By Todd Coastal
What doesn't Barbra Streisand like? Gardens that clash with her sofa fabrics. Imagine you were sitting in her den in Malibu -- its Stickley furniture upholstered in rose-colored velvet -- 'and looked out the window and saw orange flowers,' Streisand asked, appalled.
What else doesn't Barbra Streisand like? Sex between men. At least according to Larry Kramer, who says part of the reason Streisand never made a film of his play The Normal Heart (after tying up the rights for years) was her reluctance to film its gay sex scenes. At one point, he brought her a book of art photographs of men making love to give her an idea of what he had in mind. When he handed it to her, he says, 'She opens it up, takes one look, and goes, 'Feh,' and throws it on the floor.'
After she and Kramer parted ways, Streisand turned to pimping out her Malibu estate. 'My passion had to be redirected,' she says, explaining the genesis of a series of new outbuildings, including a millhouse complete with a working waterwheel, on the oceanfront property. The millpond, naturally, depends on filtration equipment, which is stored in a storm cellar that could be derived from The Wizard of Oz. Then there's Streisand's office, in a small building that her husband, James Brolin, labeled 'Grandma's house,' and a barn containing, among other necessities, a basement street of shops -- a kind of underground Rodeo Drive -- built around doors she found while shooting Meet the Fockers. 'They had fabulous doors on the set,' Streisand recalls, 'so I said, 'What are you going to do with the doors after the picture's over?' They said, 'We dump them -- we break them up.' I said, 'No, no, no! I'll take them!''
So hands-on was Streisand that for much of the last decade, she says, 'I was hoarse from screaming over the saws and drills.' She fired architects for offenses like specifying Douglas fir for the New England'style barn. 'Douglas fir is a Western wood. You need an Eastern wood,' she says. And she soured on a series of contractors, one of whom said he could build her millhouse in three months, but instead took a year and three months. The problem, Streisand complained, 'was that he only sent me two men.' Another contractor, Streisand recalls indignantly, asked, 'Can you just give us the plans and leave?'
Streisand traces her house hunger to a dismal childhood in Brooklyn. Back then, she says, her family couldn't even afford a couch. She socialized on stiff-backed dining chairs and played under the table; her 'doll' was a hot water bottle. Anemic at age 6, she was sent to a health camp, where children were soaked in disinfectant and dressed in identical uniforms -- with only their sweaters to distinguish them. 'And I had a burgundy sweater.' That, she says, may explain a lifelong love of red upholstery.
Now that the buildings are done, Streisand has written a book about the project, called My Passion for Design (Viking Adult), out in November. But her gay admirers might have preferred a movie about the early days of the AIDS crisis. And if her distaste for the sex scenes was part of the reason she never made the film, Kramer isn't sympathetic. 'As a woman with a gay son,' he pronounces, 'she should know better.'