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The white elephant
Embrace the beast in your decorating scheme 
or design around it to minimize its impact


Great Aunt Gladysí generosity is bountiful. You have inherited a lovely (in her opinion) armoire and she canít wait to see it in your home.


What can you do with that "white elephant" and still have some sense of style in your home?

Three Milwaukee area interior designers say there are ways to work with the predicament that will make both you and Aunt Gladys happy.

Worked into the room, says Camilla Avery of Camillaís Interior Design, Milwaukee, it can become something special.

"Iíve had people come to me with items that they say ĎI just really donít like this,í but we find a home for it and work with it in the design," she says.

If itís an especially large piece that is going to command attention regardless of your intent, Sarah Steltenpohl of Swan Interiors, Wauwatosa, suggests embracing it wholeheartedly.

"A lot of times when we have a white elephant we want to act as if itís not there. But, if itís going to be the focal point, if you give it a lot of power, it will have power," she explains. And, thus, it wonít feel like it doesnít belong.

But, if you prefer to minimize the piece, there are successful ways to do that, too.

"If itís not going to go away, you can make it lesser in power," Steltenpohl suggests. "You can draw attention away from it, keeping the scale of the piece in mind."

Avery recommends looking at the function of the piece. For example, if itís a piano, create focus to draw the eye to the person playing it rather than the object itself.

Avery says even the shape of the room can become the white elephant for the decorator. "When people design a home, they think of things like windows and fireplaces, but forget about something like the entertainment center. That item then might become the albatross thatís difficult to work with."

But, Steltenpohl says, thereís always the hope that the white elephant item will reveal itself as such when the room is decorated. "Usually it becomes obvious that the piece doesnít work and it will eventually be moved to a lesser area of the home," she says. Sometimes Aunt Gladys might be the one to suggest moving it.

But, the decorators say, know that embracing or diminishing the power of the item is your choice.

And that unique piece can be something that really does make your room special.