Entrepreneur Kirk Lazarus, principal of Molori Design, made his own dream come true with his new 145-foot Benetti, Told u So, and now he intends to do the same for others
Kirk Lazarus has just returned from a shopping spree in Saint-Tropez and greets me aboard his new 145-foot (45-meter) Benetti called Told u So. An energetic guy in his mid-40s, of medium height, rather fit, he sports a “Miami Vice” day-old stubble and wears ordinary board shorts and a T-shirt that says “Call My Agent.” He bought, on impulse, a sizable primitive painting of the American flag with the word “peace” splayed across it, which the crew has hung in the skylounge above the beige corner sofa and a tufted American-flag-upholstered ottoman. Just as he anticipated, the new painting fits perfectly.
I met Lazarus last year when he was still building the boat. He had a specific visual (and visceral) dream about yachts and charter and I was curious to see if he had actualized it. We met to discuss his approach to design, hospitality, luxury and charter. Lazarus is extremely animated when he speaks, and his clipped South African twang punctuates his unbridled enthusiasm. Deep in dialogue, he is still able to absorb everything else that goes on around him—telephone conversations, a wind shift and a pillow out of place; nothing eludes him. A side of this entrepreneur and yacht owner is still a mischievous boy. He clearly is a player and he likes to play. As part of his personal daily regimen, he runs or walks at least three miles a day. If he can’t go ashore to get his aerobic exercise fix, he is keen to use his water toys. Wakeboarding, paddle boarding, Seabobbing, snorkeling and jet skiing are all on the menu.
He has chartered numerous times, but Told u So is the first large yacht he has owned. During the past 15 years or so, he has led the “luxe life” and has traveled extensively. This has given insight into what others might be looking for in terms of service and amenities. As the founder of Molori Private Retreats, he is the consummate host and wants to ensure that all of his guests have the best possible experience.
Lazarus founded Molori Design and Molori Private Retreats in 2008 in South Africa where his company runs Molori Clifton in Cape Town and Molori Safari Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve. He later opened Molori Great Barrier Reef in Port Douglas, Australia, and Molori Beach House in Santa Monica, Calif., is soon to open. Told u So is the latest entry in this illustrious list.
“Molori,” in the African language Setswana, translates to “dream it,” something that Lazarus seems to have an uncanny ability to do. His dreams have translated into spectacular retreats, which in turn inspired a design business. Several Molori guests, wanting to replicate their experience at home, turned to Lazarus to realize their dream. Happy to do so, he has established himself as a designer of just about everything, including apartments, villas, airplanes, resorts and now yachts for a number of A-list clients.
Lazarus began dreaming of his boat when the market was peaking and prices were crazy. He was looking for a yacht under 500 tons, one that would have no trouble getting in and out of ports. He visited yards in Northern Europe and in Italy in the summer of 2008. It was just before the economic crisis, and he found that a few of the highly regarded yards were not very welcoming. He then met Stefano de Vivo from Azimut-Benetti at a social engagement and determined he wanted to do business with him. “I wanted a yard that could get into my head and listen to what I wanted. I demanded flexibility. I was at Benetti wearing what I am wearing today—board shorts and a T-shirt. I am not sure they first took me seriously.
“I chartered the yacht More (Hull No. 2 of Benetti’s Tradition line) for three weeks, and I kept thinking about how my boat would be different. For instance, I wanted a bigger master suite, a larger bathroom, a walk-in wardrobe; I did not need another dining room on the main deck. I am a very visual person. I redrew the layout. I wanted to impart the Molori brand to the yacht,” he says.
“I don’t need a 100-meter yacht with 50 crew, just a boat for 10 guests with 12 very good crew,” he adds. Describing his philosophy about crew, he goes on to say that he thinks they themselves need to experience an ultra-luxury lifestyle in order to be able to offer it to guests. He has his top-level Molori staff train on the boat and vice versa. At his private retreats in the bush Lazarus has built a village for his staff, where every room has satellite TV, a couch and a desk. There is also a vegetable garden, fruit trees and a staff swimming pool. He wants people who work there to be proud of where they live. He also built an elementary school for the kids, and when his staff’s children want to go on to higher education, he offers to contribute to their tuition. Lazarus also likes to help people fulfill their dream.
