Aunt Gladysí generosity is bountiful. You have inherited a lovely
(in her opinion) armoire and she canít wait to see it in your home.
Yikes! What can you do with that "white elephant" and still
have some sense of style in your house?
Three Milwaukee area interior designers
say there are ways to work with the predicament that will make both
you and Aunt Gladys happy.
"You can make the room work with
it," says Merri Cvetan of Lise Lawson Interiors, Fox Point.
"You can make it a focal point ó a conversation piece ó and
really play it up."
Worked into the room, says Camilla
Avery of Camillaís Interior Design, Milwaukee, it can become
"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 with Swan Interiors, Wauwatosa, suggests embracing it
"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
But, if you prefer to minimize the
piece, there are successful ways to do that, too.
"If itís a stationary piece,
perhaps it can be painted to match the walls so that it Ďdisappears,í"
Cvetan suggests. "Or you can create a focal point in the room
away from that piece that will downplay its importance. You can also
place it on a wall where you donít have to see it when you walk
She also recommends that by creating an
interesting display of items with great presence in or on the piece,
you can minimize the visual impact of the white elephant.
"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
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.
The designers say they find that
inherited pieces arenít the usual source of decorating dilemmas.
"What I run into more often,"
shares Cvetan, "is a husband and wife with very different tastes.
He has something that he wants displayed and sheís not happy about
it. Often, itís related to a hunting or fishing hobby ó the deer
head or the stuffed bear or the mounted fish."
She suggests keeping all the related
items together in one room, rather than spreading them throughout the
house. "Then they really make a bigger impact and work together
much better. It works well if you say, ĎHoney, you can have the
family room, but I get the rest of the house,í" she says with a
Another thought she offers is
"recycling" items for the various seasons.
"Perhaps the hunting items are
displayed in the fall during hunting season and then put away when itís
time to decorate for Christmas," offers Cvetan.
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. "It can be rather boring if everything in the room all
matches," Cvetan says. "The mix of old and new, contemporary
and antique, painted and stained makes it more interesting."