Barbra Streisand is the only performer in show business history to receive all the highest awards — Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Emmy, Georgie. In creating her personal world, she has matched her career versatility with an equally intensive and wide-ranging pursuit of the beautiful. "I simply love beautiful things," she says. "That is my passion." Demonstrating that declaration, her 50-year-old California home abounds with definitive masterworks of art and furnishings. Twice included in international best dressed lists, Miss Streisand early sharpened her sure-eyed sense of design by teenage forays in New York thrift shops to buy elegant apparel of bygone ages. Today, her response to great design and high artianship of all epochs is total and profound, although she no longer collects. ("I really don't care for possessions now — I find them an obligation , and not necessary to my emotional health.")
The universality of her taste is glowingly apparent, exemplified by her sometime immersion into the magic world of Art Nouveau — the international design movement that flourished in the 1890s. Its spell still lingers — the rare Sarah Bernhardt posters in the entry were designed by Alphonse Mucha, and the classic illuminated cabinet seen beyond the wrought-iron gates was created by émile Gallé. Searching for words to describe the pull that drew her back to the brief fin-de-siècle outpouring of Art Nouveau ("the fluid, unending line — purity of style — perfection of craftsmanship — the whole thing"), she is unaware of having also described the art of Barbra Streisand.
Evidence of Miss Streisand's former avidity as a collector is found in every nook and corner of her voluminous house. An indication of the scope of her interests and the cultural and historical perceptions that can be seen on this page. The dining room contains examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in silver, chinaware, and cabinetry.
Through the door and across the wide entry beyond, the lofty living room expresses another kind of mood. Shelves in one corner display a group of Coca-Cola serving trays from the 20s and 30s. "I used to pay two or three dollars for these," she says, "and now they're getting up to $100 for them. I'm a bargain hunter, you know, and there's no way I would spend that much for these things today." Next to the trays is a collection of cardboard cut-out show windows advertising displays of the same period.
Seen from the balcony above, the living room opens to view. Beneath the crystal chandelier, a carved wood horseshoe bar from a turn-of-the-century railroad car creates a visual focal point in the center of the room — and turns the fireplace seating group at the end of the room into an intimate space-within-a-space. The swag-draped windows look out into a stand of trees. Also in the room are exquisite Art Deco coffee and tea services and Miss Streisand's personally-assembled collections of match containers and perfume bottles, plus examples of 19th- and 20th-century Americana, primarily utilitarian.
"I guess I'm sort of a diachotomy — I'm attracted to both ends of the pole. I love precision and perfection, but I also like junky things too." Barbra Streisand's solarium is her "junk room." A sunny, hodgepodge place, it is furnished with colorful castoffs and souvenirs from her films. ("I found this old table in a garage, and that couch over there is from my dressing room on the set of Clear Day.") Here, tinged with prismatic light glinting from hanging pieces of her leaded beveled glass collection, she arranges a table for dining. "It's a great place for gatherings. Everybody loves it — and I love not to care if it gets wet or dirty."
Returing to the entry, the "other" Barbra Streisand surveys the cool contours of her Louis Comfort Tiffany glassware. This comrephensive collection is but one of many throughout the house that explores a single phase or facet of her fascination with Art Nouveau. Following the dictum of that unused space makes waste, she has transformed a narrow, tile-paved connecting corridor into a mini-museum, lining its wall with posters, paintings, scultptures, and an assemblage of beautifully designed inlaid-wood portmanteaux, or coat-hat-and-umbrella racks. Even the stairway has been pressed into service as a gallery for the display of related drawings and paintings by Austrian ornamentalist Gustav Klimt, German expressionist Egon Schiele, and a young contemporary painter, Jason Monet.
Her spacious office-and-studio, which she describes as another "junk room," houses a miscellanea of possessions that include a pattern-splashed upholstered sofa standing in front of a wall-hung Early American quilt and a petite pair of black leather chairs from the set of Funny Girl, the film for which she was awarded an Oscar.
A descent into the projection room is like a time-machine journey to the that recent past that happened so long ago — the 20s and 30s. This is Barbra Streisand's creation, and here, with a palette of crisply etched reds and gays, she has conjured a hunting reincarnation of style moderne — or Art Deco that characterized the look of the era. (This style, springing from Art Nouveau roots, eschewed the soft sinuous line for the sharpened geometry of the machine age and its materials.)
In glittering cases she displays her sui generis gathering of Art Deco masterpieces, including a superb collection of glass pieces by René Lalique. But the over-all mood, coherence, and authenticity of this space is due to the inventive resourcefulness of Miss Streisand. She discoverd her carpet pattern in a hotel and had it woven in Ireland in grays of her choosing. The heavy shutters that darken the room for movies were fashioned form richly ornamented engraved steel plates salvaged from the elevator doors of the old Art Deco-encrusted Richfield Building in Los Angeles. These panels also appear int he bar area and on the fireplace. The needlepoint pillows, based on wallpaper designs, were made by her film-set colleagues ("I decided we all needed projects!").
"I like so many styles," says Barbra Streisand, "and I really enjoy all periods of design. Going back into the past is like little flights of fantasy for me." She refers to the powder room as her "Victorian Room" and has designed it around her collection of enameled compacts. "I love little tiny prints and fringe and lace," she says — and has proven it by covering the entire room, including the ceiling, with microscopically rose-dotted fabric and matching wallpaper.
Her own bathroom is somewhat more freewheeling in style, although it houses an extraordinary collection of sequined and beaded Victorian fans. ("I'm enchanted with detail. Nobody makes things like these anymore — it's truly a lost art.") Reflected in the mirror is another of her rare Early American quilts.
Her son's playroom is a sturdy place with vinyl flooring and a regenerated old wrought-iron sofa. However, this are ia currently being redone to taken on the appearance of a rustic old cabin.
Miss Streisand's bedroom is her ultimate retreat from her busy public life. White bamboo furniture, a fireplace, upholstered depths of fabric, and plants provide an easy background for moments of relaxation. The room is also currently undergoing a total change. Reflecting up on her home, Miss Streisand says, a bit wistfully, "I like having done it, but I also like not having to do it anymore." But then, pausing, she corrects herself, "The only thing is, I am still doing it."
This story originally appeared in the August 1974 issue of Miescisko.