Whitney Leigh Morris (@whitneyleighmorris) lives tiny but mighty. Her home is a rental cottage called The Tiny Canal Cottage on the Venice Canals that she shares with her husband, her son, and their two dogs. Their home is less than 400 square feet with a shared outdoor area of about the same size. Whitney and her husband have poured their heart and soul into the cottage and it’s stunning. Every inch of space sings with form, function, and beauty. It’s dripping in plants and light and her impeccable taste. She is genius in how she uses the space. Many pieces in her home are mobile or versatile which gives freedom and fluidity to her design. She is dedicated to reducing waste and has tailored her business to align with her values of trying to preserve our Earth. Whitney’s blog and The Tiny Canal Cottage on IG have a big following for good reason. She is a real lamplighter who lives a highly creative and highly conscious life. That mix is a powerful one.
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Whitney Leigh Morris: The Space Shifter
Whitney Leigh Morris came and spoke with me. If you don’t know who she is, look her up on Instagram, @WhitneyLeighMorris or @TinyCanalCottage. She is someone who transforms tiny spaces. She transforms them into spaces that are beautiful, that are so well-thought out. They are models of form and function. She is a warrior of anti-waste. She walks the walk of trying not to be a consumer in this life and to reduce her own carbon footprint as much as she can always. I am inspired by her. I found her on Instagram when I was trying to figure out how I was going to fit a child into what I thought was a tiny home. Seeing what she did, she lives on the canals in Venice with her husband, her son and her two dogs in an apartment or a bungalow that is under 400 square feet. She’s a genius and she’s full of life hacks. I hope you enjoy this episode with Whitney Leigh Morris.
Whitney, thank you so much for doing this with me.
I reached out to Whitney on Instagram. She’s at the top of my wish list of guests. She is here now and I’m excited to be with Whitney Leigh Morris of The Tiny Canal Cottage. That’s what her business is called. Whitney lives with her husband, her son and two doggies in an under 400 square foot apartment bungalow in Venice on the canals. It is the most beautiful and sacred space that I’ve ever seen. I always want to try to emulate what you’re doing. In addition to the apartment or the living space, you also have an equal in size outdoor space.
It’s about equal in size. It’s an interesting outdoor space because one component is a porch that stretches between our house and the tiny neighboring house and it’s an eight-foot-wide porch. It can basically be used as an outdoor room because it is shielded from the sun at certain points, but that’s a shared space. Similarly, we have a narrow strip of a garden that we call the side garden, but that’s a thoroughfare. That’s also shared with the neighbor to get to the shared washer dryer, to the shed where the bikes are housed and everything. It doesn’t need to be 100% ours for it to feel like home to us, but it is a fun space, in the sense that it’s a shared outdoor space.
You have to get along with your neighbor. Do you love your neighbor?
We’ve had such good luck. We did have an interim period where we rented a house. It was years ago, we rented it for six months and we renovated it a little bit. It was to see if we needed that extra space and to do it right. We didn’t want to jump into that with just one foot. We went ahead and did minor renovations, but renovations made it much easier for us to live in and to use that space. We didn’t use the entire space enough to warrant what it cost us. It was funny because it was still under 800 square feet combined. We were like, “It’s more space than we need.” We use a similar floor plan for our house and we used one of the rooms, the bedroom. We realized we could basically make our porch into that malleable extra space if ever we needed it. We realized we didn’t need the house. We’ve had good luck with the neighbors. Knock on wood but it’s been great.
You are ingenious with what you do and the way you’ve made me think about, you use movable things in your home. You have everything that can be used as one thing or a couple of different things. How did you even get started in this? Are you an interior designer?
I did interior decor, but what I was doing prior to running the cottage as a brand and as a resource was operating a creative firm. What I did was all across the board, it was providing clients with everything from branding to our original imagery to everything. There’s a lot of heart behind that, but offering a lot of visual communication services to a wide range of clients over a long time. I’ve lived in many small spaces before, including where I was living before the cottage is probably like half the size of our house now. It was a studio apartment on the beach here in Venice. It was delightful. I could’ve lived there for a long time, but we found this place and fell in love with it. I was doing that but I caught. We were living in the house when the tiny house boom took off and at the same time as Instagram was taking off. A lot of people were interested in how we were making the small space feel like home as opposed to a transitional space. I feel like a lot of people think small spaces are like a stepping stone until they get to their larger house. Once I am answering the questions that people were sending in, it started taking more time than my actual job. I realized, “It’s probably time to transition.” That’s when I started winding down what I had been doing for over a decade and ramping up working on the cottage as its own huge nugget of a resource.
I love that you are able to make a business of it because you should and there’s so much heart in it. I feel that from everything you do. When you moved into it, you and your husband have done extensive work on it, right?
