With Boughs of Cedar

Christmas is all about tradition. Except when it happens in a rancher-style home in Rancho Santa Fe, ten minutes from the southern California coast. Then, it’s all about tradition — with a healthy dose of chic, modern style thrown in for good measure.

“I’m extremely influenced by history,” says Leanne Michael, principal of Leanne Michael L U X E Lifestyle design. “I try to design with things that are timeless and classic, and can be used year after year after year,” all of which explains the designer’s penchant for holiday work — something she’s been doing for clients for over 20 years.

Fitting a sense of history and tradition into this client’s distinctly modern layout, however, was a bit more of a challenge. So instead of looking to the spirit of Christmas past, Michael took inspiration from the owners’ second home in Montana. “I wanted [the design] to feel a little more mountain-esque, but not fight with the architecture of the home,” she says. “I thought: maybe I can blend the two together, and give them that Montana-type of Christmas in a modern home.”

Take a look at the rooms, and you’re struck by how cohesive the design is: a sense of whimsical holiday imagination comes together with the home’s existing decor in a way that’s playful and sophisticated at the same time.

A big part of the success is the design’s antique metallic palette: silver and gold, with accents of brown and persimmon to complement the existing colour scheme of the house. “It’s such a simple, lovely, classic palette,” Michael says. “And it’s something they can always add to. So it’s an ever-growing process, which is quite nice, but it doesn’t take away from the decor of the room.”

The architecture of the home was not without its challenges — particularly in the large family room, with its high ceilings and large fireplace. “To make something that big and that vast cozy, it’s definitely a challenge,” says Michael. “How was I going to bring those soffits alive, because it’s a lot of negative space.”

The solution: a design with a distinctly narrative feel, much like you’d see in a storefront window: fresh cedar boughs evoke holiday memories; delicately wrapped presents seem to beg for a child to unwrap them; taxidermied geese seem ready to fly around the tree. “I [treated] it almost as if I were displaying in a commercial property,” Michael says. “I did little stories above. They’re all little vignettes — [giving] a Christmas woodland type of feeling.”

At the centre of those stories stands the tree: in this case, a 23-foot-high noble fir (fresh, not artificial), elegantly decorated with crisp ribbon and dozens of silver mercury glass ornaments. “Please don’t ask me how many lights were on it — because I don’t remember — but it’s a lot!” Michael says. “We had to add extra amps so that we could have a tree that’s not going to blow up the house.”

Other rooms are more subtly decorated — a ribbon-laced garland here, a hand-crafted wreath there — in order not to detract from the family room. And there, above the massive seven-foot fireplace in the formal living room, the item that encapsulates Michael’s entire approach, the perfect example of the blend of traditional style and modern panache that defines the design: the peacock perched on the gilded mirror.

“He was our mascot for quite a number of years,” Michael says. “Once we put him up on that mirror, it just made that room come alive. He’s just the star — he really is.”


Written by James Dolan   Translated by Rui Chen   Produced by Brett Price   Photos by Gail Owens Photography