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The Eye by Barbara King

Look homeward, angels

For Patricia Knop and Zalman King, scrounging has become an art form. They've transformed their Santa Monica Craftsman into a wonderland of aesthetic recycling.

May 29, 2003|Barbara King | Times Staff Writer

One SCENE IN PARTICULAR HAUNTS THE MEMORY.

A woman, dead by her own hand, is lifted from a bathtub by her lover. The eye focuses not on the floor where the man so tenderly, sensually places the body of his beloved as though she still breathes, but moves away, upward, toward a holy light. Toward a huge and magnificent square of stained glass that gives pause and thereafter breaks all concentration on the movie's action. What a great idea, is what comes to mind. A cathedral-like window in a hip loft bathroom. And where did they get that fabulous tub?

Maybe that's not the reaction Patricia Louisianna Knop and Zalman King anticipated when they wrote and produced the 1992 pilot for "Red Shoe Diaries," the erotic Showtime series. On the other hand, they would be the first to appreciate the distraction. They've been hypnotized by the magic and mystery of households since they hooked up 40 years ago.

It can't be denied that certain expectations are inevitable when given the chance to visit the Knop-King residence, however juvenile they may be. After all, the couple has collaborated on some of moviedom's steamiest: "Two-Moon Junction," "Wild Orchid," "9 1/2 Weeks." So amazement is total upon entering the front door of their house in Santa Monica: A host of angels is there to greet the visitor.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 05, 2003 Home Edition Home Part F Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Hearst Castle designer -- In an article last Thursday about the home of Zalman King and Patricia Louisianna Knop, the architect who designed Hearst Castle was misidentified as Julia Cameron. It was Julia Morgan.

They look to the heavens, they look on your face, they watch you, follow you, pray for you with their graceful hands and they are utterly, breathtakingly luminous. "I never feel alone here," says Knop, who has her own kind of radiance -- shining hair, eyes moist with good will, voice creamy and calming. "I always have a sense of being protected by them. They have compassion and hope, a beautiful energy."

No matter that many of them are hundreds of years old, from Colonial Mexico, and all of them inanimate. Knop speaks of them as if they were living entities, part of the family, telling of their pleasure or displeasure with their spot in a room, and it's hard not to see them that way yourself. Especially when she so poignantly relates their sad tales, how they were castoffs, no longer valued, just old, used up things hauled out of churches and dumped or left to waste away in attics and basements; two were pulled out of a fire.

"This is a shelter for endangered angels," says Knop. "A sort of halfway house until they can go back home. They really will travel on, probably back to churches, at a safer time. The right time, the right place."

The whole crazy beauty of Knop and King's house is that it is an ingeniously devised refuge for all manner of the discarded and unwanted. Ever since the couple arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, poor and struggling, they have furnished their dwellings with salvaged items. King was just beginning his career as an actor and Knop as a painter and sculptor. It took them awhile to establish themselves in their careers, but only one week to pull together their $65-a-month apartment. They found a whole roomful of Victorian wicker that had been thrown in a garbage bin, and so they carted it to their little pad in their $25 Studebaker.

"L.A. was an absolute treasure hunt," remembers Knop. "People were throwing away incredible things, you can't imagine. We had a beautiful place even then."

Several years went by before they could afford to pay more than flea market prices for things, but by then, there was no going back. Nothing would do but to make everything a treasure hunt.

"I still have that same scrounging sensibility -- believe me, " says Knop. "Going to a gallery or store for something that's already been discovered ... we don't think that way. What I'm looking for is the treasure I've never seen before -- and in my case, it's usually big. That's the force that propels me through my one-millionth flea market."

Even their garden is a found object, of a sort: After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, they salvaged tons of dirt, bushes and bricks from destroyed properties. They paid $600 for 3,000 tiles off the facade of a Victorian building in London, and tiled their bathrooms, stairs, dining table, outdoor tables, side tables and the fireplace surround with them. For $1,500, Knop got three massive, soot-caked windows from a Greene & Greene demolition back in the early 1970s. The next day she and her husband took sledge hammers and began knocking out a wall to install them. At the Rose Bowl flea market, she paid $50 for a bag of Aubusson fragments, and thus Aubusson pillows line the oversize sofas and the opium bed that once belonged to Mary Astor, for which Knop traded a sculpture. From the store room of a Glendale drugstore she took home a valuable Meyer of Munich window.

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