Out Goes The Nouveau

ONE DAY YOU WAKE UP, TAKE A long look around the living room and decide that the old, familiar stuff looks ... just plain old. There's only one thing to do, really. Chuck it and start again. If you're a living legend like Barbra Streisand, you can't exactly bold a tag sale in your yard, especially when the yard is 24 primo acres in Malibu. When Streisand decided to unload her $4 million collection of art deco and art nouveau furniture and art, she called Christie's, the tony auction house. The vast cache goes on the block in New York this week, but don't expect bargains: a Cartier clock ($100,000 to $150,000), a 1926 Rolls-Royce ($50,000 to $60,000), a Lipchitz sculpture ($150,000 to $200,000).

Despite those prices, Streisand isn't in it for the money. After all, she just pulled in an estimated $20 million for two performances in Las Vegas. The 51-year-old singer/ actress/director/collector says she's selling her treasures-accumulated over more than 30 years-because she wants to simplify her life. As she explains in the catalog, "I want only two houses, rather than seven ... I feel like letting go of things."

In her new low-key life, she's keeping her Beverly Hills abode and her New York apartment. She has already donated the Malibu property and the five houses on it, to a nature conservancy. (It's hard to imagine what the new owners will make of the guest house that Streisand spent five years transforming into an art deco showcase, so perfectly color coordinated that even the family photos matched.)

Streisand began prowling secondhand stores in Manhattan in the early 1960s, when she fell in love with 1920s clothes and jewelry. Later, she started buying antiques from the best dealers in New York and Paris. She came up with some winners. A Tiffany lamp she bought for $55,000 in 1979 is estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1 million. But the majority of pieces, while good, are not masterworks. Not that fans care. The cachet of owning something of Streisand's is all that matters.

That's as close as they'll get; Streisand will be a no-show at the auction. She's embarking on a different esthetic adventure. While visiting pals Bill and Hillary in Washington, she fell in love with 18th-century American furniture. "She feels it's very patriotic," explains Nancy McClelland, the Christie's director who organized the auction. Hey, if it's good enough for the White House, it's good enough for Barbra.

Join the Discussion