All Is Calm for the Holidays in This Minimalist California Home

Natural touches and homemade accents sharpen the focus on simple pleasures in Milk and Honey Life's Karen Emile's Los Angeles holiday home.

Simple, rustic, and welcoming, Karen Emile's suburban Los Angeles home reflects her uncomplicated style—and her revamped approach to the holidays. "A few years ago, I was running around buying gifts until midnight like I had some quota to fill," she says. "I was wrapped up in things that take away from what the holidays are really about." Her solution: spend less time buying and more time being with family and friends focused on things that are easy, natural, and handmade.

family portrait standing on brick entry to home
Dominique Vorillon

Today the holidays unfold slowly and sweetly throughout Karen and husband Shawn's 1950s ranch home. When the calendar flips to December, Karen simmers cinnamon sticks in water daily to spice the air and begins her version of a popular holiday game, hiding a family of stuffed mice for sons Aiden, 15, and River, 4, and daughter Brooklyn, 9, to find. On Christmas Day, the kids get a new mouse, a tradition so anticipated it makes Brooklyn happy-cry. For decor, Karen turns to cedar wreaths and garlands, pine sprigs slipped in earthy vases, candles, and fresh fruits, plants, herbs, and flowers. Her passion for vintage finds—well-documented on Instagram (@milkandhoneylife)— appears in every room. The kids make no-frills ornaments from wood or clay, and kraft paper and fabric envelop gifts. The humble approach feels just right in the home's all-is-calm neutral setting. "I can't tell you how special it is to simplify and spend time making things together," Karen says. "That's the best gift of all."

rustic white and brown dining area
Dominique Vorillon

Karen and Shawn make the season special for Aiden, Brooklyn, and River with a simplified approach. Their holiday scheme starts with fresh garlands and greenery they already have, such as a potted olive tree moved from the patio to the dining room.

people baking in farmstyle kitchen
Dominique Vorillon

"Cakes are my love language," says Karen, who makes her signature rustic confections to give as gifts and to share at small gatherings she hosts throughout December. Hidden hooks put the side of the island Shawn built to clever use.

child hanging ornament on christmas tree in neutral tones living room
Dominique Vorillon

"My core colors never change, no matter what holiday it is," Karen says of her home's white, gray, and earthy brown palette. Low-fuss dried citrus rounds and a small collection of handmade ornaments let the tree's beauty shine. Gifts with handmade trimmings come out from under the tree for easy decor.

stone fireplace with wooden chairs and greenery decor
Dominique Vorillon

Drawn to its rugged beauty, Karen kept the original stone fireplace, located opposite the front door. A favorite vacation cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains inspired much of the home's design, including shelving Shawn built.

gifts wrapped under tree with dried citrus accents
Dominique Vorillon

Karen wraps gifts in humble muslin and linen fabrics—secured with safety pins and a twist or two of twine—and tops them with natural flourishes.

white clay christmas ornaments
Dominique Vorillon

The family spends an hour or two crafting white clay ornaments, adding designs via toothpick sketches, leaf impressions, and wood carvings, then letting them air-dry.

kid in wooden bunk bed with greenery garland
Dominique Vorillon

Shawn built Brooklyn's cabin inspired loft bed and desk from her own sketch. Light holiday touches include a simple cedar garland in the bedroom.

minimalist white bathroom with wood accents and pinecone decor
Dominique Vorillon

In the bathroom, another wintry scene painted by Aiden perches above the bathtub. His artwork and other pieces, have earned him clients on Instagram (@throughaidenseyes). Bleached pinecones adorn a raw scrap of wood that serves as an instant bath caddy.

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