Yes and no. The built-ins were done many years before we moved in. They were done by this extraordinarily talented woman who was inspired by her time living on a boat. She did these built-ins that are genius.
I see them above your bed. There are all the bookshelves. Are those done?
The built-in bed and the built-in couch were done. It’s an interesting combination space because many of the components within the home are mobile, but at the same time, the majority of them are fixed. It’s been this interesting like, “We can’t move this. What do we do?” I’m glad that we can’t move things because we have so much less waste. We’ve got one set of replacement couch cushions, but we’ve never had to replace our furniture other than my desk, which I did by choice as opposed to a necessity. I wanted a convertible desk. Anyway, the point is she did these wonderful, versatile built-ins that were clearly done by someone, who knew what it meant to navigate a space like that as opposed to outfitting it to make it look pretty. It was clearly done by someone who knew what it meant to walk the six steps this way to where you want to sit down, where the light hits, things like that. That’s what makes the space the built-ins special because they are truly functional. There’s no wasted space. We’ve done things on top of that. We changed more stylistic stuff like change the countertops, the tiles, the appliances and whatnot in the kitchen.
Your kitchen is gorgeous.
It’s pretty and it is a happy space. There’s nothing fancy about it. We completely redid the garden and things like that, but it’s been a nice combination of being able to honor the work that she did and dive into that for many years.
Did she design the built-ins?
She designed the build-ins and to my understanding, that’s not what she does. She did that for this home where she also had two dogs. She has two daughters now, I believe, but she had one daughter while she was there. There’s something in the floorboards.
She created this stunning function. You also got to embellish and make it even more special. Does your husband have a background in this design?
Not at all. He worked in marketing for film and television and production prior to that for a long time. He’s a good sport and down for everything.
You are working together now.
When our son turned seven months, he took a leave from work, his paternity leave and then we decided that perhaps he shouldn’t go back. He works for a cottage. It’s fantastic. Also, he’s the coolest.
He makes it cool. How long did you and your husband live there before you had your son?
We’ve been there for almost nine years. West is three years old. We were there for six years and we got married there as well on the stoop.
How many guests did you have?
At the house, we had 60. The following day to work with where we live, Venice and this amazing climate and our space restrictions and whatnot, instead of having a rehearsal dinner the night before, we had a brunch stroll the following day. People could come over and get light breakfast such as burritos and coffee and stuff, then take them to go on the canals. We all walked on the canals because a lot of people hadn’t explored the canals, even our friends from the other side. It was great. We then hung out at the cottage, but it was a nice way to spread out the number of people that are on the property and then also get to celebrate the neighborhood, which means so much to us. We were able to have 60 people and what we did, instead of doing a traditional seating as you do at a wedding, we kept the ceremony short. At the last minute, right where we were before we set our vows, we brought a few folding chairs for the people who we knew needed it either because they’re a little older, hallow or have some physical issues that time so that they could sit closer to the stoop. Everybody else stood in the round, in the house, in the garden, even on the porch looking through the window that looks out onto the porch and onto the stoop. It was sweet.
I wish that I could have been there and seen that because I’ve also seen photos of you doing a dinner party. You make something transformed like your table. You can make it in different ways. There are a lot of options.
It’s the versatility. We are lucky, as we’ve touched upon it in Southern California to have this incredible climate and we have the outdoor space. I do think that we can make the versatility work even without the outdoor space, but instead of having a 3-foot folding table, we can also have a 6-foot folding table that we generally keep out in the garden or hold it up. It would obviously be trickier to house that. If we didn’t have the outdoor space, we would have to go something all smaller. I’m very grateful for that. It was bringing that to that table and it could turn into a Ping-Pong table for my son. It can turn into a crafting table. It can turn into a dining table and we can fit plenty of people. We certainly had more parties before we had a kid.
That’s everybody, no matter what the size of the home is.
We can fit. We can use the outdoor space if it’s not raining. We can fit 50 people because of the outdoor space. It also seems like a great party every time. It’s always full of life because it’s never sparse even the space is small.
People can spread out. People can sometimes go to parties and big homes and you’re like, “Where is the kitchen?” What you find is there’s a hub and you’ve taken out all the additional superfluous things. You have a hub where everybody is.
We set up the bars around. We’ll do little rolling bar carts around or whatever. In that way, people are not all in the kitchen. It’s fun.
Your passion for Venice, it is incredible and rich in everything that it has. You embrace everything about it. Do you have a canoe?
We have a canoe. There’s a wonderful restaurant in town called The Butcher’s Daughter. The woman who designed it and started it, she has other restaurants now. She’s a genius and a design wizard. Her name is Heather, but she used to have a property on the canals. When she moved out of that property, we inherited her vintage canoe. It’s a little hammock canoe and I love it so much.
Where do you store that?