Some of this philosophy is obvious aboard Told u So. As conscious as he is of guests, Lazarus knows crew accommodations are important, too. To make things easier for his engineer, he nixed a steam room in the garage in order to create a separate cabin for him.
As far as guest accommodations, the yacht’s décor is best described as eclectic and playful. Lazarus wanted the boat to have a very comfortable organic feel—in the sense that all pieces fit together harmoniously—not simply be a showcase for a singular style, such as Art Deco or New York contemporary. He feels his casual mix and match makes the yacht feel more like a real home, as if you went away on holiday and picked up an Indonesian mask here and a Venetian chandelier there.
Told u So’s main salon is a grownup playroom, not the kind of formal living room that only gets used when company comes over. There is an upright piano for sing-alongs below a bookshelf filled with National Geographic magazines. Instead of the traditional dining room forward of the main salon, there is a distressed-leather Chinese daybed where you can lounge in front of the fireplace or watch movies on the flat-screen TV hidden behind a lithograph. Throughout the boat, there are areas to engage as a group or to wander off and be on your own. Lazarus detests rooms where there is a big void in the middle and furniture clinging to the fringes.
The master suite forward on the main deck has a study with an imposing leather-topped antique desk with silver drawer pulls procured from an antique dealer who was using it as his personal desk. The transporters had put blue tape to mark the dings and scratches they thought occurred during the move, not imagining that Lazarus would have shipped a piece of furniture that was so beat up. No Pottery Barn inauthenticity here, every nick and scrape is exactly as he found it. Opposite this desk is a cozy crescent-shaped daybed. The bedroom itself has a forward-facing California king-size bed with a Missoni headboard and panoramic view. The luxurious bathroom has both a bathtub and a large combined rain/steam shower with glass surround that turns from clear to opaque with the flip of a switch. And talk about flip of the switch. All the cabins are operated via iPad—the call button, the TV, entertainment system, the drapes, the lights—and it is very user friendly.
Lazarus says he does not have preconceived design notions and can do anything his clients want. In his world travels, he likes to collect things. He might recommend a particular glass end table for a client’s villa or bring it to one of his resorts where it will be put to good use. What he doesn’t find through his travels, he designs and fabricates. For instance, silver specialist Carrs in Sheffield, England, makes custom silverware for Molori.
Told u So has an array of multicolored Molori-designed and custom-made zebra chairs, interspersed with leather chairs, antique lamps and Venetian glass. The main dining area in the skylounge is at once inside and outside, as the glass doors open 280 degrees. A breakfront room divider features at its center a large hanging crustacean embedded in a piece of glass. Lazarus conceived this piece of art after he ate the lobster and saw what an amazing shape the shell was. On either side of this objet d’art, glass cupboards lift and lower, revealing a collection of exquisite colored wine glasses.
Lazarus’ Italian captain Fabio Mistri was the captain on More for eight and a half years, so he is extremely familiar with the Benetti Tradition series. He knew exactly what worked well and what could use improvement. His influence is seen in both bridge design and deck alterations. He credits Lazarus with having found new ways to create additional space, so that the boat is now more like a 53- than a 45-meter yacht.
Lazarus has no problem visualizing an empty space. He used a stick to draw the plan for his first Molori Safari Lodge; the architects followed the outline and it worked. In his own words, he “likes to design without boundaries.”
“If I have a signature look, it is to make the outside become life inside—a moving postcard, a boat, a jungle beach, activities going past you, even framing it. I like to see life move past you but not pass you by,” he says.
Instant ownership is key; Lazarus wants people to feel at home. He believes in auras and the feeling of genuine warmth. “Whether aboard my yacht or in my resorts, the more time you spend there, the more time you will feel ownership; the place will blend to you. However, I do find it is necessary to have a good balance; nothing has to be 100 percent (maybe 98 percent). One always needs something to look forward to.”
In the world of dreams anything is possible—told you so…