Whitney Leigh Morris
Whitney Leigh Morris’s less than 400 square foot small-scale home may be limited, however, her life inside is anything but. Tucked away in a charming Tiny Canal Cottage with an adoring husband, beautiful two-year-old son, and two playful rescue beagles, Whitney’s days spent on the historic Venice Canals are what dreams of Southern California living are all about.
On The Tiny Canal Cottage…
How did The Tiny Canal Cottage blog come to fruition?
I was actually fairly reluctant to start TinyCanalCottage.com, knowing how saturated the digital market is, and how much work a quality blog requires. But eventually the demand became too loud for me to ignore, and I accepted that I would be passing up on an opportunity if I continued to put off (or dial-in) the site. It turned out to be a good move— the blog and its corresponding Instagram account have since overtaken my creative firm as our family’s primary revenue stream, and it is by far my greatest source of professional joy.
Tiny Cottage living began 7 years ago for you, your husband, and one of your adorable rescue dogs. Since then, you’ve added two members to the team – baby West and another pup! What was the secret to transitioning the space as your family grew?
Our tiny home is filled with built-ins, so there’s not a lot we can change, which is something I love. It reminds us to live more sustainably, and inspires us to tackle our everyday needs with fresh creativity, rather than defaulting to pulling out our wallets for a solution. When it comes to accommodating our growing family, the aforementioned has helped hugely. It’s like the house itself trained us to adapt (and to do so with genuine delight), rather than seek a bigger space. A notable part of this process is letting go of items we no longer need by donating them to the most suitable outlets. We think of this as making room for new adventures, rather than saying goodbye to beloved artifacts. The memories (and photos) are what we’ll cherish— not the physical goods.
Did you passion for interiors come on pre- or post-tiny cottage?
I’ve long been fascinated by how people navigate spaces— analyzing the zones that are often neglected, as well as the ones that experience the most traffic and why. That fascination has permeated my work for years. But my appreciation (and, frankly, borderline OCD) for interiors is predominantly post-Cottage.
Do you ever feel like you’ll have to upsize…if even in a “tiny” way?
I wouldn’t say that I feel the need to “upsize” specifically— we actually have more spare space within our home now as a family of 5 than we first did as a family of 3. But there are a few features our home is lacking that I’d love to have, such as a fireplace and bathtub. But I don’t dwell on this— we can enjoy those features by visiting friends and family. We’re living in an era where our profound damage to the Earth is undeniable, and tiny living can help reduce our detrimental footprints. So rather than focusing on sizing up, we’re still looking for ways in which we can continue to downsize our consumer practices.
You mention in your blog that tiny living “is not figuring out how to Tetris a life’s worth of stuff into limited square footage. It’s about understanding what you truly need — and don’t need— in order to live comfortably and contentedly, day by day.” Do you have any rules you live by to support your decision on what to toss or keep?
My number one rule is to stop the incoming flow of unnecessary stuff. Learning how to pivot out of a disposable mindset and fight the insatiable consumer habits that have been programmed into so many of us is the first step. Once you’ve stopped the flood, you can tackle the damage, and start to evaluate what you own, and why. If we have items we don’t need, we find an individual or organization that needs it. (Please do not just toss things into the trash while de-cluttering, if you can help it. That solves no problems, as the overflowing waste on this planet is our shared responsibility.)
You have a book launching in a few short days – congrats!! What inspired you to write a book?
Thank you! It was never on my bucket-list to write a book. But, like with almost anything worthwhile, it was human connection that drew me to accept this endeavor. I fell in love with the mind and grace of the then-editor, and was excited about the opportunity to work with so many female creatives to produce this project. Plus, I believe that even if “tiny house” living fades out of the public eye, “small space” living will only become increasingly relevant as our population continues to spike and climate change pushes people together to share precious, livable land.
Can you give us a brief description of your book Small Space Style: Because You Don’t Need to Live Large to Live Beautifully?
My intention is for Small Space Style to help folks as they embark upon their own journey into the world of small-space living. I hope that the book’s pages provide readers with ideas for crafting a tiny space that feels infinitely beautiful, inspiring and welcoming for themselves and their loved ones. The book features 200+ tips for making the most of a little home, with chapters centered around the essentials— living, sleeping, eating, and bathing. It offers imagery from our home as well as others, and is brilliantly illustrated by Magdalena Zolnierowicz. For readers that don’t live in a tiny space, does your book offer other décor tips that can be used universally? Absolutely. My secondary goal was to offer work-arounds to traditional storage solutions, focusing more on upcycling items, reducing our dependency on new plastics, and opening our minds to creative and beautiful home goods that we might have otherwise not considered.
You are inspiringly eco-conscious. Do you have any advice, or starters, for readers that want to be more eco-conscious, but don’t know where to begin?
I’m still very much a work in progress on this topic— it’s astonishing and heartbreaking how reliant we’ve become on wasteful goods and practices! But for folks who are looking for an easy way to start thinking greener, I certainly have a few suggestions! For individuals, start by bringing your own reusable water bottles, utensils and totes with you. It’s easy, responsible, and it will save you money, too. For new parents, please consider cloth diapers! They don’t actually require tons more laundry, there are work-arounds for dealing with the less appealing realities of diaper changes, and they prevent SO MUCH waste— from the actual water and materials it takes to manufacture diapers, to transport packaging and fuel, to the trash they create once used. For homes, eco-friendly goods are usually actually so much more attractive, and take up LESS space. I’ve offered many suggestions lately on my blog.
How did you and your husband meet?