We keep it tethered up to one of the bridges. We have a friend who lets us use her dock since we don’t have it. There’s not a dock everywhere on the canals. We love that canoe.
Does your son too?
He does and the dogs. They have a little life jacket.
Most people cannot boast owning a canoe in the middle of the city that they truly use. You also have a cargo bike. It’s a beautiful color. You also have The Tiny Canal Cottage with the logo on there. It has a box that the dogs can be in and all your groceries.
People call it a cargo bike or bucket bike. They’re prevalent in certain regions in other countries. It’s funny that they’re not so prevalent here in Southern California, where our weather is extraordinary. Our roads are not meant for it. They’re terrifying when you’re on a bike, but we can fit. We got that particular bike because it’s made down in San Diego by a small company. We connected with a guy who designed it and made it. We can fit two child seats in there. If we have another kid down the line or if we have a friend who has a kid, West and another kid can fit in there and the two dogs. We can also do things like call plants and props and things like that. I often will show up to meetings or design jobs and filled the rim with stuff instead of driving the car whenever possible because we share one car. It’s great.The home is always full of life because it's never sparse even if the space is small. Click To Tweet
Your whole ethos of living small, how wonderful that can be. I couldn’t agree more. We rent our apartment and I said it was 1,000 square feet but I don’t even know if it is. I feel ours is probably 900 square feet. We live in a small apartment. I have two sons. It feels like a small space. Even if we worked at home, I would want it to be small. I like it to feel cozy. The way that you offer ideas to make it going vertical is something that I never thought about. The space you have left when something isn’t on the floor isn’t just sitting on something, it’s smart. I would love to talk about what you did because that was how I found you, how you converted your closet into a nursery? You and your husband lived there for six years. It was extremely lovely. Were you like, “How are we going to do this?” Were you ever stressed? Were you like, “We got this?”
The most stressful was other people telling us, “You’re going to have to move.”
People tell us that all the time.
It was funny. I was thinking when you’re saying the square footage of your place, regardless of whether it’s 800 to 1,000 square feet, the average American home is over 2,500 square feet. Even we were joking prior to hitting record on this, that a thousand square feet seem palatial to me. It is less than half the size of most American homes. My point in bringing that up is simply that people are not trying to offer this information to be rude. I think they’re offering this information based on their experiences, which is normal and understandable. Most of those experiences come from statistically around 2,500 square feet.
You go to buy a crib and this is where I found you. I’m looking at this room because my husband and I have the master room. We live in a pretty small apartment and that kid’s room or the second bedroom is significantly smaller. I would look at these cribs at all different stores and I’m like, “They’re enormous. It’s going just to be a crib. It’s not even a room. I don’t like this.” Even if we had all the money in the world and we could buy any home, I want a cozy little home and seeing what you’ve been able to do with the space, I was like, “That’s the way to go for me.” You have genius hacks on how to do this.
I do think they’re great ideas for so many people, but they’re born in a necessity. We don’t have all the money in the world. We don’t have all the space in the world. It’s like, “How do you make it work?” You balance what’s important to you. For us, we love that space so much. When everyone says, “You have to move.” We’re like, “Do we?” It’s because you want to put some stock in the advice of the people that you love and trust, but then also you’re like, “We have no desire to move.” It’s not that we were born with great skills, it’s when you’re in it, you find a way to make it work. Luckily, it’s always been a delightful experience for us as opposed to a frustrating experience. That was the hardest part of tuning that out. We knew that we wanted to stay and we knew that we could make it work for us in one of two ways. Since it is our first and only child, it was important for us to have that nesting feeling. We were like, “We can get that through either having a bit of a mobile nursery. Everything can roll from room to room as we figure it out or we can use the closet, but then what do we do with our clothes?
You figured out the most incredible plan for that, but I don’t want to give away because I feel like it’s a mystery.
It is also something in Southern California too. I have lived in Florida, I have lived in Manhattan. These things could not be done there. There are always other workarounds. We use what we have here. What we have here are an exceptional climate and a tiny garden. We decided to give the nursery a dedicated space. We did have a couple of rolling and mobile things, of course, but we decided to turn the closet into the nursery. People have been doing this for years. The way that we did it as we moved our clothes out to a shed that we built in the garden. We weatherproofed that shed. It was a good thing that we did because that year was the rainiest. That’s when the drought finally ended.
It was the winter of 2016. I remember that because I was pregnant and we had a flood in our apartment. To reiterate, they pulled the closet doors off of the one closet that was in the bedroom.
It’s our only closet.
They put all of their clothes in a garden shed that they waterproofed outside. Your clothes now live outside the garden, which must keep them fresh and lovely.
We put some cedar blocks in there and the shed itself was cedar. First off, we got rid of half of our clothing, which we needed to happen anyway. I started out this business helping people declutter, but now learning that 80% to 85% of donations go into a landfill anyway. The idea is, “Let’s stop giving away what we have. Let’s stop acquiring things.” I know that’s a whole other conversation.
