You’ve seen the “tiny house” trend, but you’ve never seen it like this. Whitney Leigh Morris, a creative director and designer, moved to her Tiny Canal Cottage with her husband six years ago. Since then, they’ve had a son and their home has evolved (including two adorable pups), but their love for each other and their tiny 362 square foot space has never changed. Today, Whitney shares with us her style secrets, her favorite spots in her hometown, and her guiltiest pleasure!
Name: Whitney Leigh Morris, Creative Director
Square Footage: 362
City: Venice (Los Angeles), CA
Small spaces aren’t necessarily just stepping stones on your way to larger lodgings. You can find fulfillment and happiness in a tiny home.
You’ve built a brand and career around creative living, especially in small spaces. What drew you to focus on this for your career?
I never planned or expected to create a business in this field. To be completely honest, I always thought of home-oriented lifestyle brands as antiquated. In my mind, the concept of homemaking sparked visuals from the Stepford Wives. But after hosting a dozen friends at a casual dinner party in my previous residence (a 250 sq ft studio on the beach), I wondered: why have I never seen anything about how to host guests in this style of space and manner? Can’t we work full-time, live in urban apartments/houses, enjoy meals with our guests (even if we don’t cook), and find ways to make our modern lifestyles work via creative means without feeling like social or economic failures? Adam and I moved to the Cottage six years ago, and it was then that I realized there was indeed a market for small-space lifestyle content. When it comes to their homes, so many people are interested in function, creativity, and simplicity, rather than luxury.
You design for high-profile clients all the time, and your work and home are often featured in various popular news outlets. How does that pressure play into your daily life?
I don’t actually feel too much pressure, and I’m so grateful for my clients, as well as the coverage my work has received. It’s not easy to run a small business on your own, and all the lovely publicity really helps. But I also still feel like a very small fish. I’m surrounded by incredible business women (actors, writers, designers, artists, producers, etc.) who are extremely accomplished and have significantly more notoriety than I do. If ever I feel needless external pressure, I just put my situation into perspective and shut that insecurity down. It also helps that I’ve stopped reading the comments on editorial coverage of my home and work. While most comments are kind and supportive, there are always some harsh critics out there. So I simply eliminated that negativity from my life. I want to focus my energy on work, friends, family, and social equality. I choose to surround myself with love.
The Tiny Canal Cottage is a 362 square foot cottage in Venice Beach, California. How did you find it, and what drew you to it?
Believe it or not, we found our home on Craigslist after visiting dozens of other properties. The moment Adam and I stepped through the front doors of the Cottage, we knew it would be perfect for us. The windows, doors, and skylights enable us to better enjoy the beauty of southern California. Plus, we’re only steps away from the canals, and mere minutes from the beach and several of my clients.
Downsizing our possessions was the first step to making the cottage work for us.
Once the cottage was yours, what was the first step?
Downsizing our possessions was the first step to making the cottage work for us. This is our first home together, so we consolidated our belongings and donated the excess. Adam had a storage unit, and I had boxes of things leftover from a previous relationship and living situation, so we went through all of those items and got rid of the majority of them. Everything we own is right here. In fact, we actually have FAR less now (even after having baby West) than we did when we first moved in. It’s liberating.
You and your husband, Adam, have lived in the Tiny Canal Cottage since 2011. How has the space evolved since you moved in?
When we first moved it, we didn’t decorate at all. At the time, we were so focused on each other (this was our first home together) and on our community that we just left the Cottage half-finished for about a year. As it turns out, this was a handy way for us to really get to know the space, and how we use it. When we finally got around to decorating our home, we knew exactly what we wanted and why. I think that’s why our main pieces haven’t changed since then. Everything was chosen so deliberately. Of course, we’ve come up with some clever space-saving hacks since then… and we converted our closet into a nursery last year!
You and Adam recently added a new member to the family! Congratulations! Your son, West, was born in late September. How has your new addition impacted your small living situation? Does he make you want to upsize at all?
It feels like baby West has been here all along! We haven’t wanted to upsize in the slightest — our space is so manageable as it is. And in all honesty, we own less now (and thus have more space and time) than ever before. The birth of our son provided us with a new perspective on what is truly important to us. As such, it’s been easier than ever to part with objects and clutter, making way for new experiences with our youngest family member.
Your family is also home to two rescue beagles, Stanlee and Sophee. What’s your best advice when it comes to rescuing pets, and how did your pets impact the design of your space?
Stanlee is my best friend, and his crazy little sister Sophee is the most cuddly and loving menace ever. I cannot imagine my days without them. It’s hard to put into words, but everything in our home is decorated with all of us in mind, including the pups. My recommendation to anyone adopting a pet is to please be patient, and be willing to sacrifice a thing or two for the sake of your rescue pet. For example, Stanlee sheds INSANE amounts of hair. Our home and clothes are covered in it, no matter what we do. But he is one of the main joys of my life. If I had turned him away at the start due to his shedding, I would’ve never experienced the years of magnificent happiness that his companionship has given me. Just like us, our pets only get one life. What an exceptional gift we can give them by adopting — and if we offer them the chance, they spend the rest of their days thanking us with boundless love and loyalty… even if there are a few hiccups along the way.
