KTVU's Leslie Griffith Curls Up in her Dream Home
Like many East Bay residents, I’m used to having Leslie Griffith in my living room every night. But on this Thursday, I’m in her house, sipping coffee in the kitchen, and getting the news one-on-one about her new perch atop one of those impossibly steep hills between Orinda and Oakland.
"My three kids have all gone off to college," says Griffith, 46, who is noticeably more playful in person than the "talking head" I’m used to watching on TV. "So this is my first single house."
Actually, not everyone has moved out. Griffith watches her remaining housemate walk across the kitchen’s light-and-dark maple floor. Zappa, an African Grey parrot, is checking out his visitor.
"I’m hoping to teach him to speak three languages, including Swahili, which I learned to speak when I was living in Kenya, studying elephants," says Griffith, putting Zappa back into his cage. It stands next to the family room window, which features a jaw-dropping, Cinemascope view of the San Francisco Bay below.
As the off-the-clock news anchor starts to take me on the tour, I quickly realize that it’s nice not to discuss the news of the day. Dave Matthews’s guitar and lyrics waft from room to room on an impressively discreet stereo system, and Griffith shares anecdotes that are far more entertaining than, say, details about the ongoing Bay Bridge construction. Lately, it seems, having a good time in her new home has been a big part of Griffith’s m.o.
"I’ve been here about eight months, and I’ve already hosted five parties in this house," she laughs, "which is about how many I hosted in the entire time I was living in Walnut Creek. My friends all say that this house is the perfect match to my personality."
After being hired by KTVU in 1987, the Texas-raised Griffith moved
her family to Walnut Creek. She came across this house in April of last
year, before construction was finished, and was immediately taken by
Oakland builder Antoney Wong had designed the space guided by Buddhist philosophical principles. "I don’t like strict walls and sharp angles," Wong explains. "I like to create a flow with curves. The entryway is curved, as are all the stairways, and even the exterior deck."
Wong planned to move into the house himself, but Griffith convinced him to sell it to her. When he said yes, she then made a quick call to a realtor friend, who showed her ranch-style residence near Arbolado Park to a new-to-the-area family. The incoming suburbanites not only wanted to buy Griffith’s house, they wanted to purchase almost every piece of furniture in it.
Suddenly, Griffith was able to pack only her favorite belongings and create a home from scratch. "Everything I love is in this house," she says.
Interior designer Billie L. Huckaby helped Griffith arrange her things, and harmonized the decor with Wong’s Eastern sensibility, painting the walls a golden shade accented with red tapestries.
She also added some drama to the smooth transitions of Wong’s curving rooms. Hovering in the dining room is an iron chandelier, created by Concord ironworker Janusz Olszewski, with fixtures that twist in intricate curves topped with blown-glass blossoms by artisans at Nourot Glass Studio in Benicia.
"Leslie’s taste has changed over the 10 years I’ve known her," says Huckaby, who decorated not only Griffith’s Walnut Creek house, but also helped with the late Margaret Lesher’s Orinda mansion. "[Leslie’s] gone from a country style, with kids and horses to care for, to a sophisticated, feng shui approach. She wants this house to be spiritual. Leslie is a kind person, and she wants the house to have that feeling."
Clearly, Griffith has filled her house with positive energy—and no catalog-store furnishings. The home’s eight rooms are stocked with what is near and dear to Griffith. Her office, which seems lifted out of The Maltese Falcon, with bamboo shades filtering the golden glow of morning light, displays several of her nine Emmy Awards atop a bookshelf packed with the stuff that media-studies professors’ dreams are made of. Photos and memorabilia from news colleagues add colorful punctuation.
"These are notes that were found in the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen’s desk, after he died," Griffith says, pointing to framed papers hanging on the wall that were given to her by a friend. The notes say, "Let’s start the Leslie Griffith fan club."
The more I walk through Griffith’s new pad, which is packed with mementos of her career, the more I can see it as the ultimate newshound’s clubhouse. Reporting has taken Griffith all over the globe. When she started at Channel 2, she was one of only a few Western journalists allowed to report inside the former Soviet Union—and she picked up a pair of Emmys for her work.
Treasures from her travels—and the stories that go with them—accent every room of her house. A fertility mask from Uganda and an (unused) opium pipe from Thailand hang on a wall in the living room, while swords from France and the Philippines rest above the fireplace. A framed seashell on pink-orange sand from a favorite beach near the equator perks up the master bath. There’s even a Buddha statue mounted above her tub.
Griffith’s intellectual pursuits are also on display. Vintage Dickens editions rest on a shelf in the dining room, while New Yorker issues and books by Dostoevsky and Steinbeck adorn her bedside table. "I’ve been reading Steinbeck chronologically," she says. "He’s getting me all fired up about fair worker issues."
An avid astronomer, Griffith prizes a powerful telescope that sits next to Zappa’s cage in the family room. Pointed toward the heavens, the scope offers a unique perspective on the world beyond the glimmering Bay below. This infinite view—and the memories of her many adventures—are comforts that, regardless of how grim any night’s news might be, help Griffith find peace when she signs off and comes home.