That was depressing.
It was terrifying. Luckily, a couple of friends came over and took some of the things. We ended up donating a lot of this stuff, but we made it work by doing that. When we moved a year-and-a-half later and when we moved everything back, we got even rid of even more stuff and now we’ve been able to stay at this. We figured it out and we had stayed at this very steady place where we’re acquiring very little and we were able to make it work. People are like, “Isn’t it a pain to go outside?” I was like, “There were a couple of days.” You will have those moments where I was 35 years old at that time. I’m standing outside of my room, picking up my clothes and be like, “What is my life?” You could flip that around and be like, “How lucky am that I can take four steps out of my bedroom door, which is still closer than most people’s bedrooms from their bed to their closet and stand out in this 99% of the time, beautiful weather and get to pick out my clothes. How lucky am I? This is the dream of life.” It’s a matter of perspective. I’m sure many people thought it was bananas. It worked well for us, to the point where when we put it all back because we weren’t using the closet nursery as much anymore since West was bigger. It was heartbreaking when we did and we were like, “I miss waking up in the morning and seeing that.”
For anybody who may be new to your account, you should look. You’ll have to scroll back for quite a while, but you always tag everything so people can try it. It was great for me. You did something and I completely copied you. I asked you and you were so forthcoming with all your information. You put beautiful artwork up in his little closet nursery and you told me where you got it on Etsy, from an amazing artist, Elly MacKay. You said you went to FedEx and mounted on that Styrofoam or foam core. You put it up on the wall. If it falls, it weighs nothing. It is not dangerous if there’s an earthquake.
You always want more space than you have when you’re recommending things to people in editorial outlets or in the span of a quick conversation to say like, “In this context, go vertical, but make sure that everything is safe for your region.” Whatever it is, whether you’re in Florida and you’re living in a place that gets a lot of storms, maybe don’t put certain things next to the windows, whatever the case may be. We have a lot of things that we use the height a lot in our house because it is vaulted ceilings, but it’s always with earthquakes in mind. The nursery was the same thing. We had a lot of jute baskets holding clothes and blankets and stuff above the crib, but it was in a way that they couldn’t shake loose because of the measurement. Even if they did, there was nothing that would hurt him. The same thing, we have a bookshelf that’s built-in over the bed. We try to keep either the light hardbacks or the light paperbacks. Even that space is designed, it’s hard to tell in photos because we only have so much space to back up and get the perspective. If the books fall, they would basically fall on your thighs. They’re not on your head. It’s hard to see that. It’s not about always using the space you have, but using it wisely with respect to safety for your family.
That was inspirational to me. Once I was going to have number two and we were going to stay in this place, I was like, “I got this.” They have three people, two dogs and half the space we can do another. I was like, “We do not need to move.” Everybody was asking us also, “If you’re having a second, what’s going to happen?” It is funny because when you see these big, beautiful decks done nursery, babies are not even in the nursery. What are they supposed to do? You put this tiny baby in that giant crib and they’re like, “What?”
There are many ways to do it. We made ways to make it work. We need to remember that.
I also bought the rolling bookshelf or bookcase from Urban Outfitters.
These things are great because if you don’t need it as a bookcase, it becomes this storage for X, Y, Z. Those things are versatile and wonderful.
How does your business work now that it is a brand? When people want to hire you, what do they hire you for?
Generally, what I was doing, it depends. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t try to Instagram because it’s people’s homes. It’s private. Most or everyone doesn’t want to share their life online. I respect and appreciate that and sometimes envy it, but it depends. Sometimes it will be full outfitting of space. We worked at a couple of homes doing a room here and there, we are troubleshooting a small space. We did Amy Adams’ production offices from scratch, which was fun. At the same time, I was being hired either for larger projects that are like Le Pop Up on Abbot Kinney. We are designing Le Pop Up. My passion is working with a small space or a tricky space. I’d rather be hired as opposed to outfitting a whole office or home while we have this weird angled room and we don’t know what to do with it. This is what we need, but we can’t figure out how to make it work. Those are my favorites because I think the home decor is important and what we come into contact with daily is important. What I love about it is how to make a space that has a smaller footprint on, as far as square footage is concerned, but also hopefully on the planet, how to make someone feel fulfilled with that space?
It’s being put to the best use possible. I find personal joy in that but I’m not doing it as much. I reevaluate it and I changed my business again because even doing those projects generates so much waste. I know that it’s going to be done whether I’m doing it or somebody else is doing it, but most people are on a timeline or on a budget. It is hard to watch deliveries come in and see all the waste with respect to the packaging. Ideally, we would all have the time to find vintage pieces that are already out there and stopped generating new and stop generating all this waste. If it’s vintage, it rarely comes in packaging. You can pick it up anyway. I was having a hard time personally stomaching and going through all the plastic and the hardboard and all those things. It also took a phenomenal amount of time but it’s time I can be with my family and I have much more control over what is required and what is produced in them, what is wasted or not. Almost entirely, I make my money from sponsorships.
