As someone who lives in a 600-square-foot home, I can attest that most small-space design tips out there are woefully unrealistic. The amount of times I’ve searched “how to store a vacuum in an apartment with no closets” and come up empty is shocking. And then, I found Whitney Leigh Morris.

Whitney’s Tiny Canal Cottage in Venice is home to her husband Adam, three-year-old son West, and two beagles and her business – all in under 400 square feet.

Her blog and Instagram are full of exactly the type of home content those of us small-space dwellers are searching for, and they feel like a breath of fresh air to design lovers of all stripes. (And yes, she does share how she stores her vacuum.) From tips on decluttering (hint: don’t shop) to making more eco-friendly choices, today she’s gives us a peek into how living in such a small space has allowed her to lead a very full life. Get ready to take notes.

all photos by whitney leigh morris

When did you decide to start downsizing?

Twelve years ago I went through a major breakup. At the time, I was living in a large apartment in North Carolina. I packed everything I needed in my lil’ Honda Fit, leaving plenty of room for myself, my dog StanLee, and a close friend who accompanied me on the drive across country to California. I moved into a tiny studio apartment and was so content with just my necessities, my pup and my view of the Pacific. Since then, I’ve never had the desire to return to a larger residence.

How did you find your Tiny Canal Cottage?

I discovered it on Craigslist about 9 years ago. At the time, I’d probably visited 20 or so other properties, but the instant that Adam and I stepped onto the front stoop, we knew this was the place for us. We then got married on that same stoop 5 years later…

How did you make the home your own? 

The Cottage has been my full-time office since we moved in. Spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in/around the same place will make it your own REAL quick. But I will say that we took our time when decorating and renovating so we could truly understand what we actually needed from the space.

Describe your interiors style.

Simple, (multi)functional, and inspired by nature.

What has been the biggest challenge of living in such a small space?

It’s tough enough to juggle the realities of a live/work space regardless of square footage. Narrow the structure down to under 400 square feet and it becomes even more of a challenge to set boundaries with respect to time management. But I believe the pros greatly outweigh the cons, which is why we continue to use our home in such a versatile way.

How did you tackle it?

When the house needs to function strictly as a dedicated office, my husband and three-year-old go out on adventures to provide me with the space I need to do my job effectively. This works well for all of us, as it guarantees our son extra time outdoors, and introduces him to places of interest throughout our neighborhood and city.

What is your biggest win in your home?

Natural light. Our home is tiny, and yet we have two skylights, 2 sets of windowed doors, a windowed Dutch door, a windowed headboard, and additional traditional windows. That’s a lot of light for any space, let alone one that’s this compact!

Where are your favorite places to shop for small-space solutions? 

Etsy or our local vintage shops are my go-to for home decor. Instead of looking for a specific item, I look for anything that’s the right size and shape with similar functionality. For example, instead of looking for a plastic file box to contain the documents we need to keep on-hand, I’ll look for vintage suitcases and picnic baskets, which help us reduce our use of plastic and gives new life to items currently in the waste stream while simultaneously making our home more interesting.

What advice do you have for someone trying to live with less? Where can they start?

Start by pumping the breaks on new purchases. It does you no good to declutter your home while you continue to bring fresh purchases through your door. And if/when you do bring something new into your home, immediately donate at least two items in its place.

And for someone wanting to live more sustainably?

Start by tackling one element of your routine or home, such as your cleaning supplies or bath + body regimen. All of these can be conducted in a zero or low waste manner without having to sacrifice quality or convenience. A secondary perk of employing reusable goods is that suddenly you’ll find yourself shopping far less, which means that you’re less likely to make impulse purchases. Going green can not only help the planet— it can help your home remain uncluttered, it can save you shocking amounts of time, and it can save you money.

Has having a child in your small space changed the way you approach it?

Our space hasn’t changed too wildly since we had our son. (Although for the first year we had a closet nursery, which we loved and miss.) When you don’t own much, you don’t have to change much! We are just a bit more flexible with the space, adapting it gently over time as our son’s needs and interests evolve. Most of our furnishings are built-in, so that inspires us to get extra creative since there’s very little we can modify without construction.

How do you resist the pressure to shop (for more toys for West, clothes, home decor, etc.)?

I flat-out dislike shopping. I wasn’t always this way. But I now know how much time is freed up by not shopping, and I’ve experienced all the wonderful activities we can do with that liberated time. Plus having fewer toys and fewer garments means we spend less time looking for things, tending to them, and organizing them. I simply get to BE with my family, and that feeling is more fulfilling than any purchase could ever be.

What are your top entertaining tips for a small space?

First, remember that you not only have to accommodate your guests— you need to accommodate their belongings, too. Make space for bags and coats in clever ways that won’t consume your valuable surface and seating inches.

Secondly, get creative with serving and hosting tools. You don’t have to buy and store a gravy boat for the one day of the year when you’d use it, nor do you need serving utensils and plates if you can make do with other items you already have on-hand. (And you don’t need to go with disposables!)

Can your cutting board be a serving board when topped with a bit of reusable beeswax wrap? Can your desk become a buffet? Can the exterior of your closet become the coat drop with the help of hooks? Can you ask everyone to bring their own cup (or whatever!) to help you cut back on waste? I find that this sort of thing only adds to the charm of hosting a party in a small space.

What is your single favorite thing about your home?

Our family derives so much joy from this space for a myriad of reasons. I love that we’ve grown within it, rather than fooling ourselves into thinking that we’ve grown out of it. We started out here as a couple with one dog. We progressed to a married couple with two dogs. We’re now married business partners with two dogs and a three-year-old. This house has given us the gift of experiencing more by owning less.

1 comment
  1. 1
    JoLynn | January 23, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Great interview! I am a huge fan of Whitney and highly recommend her book! I want he first chance to buy their sweet cottage – if they ever decide to move 🙂

    Reply
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