Known for legendary performances in music and movies, Barbara Streisand flexes new muscle this year, showing love of architecture, symmetry and design in a new book “My Passion for Design.” The recently-published $60 coffee table book features hundreds of photographs taken by Streisand herself of the California homes designed and coordinated building with the help of husband actor James Brolin.
In a staged interview conducted by Oprah Magazine’s Editor-at-Large Gayle King in front of an audience of 2700 at the book industry’s annual book expo, Book Expo America at New York’s Javitz Center, King evoked Streisand’s passions.
“I have kept journals over the years and wanted to write an autobiography, but that was hard so I wrote a book about design instead. It was easier,” the legendary artist quipped.
“I like photography and I like the process of building. I took most of the photos in the book myself.”
The two powerhouses discussed all things Streisand, including her affection for antiquing, love for certain colors (PURE lipstick red), disdain for others (orange and yellow) and keen eye for symmetry—which she admits has driven more than a few building contractors crazy. “It’s a curse and a blessing to see things the way I do. I see symmetry and that’s sometimes a curse because you see what is wrong,” she said, referring to a before and after photo of a mirror in the upcoming book-the “after” being 3/8” out of alignment, compared to the “before.”
Equating that photograph to many of her projects and even her life, Streisand said, “There are things that you have to compromise on and accept what the universe is presenting – so you have to accept what is here. Sometimes I don’t like to take no for an answer.”
King asked if Streisand regretted her quest for perfection, to which the diva charmingly asserted she searches for excellence and fully understands that nothing is perfect. Referring to an exposed beam in the ceiling of one of Streisand’s houses, King wondered aloud, “Who is going to notice if a beam is off?” To which Streisand explained the importance of obeying your personal needs: “I will,” she answered.
Recalling a speech she’d made many years prior, Streisand highlighted the differences in how society views a woman’s assertiveness versus a man’s, and relayed why it’s important to be true to yourself. “If it’s off, it’s off. They say that men are commanding but women are demanding. I make no apologies. They say that a man is a perfectionist, while a woman is a pain in the ass.” The audience roars with laughter — that Brooklyn twang seems to make any joke more poignant.
Streisand’s childhood may provide insight to her passions. Growing up in a $40 per-month apartment in Brooklyn — where five people shared a bathroom and used the dining room chairs for seating — nothing about her current life resembles her past. But she’s glad for the experience, and thinks it makes her a stronger person. “When I was growing up I had a hot water bottle instead of a doll and my caregiver knit her a little pink sweater,” she said as she made animated knitting motions with her fingers and perfectly sculpted nails. “But it made me use my imagination. And I don’t regret it. It added to my success.”
Though “A Passion for Design” on the surface covers one woman’s love of beautiful surroundings inside and out— surprisingly, it also gives a window into the thinking and the soul of one of America’s cherished performers. From color to symmetry to being true to oneself, this tribute to design also could serve as a tribute to the woman who brought us songs like “The Way We Were,” and movies like “Yentl.”
In her own clandestine way, I think she gave us that memoir after all.