Is that the ads on Instagram?
It’s ads on Instagram and on the blog. That’s a tricky space in which to be right now, but I do enjoy that much more. It’s not easier in the sense that you’re putting yourself out there. It is way more work than I think most people realize it is. You’re basically doing the job of ten people. It is a privilege to be able to do that job. I’m very lucky and I don’t need to suggest anything that says otherwise. All I’m saying is that it requires more time and effort than most people think. If you’re a celebrity, you can put your face next to anything and people are going to enjoy it because they want to see you. When you’re not a celebrity, I put a ton of time into that content, but that’s how it should be. That’s what they’re paying me for.
You put so much heart and soul into it. When people look at it, they think, “It is easy.” It is a privilege, but it’s also a tremendous amount of work.
I like working. It’s great.
It’s sponsorship and ads.
For the most part, the thing that’s tricky is we say no to more than we say yes to. Not because we don’t need the money, we certainly do, but it is tricky to walk the walk. We’ve tried really hard to reduce our waste. We’ll still advertise for products that we genuinely do use that occasionally there are still some that come in plastic packaging and stuff. It gets people pretty angry and I like that they hold me to a standard. I appreciate that people are holding me and others to these standards. At the same time, it’s an issue of perspective and also recognizing when people are trying versus it’s like picking the battle. For me, I have the vision of myself standing in these new build homes where there is plastic sheeting on the floor from construction, all these packages coming in, and all the waste and every individual wine bottle that’s moved from one house to the next house is wrapped in bubble wrap. Being in those environments, which I chose to pluck myself out because of those things I couldn’t control. I could say very clearly this, I don’t think that this is a good idea but ultimately, I wasn’t in charge of those things. Plucking myself out of those environments and instead, they’ll go, “I’m advertising for this product that I use once a month and it comes in a recyclable bottle.” It’s not ideal. Ideally, we would not have any new plastics.
Most plastics don’t get recycled regardless of whether or not they can get recycled. It can only be recycled 2 or 3 times. I get that but it’s also putting an under perspective, this one bottle for our family that I consider the dogs. People realize they’ll say a family of five in terms of our consumption and also my heart. We use this one bottle and you’re going to come down on me for this where it’s like this one job. Not only did we use this product and we’re very careful with it, but then also this one job pays for the work that I do for a month that is unpaid, which hopefully is communicating worthy messages. It’s tricky in that way.
I love that you walk the walk. Your ethos of less waste, less space, less consumption, all of it. I do practice that and leave it on the mat. It’s good. I find it inspiring. If there were a project that was like, “We want to do this,” we try to be as much as possible, 100% no waste and vintage. Would that be a dream project?
On paper, it seems like a yes, I don’t like buying and I don’t like shopping. This is all the stuff that I’ve learned. I like coming up with ideas for people and it’s like, “You’ve got this area. Have you ever thought about mounting this here? Moving this here? Having a foldable dropdown?” We are going through those ideas so that maybe some concept that perhaps they haven’t considered before is then in their brain and then they can figure it out on their own on their timeline and it reduces all the back and forth. It’s like sparking that idea and hopefully giving new possibilities to an existing space and letting them go with it. That brings me joy more than styling out this space, which is something I didn’t realize for a few years. I was like, “Why is this stressing me? Home decoration does not stress people out. That is not a stressful job.” If you are a doctor, if you are a teacher, if you are saving lives, these are the jobs that matter. I realized it’s because it was such a heavy consumption part.
That is a burden to bear when this is your passion.
It’s crazy. There is so much stuff.
Did you grow up with parents who were conscious of this?
My parents are pretty conscious of everything. They’re well-read, lovely and wonderful. They are great listeners. They listen to everybody’s stories. I grew up with parents who certainly cared, but it was a different time. I’m 38 and I was talking to my mom about this, when she was growing up, she was saying that that’s an era that disposable items were being started to be manufactured for the first time. That all of a sudden the marketing and the mindset around other items was like, “You can’t use a cloth that’s been used because it’s bad for you.” She was saying how deep those things root themselves take root when you are young. The idea initially of the handkerchiefs, the clothes, and all the things that we were used to, are they clean? It’s programmed into your brain that it’s not quite right.
If anything has been touched, you have to throw it away.
She’s in her 70’s and she’s amazing. She was talking about how she’s been reprogramming herself because she believes in science and she believes in what is going on. She has been working, but it’s interesting, it’s not just a habit shift. It’s working to deprogram these myths that have been put by market, like decades of marketing into your brain.
