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Is there an elephant 
in the room?
Designers say you can 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. 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 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 with 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 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 in."

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 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.

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 laugh.

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."