Which area of the Tiny Canal Cottage needed the most work when you moved in, and how did you remedy that? Walk us through the process of making the space your own.
The kitchen needs the most work, and I’ve still haven’t gotten around to it! I hope to finally tackle it this year. We’ve really tried to make our outdoor spaces functional and beautiful. We re-landscaped, retrained vines and crawling greenery, replaced pavers, added lounge and dining furniture, and created ambiance via functional accessories like hanging lanterns and café lights. Now we use our garden as much as we use the interior of the Cottage, which basically doubles our living space.
Your home also functions as your office. What’s your best advice for maximizing the potential of a home office? How do you stay motivated while working from home?
I’ve worked from home for a decade — I can’t imagine it any other way! It helps that some of my clients are based in Europe and on the east coast. As such, I frequently have to wake up early to participate in video conferences. This means that I am motivated to get out of bed, get dressed, and become focused on work. I love it!
Regarding space in a small home office: Thanks to the capabilities of our latest gadgets, most of us no longer need dedicated offices and clunky machinery in order to properly do our jobs. I should note that nearly all of my business work is done digitally, so I don’t require hundreds of materials and tools. Having said that, I do store craft supplies, a printer, a scanner, my business documents and standard materials, chords and tech accessories, reference materials, and other such office items my tiny home office. I wrote a full blog post on it here.
What’s your favorite space within the Tiny Canal Cottage? What did it look like when you moved in, and what’s it like now?
The bed, for sure. When we first moved in, the built-in bookshelf around the headboard was filled with our colorful books and objects. But the dozens of spine colors brought the walls inward, and made the bed feel a bit chaotic. And the objects threatened to fall on us with every minor earthquake.
You don’t have to live large to live beautifully.
By flipping select book jackets inside-out and writing their titles on their spines, and by removing the pointless tchotchkes, we made the space feel soothing, simple, and peaceful. It’s a place where we can relax as a family, and not be distracted by external buzz.
Alone time is important, but can be hard to get in such a small space! Do you and Adam have a system to get some alone time apart from each other?
As small as our house is, Adam and I agree that it’s never felt too small. I’m being completely honest when I say that we rarely need separation from each other — in fact, we feel like the cottage has helped strengthen our partnership in ways we never anticipated. But we do spend a lot of time apart — Adam doesn’t work from home, whereas I do. Having said that, one of us is always happy to take a long walk with the baby and pups if the other needs some solo time. And even though our home only has three rooms, we sometimes spend hours on the property together without crossing paths.
If someone told you they were considering downsizing to a home similar to yours, what would you suggest? Do you recommend taking on this project? What advice do you have for someone interested in living beautifully without living large?
I challenge anyone who is thinking of downsizing to take the plunge! There’s remarkable joy in the mindful curation of your belongings, and in divesting the weight of the unnecessary.
But start slowly — don’t overwhelm yourself. First, stop bringing new items into your home. Or, for every new item you buy, give three away in its place. Ask yourself how you will use the new item, and how often. And be sure you know where it will be stored when it’s not in use.
Create a dedicated giveaway box, add items to it daily, and make weekly or bi-weekly trips to your local donation center. From there, find organizational tools and solutions that help you best access and enjoy the belongings you choose to keep. And when in doubt, JUST GET RID OF IT.
How has the Tiny Canal Cottage impacted your life? What’s the biggest takeaway from your story?
I hope that the primary takeaway from our home is that you don’t have to live large to live beautifully. Small spaces aren’t necessarily just stepping stones on your way to larger lodgings. You can find fulfillment and happiness in a tiny home.
What are your favorite places to shop for home decor?
Locally I enjoy the Mart Collective thrift shop for decor. For plants, I love shopping at Rolling Greens. And my primary resource for functional decor is always Etsy.
Do you rotate out decor often or stick with the same pieces for an extended period?
I switch up our florals every week. This helps the space look and feel slightly different on a regular basis at a low cost. It also helps us keep our belongings to a minimum— we are happy with what we have, and so we enjoy our pieces for years.
What are some of your favorite spots in Venice?
Thrifting = The Mart Collective + Venice Vintage Paradise
Breakfast = The Butcher’s Daughter
Strolling = The walk streets behind Abbot Kinney
Architecture and Landscaping = The Canals
Groceries = Erewhon
Biking = The beach bike path during both early dawn and sunset
Airbnb = Craftsman Mini-Me
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Be kinder to yourself. Particularly when it comes to work, and your appearance.
Whitney Leigh Morris is The Everymom…
I’ll take a plain drip coffee by Vittoria!
Favorite vacation spot?
Belcastel (Aveyron, France)
Margaritas. (All. The. Margaritas.)
If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and why?
Julie Taymor. I have tremendous respect for her creativity and backbone. She is an incredible maker, and has navigated a diverse and successful business career in the arts while experiencing huge public successes and failures. Her mind and hands are filled with absolute magic.