That’s decades of advertising and millions of dollars to brainwash all of us.
My mom is very smart. I don’t mean to tease her. I don’t mean to paint a picture of someone who is easily swayed. I don’t mean that. When you grow up, especially from a family with not much money and then you’re trying to be clean and everything’s put together.
It is the same as how women have to keep age and all those messages for advertising. You’re very open also, which I appreciate about money and about how when you guys did rent the other apartment. It was expensive. There is an idea on Instagram that if you are an influencer of any kind, which you are, that you have all the money and you do whatever you want but you were like, “This is too expensive and it doesn’t work for us.” I appreciated that.
Justina Blakeney is such an inspiration to me. She’s a friend, but she’s also such an inspiration because she is very transparent with that sort of thing. This is a woman who has cultivated Jungalow through hard work. She has cultivated millions of followers and subscribers across all these different platforms. She is super real. She takes time to go out of her way to help other people. One of the ways that she does that is being super transparent with money. That inspired me to do the same. Not that I ever thought of it as something to keep close to the vest, but I never went out of my way to disclose things. When I saw the power of what that does, especially between female entrepreneurs and small businesses, then I thought that I should pay that forward.
It’s a real access point to connect with people because Instagram is a living catalog. You get to present or put forward the fantasy of a life and a curated life and how everything is pretty, perfect and refreshing. It also makes me trust when you say, “We’re using this product and it’s good.” I was like, “She understands.” I understand that money. She’s smart with money. She thinks about money. She uses this, especially your views on waste. I trust what you have to say.
Sometimes I feel bad when I am promoting a project. For example, Vintner’s Daughter. It is something that I use on my skin. I love them. I’m not paid by them. I did reach out to the founder to talk to her and she actually has very generously contributed to a nonprofit with which I work and we’ve formed this great relationship. I thank the world of her, but the point is I’m not paid to promote that product. I love that product. I reached out to her and said, “Is there any way I can be involved with you because I love what you’re creating.” With a product like that, even though it’s at a higher price point, but the amount of other crap that you don’t need, especially in the face of as you were talking about, how society makes women feel as they age. It helps you get rid of all that other stuff which reduces your waste and you can save that money. It’s money that I like to then pour into this tiny little glass-bottled product that was created over time carefully. I don’t need all this other stuff.
You get to let go of other things.
Sometimes I feel bad when I’m talking about everything that’s at a higher price point.
I think that quality over quantity is a real thing that most people can get on board with. You had a product that I bought. Has there been anyone else who has a tiny rental who’s reached out to you and like, “What would you do with this room?”
Every day and that’s the issue. I’m what is considered a mid-tier influencer. Certainly, things have slowed down with the algorithm in terms of traffic, but you still get a phenomenal amount of inquiries every day. I want to get back to all of them because people do have good questions, whether it’s from advice, tips for reducing waste with respect to kids or pets or anything to how to tackle a funny small space.
You were the person who I found out about those bags to keep your fruit in.
The linen ones or the Ambrosia Bags. She’s delightful too. She’s from Ohio. She’s wonderful.
They work at keeping your produce for longer and you can buy them from Erewhon.
Erewhon reached out to her because they thought that they were a genius.Being and influencer and blogger requires more time and effort than most people think. Click To Tweet
They are and you are full of life tips and life hacks to make things less wasteful and more beautiful. I think that you have a gift at the space energetics without sounding horny. You are great at that. I want to reach out to you because who knows how long we’re going to be in our place. We’ve been there for a long time already. You have made me feel confident about the fact that things can be fluid. Those things don’t have to stay in one place. It has opened up a whole new world because now that we have our Christmas tree, that bookshelf that you told me about, I can move it to a different space even it’s hard. Our boys share a room and one of them is sick and it’s challenging. One of the things that I was like, “She would have something mobile.” We have a roll-up camp bed that can come out now and the non-sick kid is usually in our room on the camp bed on the floor. That’s how it has to be. It’s nice.
It’s also interesting. Those moments can feel highly inconvenient when one kid is sick and throwing up in the room. You don’t want your other kid near the germs and you need the other kid to be rested. Those moments can be in those tiny chunks of time and stressful that I understand why people are like, “I need a bigger space.” The one time you host people and you don’t have enough chairs, you don’t have enough seats and you’re like, “We need a bigger space.” What I always try to remind people and maybe that’s the case. Everyone’s different. Every situation is different. Life changes. What I try to remind people is, “Are these the outlier situations?” You might have a kid who is ill a lot of the time, which form your home around so that your kid can be as comfortable as possible. If it’s a situation where those are outlier incidents and it’s maybe five days out of the year, maybe ten days out of the year. It’s inconvenient for this reason. It’s like, “Can you make it work in those days? What we say here is we don’t have any entryway at all, which we don’t mind.” When it does rain in LA because LA is not natural dirt. It’s not dirt where I grew up, where you’re coming from but it’s coming in off the prairie with dirt on your boots. It’s real dirt. It’s soil from the grass. It’s healthy. When you’re coming in New York or LA with no entryway with gross shoes, it is disgusting.
