Barbara Streisand At BookExpo America

Gayle King and Barbra Streisand

(Photo: Kevin Mazur)

May 2010

Barbra Streisand kicks off New York's Book Expo

Commanding singer, actress, producer and activist Barbra Streisand kicked off Book Expo 2010 in New York on Tuesday night with an extensive and candid conversation with Oprah confidante Gayle King. Streisand's book "My Passion for Design," out in November from Viking/Penguin, details her meticulous home decor and includes some of her (strong) likes and dislikes.

Streisand said she enjoyed the writing process, which she began in longhand. "I started writing my autobiography," the notoriously private star admitted. "And I thought, this is hard. I better write a book about design."

King, wearing in a white dress with blue accents, started by talking about picking out a dress for the evening; at first she'd chosen yellow. But, she admitted to Streisand, "I read in the book that you don't care for yellow."

"Certain kinds of yellow." Streisand agreed.

"My second choice was orange," King offered.

"Oh no no no," Streisand interrupted, holding up a hand. She raised her eyebrows and looked over her shoulder toward the wings of the stage, indicating she couldn't possibly understand how anyone might even consider wearing orange. King laughed, explaining that she'd even repainted her toenails to please Streisand.

It was a cute way to begin, and the two soon settled into an amicable conversation. Wearing all black, Streisand answered questions about the energy she puts into her home, about what kind of wood is masculine and a small hill -- a "berm" -- on her property. She spoke about her family not owning much furniture when she was a girl in Brooklyn. But she and King kept coming back to color.

"When you're planting a garden, you have to be very specific," Streisand said. "What color is that flower? Is it a pink red? Is it an orange red? Why do we like certain things -- probably from experiences in our childhood." At 6 years old, anemic, Streisand explained, she was sent to a health camp. Everyone was disinfected and dressed in identical, starched, royal blue uniforms. "The only thing that separated us was the color of our sweater. And I had a burgundy sweater, and it gave me...." Streisand paused. "Myself." She paused again. "I'm not saying it is the reason I love the color burgundy -- ."

"Oh it is, it is," King filled in.

Later, Streisand again returned to family, childhood and loss.

"Maybe this was too intense for the book," Streisand said, answering a question about her pursuit of items she'd once owned but no longer had. "The fact that I didn't have a father I think has to do with this need to find something that you're looking for," she explained quietly. "You can never get a parent back, but you can get an object back. It was the satisfaction of getting an object back after losing it." Then she paused. "It's partially satisfying."

Serious moments like that were offset by moments of levity. King asked about why Streisand liked Tiffany lamps, known for their colored class.

"When I think of Tiffany lamps, I think of bright color," King said.

"You're thinking of fake Tiffany lamps," said Streisand.

As King asked questions, Streisand's attention to detail became clear. She shops for  antiques, customizes her paint colors, and works hand in hand with her architects and stone masons. She's not hesitant to dismiss someone when their care and attention don't match her own.

"I'm very concerned with symmetry and proportion," Streisand admitted. "When something's off its mark, it disturbs me viscerally." If this came across as the obsession of a perfectionist, Streisand knew as much. "It's not a good thing," she exclaimed, the old New York accent reaping into her voice.

That perfectionism, of course, is what brought Barbra Streisand into the limelight, first as a singer with "The Barbra Streisand Album" in 1963. King asked Streisand what her favorite song was of all those that she's recorded.

"Please don't ask me that. That is a terrible thing to ask," Streisand said. She looked into the crowd. "I don't want to offend the songs." The audience burst into applause.

by Carolyn Kellogg

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Creating the perfect house is more than a passion for Barbra Streisand. It's almost primal.

The 68-year-old singer-actress-director, promoting her upcoming book about design, says her many searches for cherished household objects is a way of compensating for her father's dying when she was just 15 months old.

"The fact I didn't have a father, I think this has to do with this need of finding something you're looking for," Streisand said Tuesday at BookExpo America, where she was interviewed by Gayle King on stage at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Streisand's "My Passion for Design," a coffee table book, is scheduled to come out in the fall.

Wearing black slacks, a black top, platform sandals and a full-length coat, seated before some 2,000 booksellers and other industry officials, Streisand spoke of channeling her exacting filmmaking style into her domestic life. She showed slides of a mill house and an "elegant barn" she had built and shared anecdotes about various topics, including her "Wizard of Oz" storm cellar, the leather embossed drawers in the barn and a custom-made bed in her Malibu, Calif., house that she sized between a king and a queen.

She confided sharing a problem known to many home owners – being overbilled by contractors – and said her voice was hoarse for years from shouting over buzz saws and other equipment.

Streisand also reiterated what she told The Associated Press last year, that she had also written a few chapters of a memoir. But she found she wasn't ready for her life story.

"I better write about my house," she decided.

Gayle King and Streisand on stage at BookExpo

(Photo: Kevin Mazur)

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Putting It Together: Babs on Design


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."

My Passion For Design cover

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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