s home and life unfolded around her. As the modeling agency gained its footing, Knight was able to spend more time in the desert, tweaking and enjoying her midcentury retreat. The Moroccan influences now prominent in the home came more recently — and, literally, with love.

Four years ago, Knight met her Berber husband, Taib Lotfi, while she was shopping for Moroccan rugs. When the couple set off on their first trip to Morocco together, friends encouraged them to consider a new venture. “I was talking to the owners of Flow Modern, and they said, ‘Why don’t you come to our shop and curate a little pop-up of things from Morocco?’ ” The pop-up led to Soukie Modern, Knight and Lotfi’s shop, which imports Moroccan rugs, textiles, and home accessories, sold online and from four connected spaces at The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five in North Palm Springs.

“We had everything in a storage unit when we started selling online and figured it might as well sit in a shop where people could see it instead,” Knight laughs. Fast growth led to their need for multiple spaces. “We really enjoy being there,” she adds. “You meet so many incredible people, and you realize how many people are coming in from all over the world to visit our wonderful town.”

The couple feels at home when they drive up to the shops, which are painted Moroccan-sunset pink. That’s because it’s the same color they used for their house. The hue was hard-earned: They tried 18 rosy swatches from Dunn-Edwards on the exterior, then watched Nest camera footage of passersby pointing and discussing the hues. “We almost put a voting box out front,” Knight says. They finally settled on Rustique, which they felt most closely resembled a color used in Marrakech. The owners of The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five admired the choice; Knight and Lotfi gave them their blessing to paint the building the same color.

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The dancing New Orleans showgirl poster came from Hatch Show Print in Tennessee. Rattan lanterns handmade in Indonesia cluster above the dining area. She sourced the vintage sideboard locally.

The home has been there through two entrepreneurial adventures as a place Knight could run to for both inspiration and escape.
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Landscape designers and purveyors of plants and pottery, the team from The BackYard PS, Inc. created the home’s desert-scape. “Marrakech and Palm Springs are on the same latitude and have the same climates,” says Knight, “so desert plants thrive in both places.” For an additional relaxation zone, she added a deck and strung a hammock between two perfectly spaced mature ficus trees.

Throughout the house, Knight and Lotfi elevated the original beach-shack scheme by layering in a mix of styles. Contemporary, vintage, European, and Moroccan items blend in a homey midcentury dwelling that shows a looser decorating approach than your typical second-home Alexander.

For Knight, the home has been there through two entrepreneurial adventures as a place she could run to for both inspiration and escape. “When I bought the house in the earlier years of the modeling agency, I couldn’t be away from the office that much. Yet I was working so hard during the week that I really needed to relax and get away. I always say that the house saved me, and so did Palm Springs in general,” she shares. “When you hit Highway 111, it’s this vortex of happiness and relaxion where you can disconnect and rejuvenate. That really was a lifesaver for me.”

Now the home is all that and more — it’s a hub for entertaining the couple’s friends. “I grew up in a very eclectic house in Hollywood. My parents have an open-door policy, so we had people dropping by. It’s in my nature to be the same,” she says. “People actually stay in our Soukie Modern shop for hours, just hanging out. That’s just how we do it.”

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In the guest room, Moroccan blankets from Soukie Modern lay folded on the ends of the beds, while bright Moroccan rugs serve as textural headboards. “I call it ‘the rainbow room,’ ” says Kenya Knight.

Most recently the couple decided to shape the home into a lifestyle representation of their brand. It’s available for photo shoots and serves as a three-dimensional visualization board for clients who want to see how pieces from Soukie Modern can fit into a real home. Knight emphasizes that a space doesn’t need to be Moroccan-themed to assimilate a few of the country’s embellishments — exactly what Jonathan Adler proved at the Parker. Thus, Knight’s completed interior and Soukie Modern store have brought her rainy-day dream home full circle.

”I wanted it to be warm and welcoming, which is how I like to live and entertain guests.”Kenya Knight