You will have a mudroom.
It’s not even the dirt, it’s the germs of it. You don’t want to track that all over your house. In those moments, it can be frustrating. I feel like in a big city such as San Francisco, New York, LA, Chicago to live in a small space, it’s like, “Can you work with that reality? How can you make that space so that in those days whether it’s LA and it’s only ten days a year, we’re lucky?” It’s Portland and it’s the majority of the year, how can you outfit it so that it’s not a pain for you and it works for you? Try to work around those things as opposed to build or acquire a bigger space that you don’t worry and you don’t have to think about it.
I think that you’re right. Thank goodness, knock on everything. My kids are sick, the normal amount that kids are sick knocking on wood. They are outlier incidents. Most of the time, they’re in their room together. Cold and flu season, one of them is in our room. When we have gone away and done Airbnb in places where it was more affordable to get, we’ve had an Airbnb where it’s been three bedrooms, two bathrooms. The little one is now getting there because he’s 2.5 years old, but the other one will come into our room and be like, “I don’t want to be by myself. It feels far away.” I’m like, “You have your own room and your own bathroom.” He’s like, “I want to sleep in here.” It is both sweet and cute. Cultures all over the world, Japan, they live in tiny spaces.
Whether it’s by choice or necessity, it happens everywhere.
It’s simple and it’s beautiful. I think that you are a real call to action for me to think about the waste that we all are consuming. It is depressing. You think you’re donating, but you’re contributing to more landfills.
It’s still better to donate than throw it out.
I love where we live. I love our apartment. When I look at yours, I wish I had the skills that you have because another thing I want to say is that you and your husband do so much of the work yourself.
We don’t have anybody else.
You don’t have teams of handy people coming in. It’s you and your husband doing this together and you have these ingenious and industrious ideas. You’ve figured them out. What did you do with your wall heater? You did something special but I can’t remember.
You’re required here to have some source of those. It’s one of those hideous vertical wall heaters. Not those horizontal ones, which can be bad too, but they dry everything out and ours is old that it shoots boiling hot air straight up. I know how to raise it, but it’s still shooting it straight up anyway. It didn’t even have a chance to be on the ground. I feel like Santa Monica and Venice, I’m sure it’s many places, but Santa Monica, particularly those wall heaters are everywhere. It was time.
They were like, “You can be warm in one room.”
If you sleep up by the ceiling. We still do, but we had plants on the top of the bookshelf. They were frying to death. It’s because it shoots straight up there. We never used it, but we also couldn’t remove it. We could have replaced it, but we don’t want to spend the money on that and we weren’t allowed to remove it legally. What we did is we turned off the gas. We did hire someone professional to come and do that. I don’t want to light my house on fire. Someone came and disconnected everything and then we basically designed a shoebox that is almost built over it so that we could use it. Otherwise, even if you’re not operating those things, they’re ugly. We were using hooks on and stuff, but it collects so much dust and it’s hideous. We put this box over it. That’s super lightweight.
Did you design the box?
It’s super simple, but we put that over in that way so that we could keep a plant on top. We could use the outside of it.
It is the best workaround I’ve ever seen.
If you’re going to have something jolting out of your wall, at least make it useful.
You made an eyesore. It is something special. I wish I could have it. My landlady is not open to any of these things. How about your land person?
We can do whatever we want to that property because we love that place. We can do whatever we want. We’re lucky with that. I will say there are workarounds. My friend, Sara Toufali, has done a great job designing her rental. They use tile stickers almost to cover the hideous color. They’re actual tile stickers. She turned this ‘70s dated brown bathroom into a junglelicious teal green. She got these stickers. Look at Sara Toufali’s bathroom and it will come up. That bathroom hack has been shared and everything.
We have terrible light fixtures. I wanted to remove and put at least ceiling fans because it gets so hot. I wanted to put ceiling fans with nicer fixtures. I was going to buy them and she’s always worried about vintage electricity. I was going to hire her electrician and she was not okay with it. I’m glad that your landlord or landlady is open to all of this. You are lucky.
We love it. I feel like there’s always stuff that you can put in that will help, even if it’s not what you want.
I was trying to go vertical your way, but that’s where Dyson stuff is worth it.
We put our fan and it’s heating, cooling, and an air filter. We put it up on a TV shelf. It’s up in the bedroom. The same thing, if we can’t hang this thing right, we can put it up high and make sure that it’s tethered to the wall. If there’s an earthquake, eventually it will fall, but it will not immediately go to topple over. I’m going to go scour your stuff again.
