At Home With Josh Groban
In Style (Life & Home section)
By David Hochman
The boy baritone has grown up and created a Malibu compound where he can hang with friends. And he had a voice in all the details
"People get the impression", Josh Groban says, "that I'm way too serious to have fun." The curly-haired singer emphatically bounces a tennis ball on the court of his two-acre Malibu spread, then adds, "But that's not true. Beyond the dramatic kind of music I sing and the serious image of me on billboards, I'm really just a normal guy."
As if he had to explain the obvious. All afternoon the 27-year-old recording star has been dashing around his breezy hillside compound with so much unflagging enthusiasm - sailing a toy boat in his pool, snatching Popsicles from his freezer, jamming on the restored piano he has played on since he was 3 - that even his high-energy Wheaten Terrier is panting to keep up.
"Here you go buddy!" calls Groban, firing the tennis ball to Sweeney, who is not your typical pet. Certified as a service dog like those that assist the handicapped, he is trained to handle the rigors of concert tours: He can accompany his master in public places, such as hotels and cafés. The dog scrambles to return the ball. "Way to go, Sween -" the singer yells. "What a superstar!"
Groban knows a bit about superstars. While still a student at L.A. County Highschool for the Arts, he was asked to fill in for Andrea Bocelli during a Grammy Awards rehearsal, duetting with none other than Céline Dion on "The Prayer". In the 10 years since, he has sold more than 20 million albums. A recent Christmas collection, Noel, became the bestselling album of 2007 and broke a 50-year-old sales record - held by Elvis Presley. And his latest CD/DVD Awake Live, hit stores in May.
But here in Malibu, he's happy to enjoy downtime in his first full-fledged house, where his neighbors include those famous bachelors Kid Rock and David Spade (Groban split with Mad Men's January Jones in 2006). And if his own cool quotient has gone up lately, it's party due to a crafty appearance beside Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Ben Affleck in a ribald video by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel that displayed Groban's funny side.
One thing Groban remains serious about, though, is tennis. After living in a Beverly Hills condo for five years, he wanted a larger home with his own court. "When I first saw this place two years ago," he says, "my reaction was, 'It's like being on an instant vacation - I'll take it.'"
Of course, his second thought was, Let's lose the pink paint job. Set amid giant eucalyptus, the multilevel villa had been transformed into a seventies-era ersatz castle. "There was a Neptune statue rising from the pool with a nest of moss growing on his head," Groban says. "And I thought I had hair problems."
To undo the damage, Groban enlisted the help from his mother, Lindy, an interior designer. They took their style cue from the oversize Mexican front doors: "We realized the house had a more rustic feel," he says. So they stripped the faux frescoes off the ceilings and opted for earth tones. With landscaper Alan Bernstein cultivating the parklike grounds, they terraced the lawn, re-designed the pool, and created an outdoor oasis complete with waterfalls spilling down stacked Oklahoma-limestone walls.
As Sweeney leads the charge, Groban shows off an elaborate barbecue area (I make a mean turkey burger", he says), an elegant outdoor fireplace, and patio furniture from Smith & Hawken. Plunking down poolside in a circular chair with a white canopy, he says this sophisticated fun zone was inspired by visits to luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons Punta Mita in Mexico. The overall result: "I call this Malibu Contemporary."
Which is fitting, since Malibu is practically part of Groban's DNA. He lived there with his parents until he was 4 and his brother, Christopher, was born; then his father, Jack, an executive recruiter, moved them to L.A.'s Hancock Park area. But a few years after his backstage "début" at the Grammys, Groban recorded his first albums in the studio of Malibu-based music producer David Foster, became reacquainted with the laid-back community, and was drawn to its simple beauty.
That doesn't mean Groban wanted to live in a surf shack (though this place does come with a key to a private beach). His walls are gallery-chic with prints by Salvador Dali and Joan Miró; his wood-paneled media room, where he holds movie nights for friends, is state of the art - as is his gym. And he has hosted a few parties where guests have flowed naturally from pool to patio to living room and lower lawn. Home-alone time is another story, though. He prefers to hole up in his room with a book. But he says, "I bought this house with the idea that I'd grow into it."
Groban sounds a bit philosophical now, and he knows it. "Hey, want to see something cool?" he says suddenly. Whistling for Sweeney, he heads out to his bedroom balcony as the afternoon sun dips behind the woods. "I want to install a zip-line from my bedroom to a tree house I'll build out there," he says. "I'd be living out every boys dream!" Serious or not, he already is.
Travels with Sweeney
Named for Sweeney Todd, Groban's privileged pooch, 2, has his own favorite hot spots, haunts and hotels.
City: "What could be better than Manhattan?" says Groban. "The parks, the horses, the people. Sweeney goes especially crazy at Chelsea Waterside Park. It has tunnels, hills and rocks. There's a tree trunk he can climb across, go up and mound, and he's king of the world."
Hotel: "The Ritz - Carlton San Francisco takes the cake. They had two bowl of treats ready and a giant dog bed. Sweeney jumped on it and was like, Mine! They had a gourmet dog menu with fresh chicken and rice dishes. I thought, am I really going to pay $30 for room service for my dog? Then I said, 'You know what? It's not like a cat with nine lives.' So yes, he was spoiled.
Road Trip: "We took a drive to Carmel [Calif.] and Sweeney loved the beaches and the water. We found a bench and just sat and looked out at the Pacific Ocewan. It's the most beautiful place in the world.
"I love that my music is popular. But what I prefer to say is, 'So you think you know me? Well, here's a little more.'"
Josh Groban, relaxing at his grandmother's piano (The one he learned to play on!) now in his Malibu dream house.
L.A. Son: "I'm in an I-love-L.A.-stage," says the city's native son, sitting in his kitchen nook; the art is by David Buckingham.
Step Up: The three-story house opens to new Oklahoma limestone patios, fountains and lush lawns behind.
Living Large: "Josh wanted a place that felt like a retreat but was very guylike," says his mom, interior designer Lindy Groban. above, the living room blends formal (stone floor and mantel) with casual (sea-grass-rug). Right, the singer plays on a century-old upright, once his grandmother's, among the treasures in his office.
Pool Room: Groban bought this collage by David Mach in London for the guest room that opend to the pool (Thus, the blue walls).
Dining In: Woven Ralph Lauren chairs surround a glass table; an Ingo Maurer light adds a contemporary touch.
"I don't use the whole house, when I'm here alone. then it becomes a place of reflection."
"It felt natural to create a home where I could enjoy spending time with the people I love making music."
1: Groban entertains friends beside his patio fireplace
2: Music and concert memorabilies on his office desk
3: This dark-wood study becomes a screening room with surround sound
4: "The house can be a little neat for my taste," he says. His remedy? A busy Jean-Michel Basquiat print.
5: Sweeney curls up on Groban's four-poster Ralph Lauren bed.
6: Grobans life is a balancing act - even on the court.