Adam and I were first connected by a mutual friend via Facebook, back when we both still used that network and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. We met face-to-face by chance one day when we happened to be having brunch at the same restaurant, and realized it as we were texting one another during the meal. I will never, ever forget seeing Adam for the first time. I knew my life was about to change— and 6 months later, we moved into our tiny cottage together, along with my wonderful dog, StanLee.
How do you find “me” time living in such close quarters?
Luckily neither Adam or I seem to crave tons of time away from the family. (This is remarkable, we think, since all 5 of us are in our tiny home together 7 days a week.) But we find our outlets! We’ll occasionally go out without the other, and oftentimes in the morning we divide-and-conquer, with one of us on pet duty and the other on an adventure with West. We just do whatever feels natural and necessary at the time, and thus far it’s worked out well for us.
Baby West just turned two! What has been the best part of motherhood thus far?
I am just so deeply grateful. West is healthy, happy, curious, and sweet. He dazzles me daily by simply being who he is. I thank the universe every moment of the day for this incredible human, and I strive to provide the best for him by showering him with love, and working to repair the planet for his generation.
How are West and StanLee & Sophee (the rescue dogs) at sharing space in the Tiny Cottage?
They’re hilarious together— always barking/shouting side-by-side, running through the garden at each other’s heels, and climbing on top of one another in the house. When one of them wanders elsewhere, the other two follow close behind. If we lived in 10,000 square-feet, I’m pretty sure they’d still end up within inches of each other.
How has their connection grown as West grows?
When the pups return home from a walk without West, they immediately run to find him. And when West gets back from an adventure, he looks everywhere for the dogs. They’ve gone from a protective yet independent state to an overlapping one, operating in tandem with each other. It’s the best.
You play a significant role in the Venice community, taking part in groups such as the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Venice Canals Association, and Abbot Kinney Merchants Association. Do you have a favorite activity, event or non-profit that you like to engage in?
My favorite community activity is the annual Venice Canals Boat parade in December. Neighbors decorate their homes, boats and the footbridges for the holidays, and we all celebrate together during a Sunday sunset. The non-profit that is closest to my heart, though not in Venice, is The RightWay Foundation, which supports emancipated foster by helping with employment services, mental health resources, and more.
Do you have any spots that you consider Venice’s “best kept secrets”?
I do. … But they’re a secret.
Your blog features a beautiful travel section. Where are your top three favorite places to visit that are driving distance from LA?
When it’s snowing, Idyllwild. When it’s sunny, Big Sur (although that’s a haul). When it’s cooler, Joshua Tree National Park.
Top three places internationally?
There are so many places I want to go— for example, I’ve never been to Norway, Puglia in Italy, Spain or Bali. I love visiting Belcastel in the Aveyron department of France, the Greek Archipelago, and any Cotswolds-esque villages in the UK.
Do you have any upcoming trips planned? Or anywhere you’re looking forward to planning in the future?
We’re headed back to France in 2019, which I’m of course excited about. But I’m aching to take a trip to the Netherlands as soon as possible.
On the holidays…
With the holidays approaching, schedules are starting to fill up. What are your favorite gifts to take to a dinner/party host?
Freshly baked bread wrapped in a reusable linen tea-towel, along with homemade preserves from the Cottage grapevine.
What are you holiday plans?
There’s no place like home! We’ll be cozy in the Cottage, and welcoming some groups of family throughout the month of December.
Do you have any holiday traditions?
The winter boat parade on the canals is something we never, ever miss.
Any tips for entertaining in small spaces?
Don’t forget to dedicate a space for your guests’ belongings. You don’t want your visitors to feel like they have to carry their bags and coats around, but you also don’t want those items eating up precious surfaces or seating.
Any favorite holiday recipes?
Sadly, no. I’m probably the world’s worst cook. Luckily Adam is amazing in the kitchen.
Describe your style in one sentence.
Ever-changing: I have very few pieces of clothing, but keep them diverse enough so I can dress boho, preppy, minimalist, or mod on any given day.
What is your holiday styling must-have to take you from holiday fetes to every day occasions?
I think it’s all about the shoes here! It’s remarkable how dramatically an outfit can shift when paired with flats vs over-the-knee boots vs heels. (This also comes into play if we’re walking vs biking vs driving to events.)
What are your favorite pieces to accessorize with as temperatures start to drop?
I’m a sucker for a versatile scarf! When not in use, it can be a beautiful way to dress the back of a chair or a hook on the wall, and when in use it can be worn in a myriad of ways. Living in a small space has made me appreciate versatility in ALL sorts of designs, and a quality scarf is the ultimate chameleon.
Do you prefer dressed up or dressed down for Thanksgiving?
Dressed down. For me, this holiday is all about connecting with others. The last thing I want to be thinking about is my outfit. When I’m comfortable in my clothes, I can be that much more present and focused when spending time with friends and family.
Where do you find style inspiration?
I’m inspired by strong women— those who aren’t afraid to stand up with and for others, those who listen to and learn from marginalized communities, and those who speak out for human rights and environmental causes. When a woman can embrace her body and style with respect, while simultaneously supporting and bolstering others, speaking her mind, and sharing her heart, it’s extremely powerful and inspiring to me. As such, I’m drawn to numerous individuals and their tastes.
Best piece of advice you ever received or would give?
A friend of mine who is often in the public eye recently said to me, “… well, you don’t know until you know.” This is so simple and very true. Growth comes with educated risks, listening to others, learning from our mistakes, and, ultimately, sharing our successes with others.
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