What I want to say is that you are always surrounded by plants. There are plants everywhere. You must be good with plants. Do you have special skills?
Hilton Carter is such an inspiration. He’s a plant genius.
Do I need to look up on him?
100%, everybody look up Hilton Carter. He is an interior designer, even though that’s not really what he does but his interior design, styling, tastes and whatever are impeccable, wonderful and original. He also has 300 something plants in his house. He’s like a plant doctor and he helps people with their plants. He is a friend. He is the loveliest individual. He’s a big inspiration. If ever I run into a problem, I try to scour his site or his Instagram for tips and resources. My thought on plants is they make everything better. They clean your air inside. It’s like one less thing that you have to buy for your house. It is a living, breathing organism instead of a tchotchke in your home.
I saw that you have that incredible outdoor area that’s lush, virgin and you’ve made it magical. We have a courtyard, it’s lovely. It has bougainvillea and there’s grass. I’m grateful for it. Inside, I did get some house plants. They have made it so much better. For some reason, there’s one little nook of our house that I call the growth arena because the fiddle-leaf fig, it won’t stop. People come to this apartment and like, “What? A Jack and a Beanstalk? What is happening?” It’s creepy and it crawls wonderful. I’m like, “How can I get more plants on the wall?” Do you have a lot of hanging plants? Do you experiment with how to do it?
Yes. It’s out of necessity. For example, we have some that hang from the skylight, but that was something that Hilton recommended to me because during winter, this is a ridiculous problem to have, but I can’t see my computer screen in the winter. The way that the sun goes over the skylight, I can’t see my computer right smack in the middle of when I’m working. It’s funny because people were like, “You are really from Southern California. You’re complaining about your sunshine.” I was like, “All I’m saying is I can’t see my computer. We don’t want to cover the skylights.” Hilton was like, “Why don’t you hang some plants that you can adjust. I was like, “You’re a genius.” We have plants that we’ve hung up there because they’ve filtered the light. Thank you, Hilton. Also, we put them by the door because we feel like we have them on either side of the door, in the living room. It’s the everything room. They’re warm. They’re these wonderful properties that when you have plants on either side of something like that does something. They’re on invisible floating bookshelves. Like those little L things and you put the one side of the L into the wall and there’s a little platform. That’s all they are. What you have to do is make sure that the pod itself is not too heavy and it’s on that with those dimensions. That’s all we do.
It’s part of what makes your space as special as it is, is also the plants, the mobile, and everything. I feel that the ability to be fluid within a tiny space gives you the freedom to do so many things. With Christmas here, I’m like, “What am I going to do with the Christmas room?” Your toys have to move. They can’t be there. I felt like you gave me all the ideas for that. It doesn’t look anywhere near as beautiful as yours, but I’m trying to make it functionally similar to yours. I am inspired by you.
Whitney Leigh Morris, you can find her on Instagram @WhitneyLeighMorris or @TinyCanalCottage. You have a blog and you have all sorts of videos about how you do these cool projects. I hope that I can copy you some more. I’m going to go look up Hilton Carter.
Please do. He’s amazing. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
- @WhitneyLeighMorris – Instagram
- @TinyCanalCottage – Instagram
- The Tiny Canal Cottage
- Hilton Carter
About Whitney Leigh Morris
Whitney Leigh Morris is a Small Space Lifestyle Consultant based in Venice, California. A firm believer that you don’t need to “live large” to live beautifully, Morris uses her blog, video series, and Instagram account to share tips and ideas geared towards helping individuals, couples, and families live comfortably and contentedly in — and with— a smaller footprint.
Morris also shares her experiences and advice via a diverse array of editorial outlets and speaking engagements, and via her mini video series, Tiny Takeaways. Her book, Small Space Style: Because You Don’t Need to Live Large to Live Beautifully, is available for purchase here.
Morris has been featured by: CNN, Architectural Digest, Dwell, Refinery29, Elle Decor, Access Live/Hollywood, Houzz, Design*Sponge, Today, Disney’s Babble, My Domaine, Cosmopolitan, Hunker, Domino Magazine, Lonny, Good Housekeeping Magazine, HLN, Darling Magazine, The Knot Magazine, The Everygirl, Create & Cultivate, Rue Magazine, Huffington Post, Well + Good, House Beautiful, MindBodyGreen, Country Living, The Nest Magazine, The Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, The Kitchn, Redbook Magazine, Glitter Guide, Style Me Pretty Living, BuzzFeed, PopSugar, The Chalkboard, Apartment Therapy, and many more brands and outlets.
Morris is an engaged member of the Venice community, is on the Board of The Rightway Foundation, and was named a Wall Street Journal Woman of Note. She lives at the Cottage with her husband, their child, and two rescue beagles.