The Emile Family in Woodland Hills Renovates Their Own Home
DIY on steroids.
Written byDakota Kim
Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Touring Karen and Shawn Emile’s home and hearing their detailed commentary on the how-to, one can’t help but envision them as hosts of an HGTV show. Though their home’s vibe is the definition of relaxed, the couple are masters of ambitious DIY projects. Their Charles DuBois-designed mid-century Woodland Hills ranch home emanates a soft, minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic, but its tranquil aura belies the elbow grease and ingenuity invested into it.
Karen says the ranch home “had good bones” when they bought it in 2019. She was instantly attracted to the raw fireplaces, wood beams and high ceilings, but the space required several adjustments. At 2,000 square feet, it felt cozy, but the couple wanted an open-plan design where they could keep eyes on their three kids—especially 3-year-old River—from the common areas. That required removing a large wall with a pocket door that divided the kitchen and the dining room.
“That was a big project but, along with a helper, I knew I could do it. You can learn pretty much everything on YouTube,” says Shawn, a commercial real estate banker.
Shawn also raised their 8-foot ceilings in the living area to 13 feet, following the interior roof line, and replaced a pass-through with a pantry in the kitchen, as well as various windows and doors. Single-socket pendant Edison lights were installed in the kitchen along with minimalist industrial light in the dining area. Trim was added to the bedrooms, and then the couple began designing custom woodwork to fit the home’s nooks and crannies.
Both the master bathroom and the kids’ bathroom were gut-renovated. In the children’s Jack and Jill bathroom, they installed vintage double-trough sinks. In the adults’ bathroom, the Emiles added a vintage-look bathtub, a brick marble shower, rustic wood shelves and antique brass fixtures to warm up the space.
“A lot of people who buy these DuBois homes go very modern,” Karen says. “I spun it and did more of a ranch style, adding natural tones and a lot of pine in our buildouts. I like to preserve what’s already there and work with what we have.”
The color scheme throughout the home is pleasingly Zen, maintaining warmth without succumbing to sterility. Only a few hues were chosen—white, coffee, gray and warm brown. The white walls in the main areas are offset by warmer tones, like the shades of coffee from the cupboard in the living room, or the deep brown of a brasserie chair at the dining table. In the children’s bedrooms, the Emiles chose a peppered, textured white. Karen is a big fan of milky white, so much so that she named her Instagram account @milkandhoneylife, noting that the honey refers to “the sweetness that my husband, Shawn, brings to our lives.”
“I pull in the tones from other things—a lot of items are vintage and have a natural patina already that brings in warmth,” Karen says.
Karen had a long career in real estate and mortgage banking before becoming a full-time mom. She enjoys the process of collecting, and visibly brightens when she hears the phrase “flea market.” Her home is swathed in her brilliant finds from the Rose Bowl and Long Beach flea markets—from the antler chandelier in her living room to the candle holders and plates in the kitchen.
Shawn made the center island island to shelter the Emiles’ pots and pans as well as their unique, often vintage ceramic dishes.
Shawn brings to reality not only Karen’s, but also their daughter Brooklyn’s, furniture designs. The 8-year-old sketched her dream loft bed for her room, complete with a fort-like nook for her desk, and her dad made it happen.
Without using any computerized design tools, the couple works together in an intuitive process to design their wide array of custom wood furniture. “We just get each other,” she says. Shawn, in true minimalist Scandinavian style, then uses only a dozen woodworking tools to bring designs to fruition, mostly in pine wood.
For decor, the Emiles rely upon vintage ceramics like the one-of-a-kind pitchers and bowls placed on a leaning shelf in the dining room, the occasional minimalist plant artfully placed in a earth-hued vase, and the artwork of their 14-year-old son Aiden, a nascent painter who’s already received plaudits from Amber Interiors in Calabasas and according to Karen has a “wait list of 150 people” for commissioned works.
“Aiden has been sketching since he was 7; however, the painting came about during COVID, when he needed an outlet,” Karen says. “He told me, ‘I’m going to teach myself how to paint.’ I didn’t realize at the time that it would be such a natural thing for him.”
Whatever her family does, they do it together. “We are a sit-down family and we have breakfast and dinner together every single day at the dining table my husband built,” she says. On hot days, the backyard—which Karen says is “the only part of the property that we haven’t touched yet”—provides a canopied haven, resting against a hillside and featuring a pool and a hammock. “That’s our next project,” she says.