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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Putting It Together | Babs on Design

By Stephen Heyman -- New York Times.

As a rule, we avoid the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center like Chinese buffet. But for Barbra Joan Streisand, we made an exception. On Tuesday evening, Babs was on 11th Avenue to unveil her coming book, “My Passion for Design,” which is to be published by Viking in November. Passion? You could call it that, though Streisand’s relationship with design sounds more like an obsession. “When something is off its mark, it disturbs me viscerally,” she told a packed audience of publishing types gathered for BookExpo. “It’s not a good thing.”

Streisand, 68, will always be a New Yorker, but she’s been in Malibu so long she refers to our part of the world as “the East,” as if it’s Canaan or something. “The East” is where her architects come from, and Streisand has parted ways with quite a few of those, not to mention the stonemasons and the contractors she’s fired in her quest for residential paradise. She does not take no for an answer. She has created three homes on her ocean-side property, where she lives with her husband, the actor James Brolin, and her lap dog, Sammie, the Coton de Tuléar who’s pictured on the book’s cover. She’s tremendously hands-on: She makes her own sketches, and for a time she employed two full-time draftsmen to elaborate on them. She even took most of the photos that will appear in the book.

This affair with design began in 1990, when Streisand was scouting locations for “The Prince of Tides,” which was set in South Carolina. “I fell in love with plantation-style homes,” she recalled. She found a piece of property and wanted to build a Dixie dream house, with a magnificent closet fashioned like a department store. “We all live in our closets, don’t we?” Streisand asked the audience. “Well, some of us do.” But she decided she could do only the film or the house, and so the home project was deferred and the world saw Streisand, as Dr. Susan Lowenstein, steam it up with Nick Nolte. That odd pairing fits in with Streisand’s love of “the tension of opposites” — hard and soft, dark and light, Anshel and Yentl. Another example: she’ll cover a masculine Stickley wood chair with rose velvet. She’s also deeply into symmetry, and takes color-matching to great lengths, even coordinating the colors of the flowers in her garden to match her interiors. For her library, she picked only leatherbound books in burgundy and olive green.

Gayle King, the editor-at-large of O, the Oprah Magazine, interviewed Streisand but was obviously outmatched by the diva’s aesthetic prowess. “When I think of a Tiffany lamp,” King said, “I think of bright colors.” “No,” replied Streisand, “you’re thinking of fake Tiffany lamps.” Burn! King went on to quote Oprah, who likes to say, “God is in the details.” “Ah,” Streisand chimed in, “But Mies van der Rohe said the devil is in the details.” They’re both right, of course, but Babs had the last word.

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