In the house

This Airy Venice Beach Cottage Houses a Three People, Two Dogs, and So Many Good Ideas

When Whitney Leigh Morris and her partner, Adam, first saw their Venice, California, home (a.k.a. the Tiny Canal Cottage), they were ready to move in. “We knew the minute we walked through the front doors. We stepped off the stoop and said ‘We’ll take it’,” remembers Whitney. A stressful bidding war later, and the sunny spot was theirs—all 400 square feet of it. But to these two, who had each done their share of small-space living, it was the complete package. “The light is incredible, and even though we don’t have a big garden, we certainly have a very usable garden,” she adds. “It’s just this very welcoming space—in every sense of the word.” See how they have made it so—and have even found room for their young son, West, and two dogs since.

“One of the things that felt so welcoming was that there are a lot of doors for such a small space—there were two, and we added a third so that it feels very open. There’s also a phenomenal number of windows for such a small home, and there are two skylights. All this natural light makes it look bigger than it actually is, and you can easily walk back into the house from anywhere in the garden—so you never truly feel indoors. It’s this funny blend.”

A lot of the built-ins were already here, which was great because we didn’t have to get a lot of furniture. When we moved in, we wanted to make some changes, but we also don’t want to be terribly wasteful and buy all this new stuff. So even if something isn’t exactly the way we that want it, if it works well, we like to work with what we’ve got as opposed to just gutting things/ The fewer things we can buy and the smaller our footprint on the planet, the better. The other thing that we did was adjust a couple of the built-ins, adding drawers where there were no drawers—things like that.”

“We also freshened up the paint and cushions to open things up. The space was originally an olive-y color, and the cushions on the couch were floral. We recovered them with this neutral textile so they can work as a foundation for pops of color but are themselves really calming and soothing. We can also build upon them rather than having to replace them every time we want to switch up our house.”

“Because the fridge and the dishwasher are the first things you see when you walk into the house, we changed them to white from a darker color. The animals on our dishwasher are made by a couple who etches wood and makes these magnets. They’re the cutest little things; West loves to sit there and play around with them, but they’re not these big, chunky bright plastic things that I know would make me crazy. I’m always looking for ways to respect his developmental needs and progress but also our aesthetic style. And going back to the space thing—it’s was a nice reminder for me that you don’t have to buy a whole separate magnet board for your kid to play with. There’s usually another option.”

“There is a long list of requirements that something has to meet before I bring it into the house. And its changed since we’ve lived here because we are trying to be more environmentally conscientious. I’ve always asked: How are we going to use it? Where is it going to live when it’s not actively in use? Can it serve more than one purpose? Can it adapt and be stored in different areas of the house as things change? Do we already have something similar? And, lately, I’m also asking, how is it produced? Is it going it sit on this planet forever after we’re gone, or can it break down?”

“What bridges the gap here is that we can still get new pieces we love, things that suit our evolving taste, without scrapping giant pieces of furniture like a couch or a table. It is funny to me—we’ve been here almost eight years, and the place always looks very different. We get new small accents like candleholders, plants grow and change, and our storage needs evolve as West grows, but we’ve never needed to completely redo a room.”

“I call all the things hanging on the walls and in open shelves functional art. When the guitar is not in my hands, it’s a piece of art up on the wall. Same thing goes for West’s little knit duck hat that you see on the stand; it’s handmade and based off of a little British cartoon character that he loves. It beautifies our home but is also practical. And I don’t have to fill up that space with a sculpture. Same thing with my shoes—as long as they’re not gross, why not? Living in a small space, you see everything more often and from more angles, so it helps to have things that suit your taste and just to put them in the open.”

“A couple of small general takeaways, whether you’re living in a New York apartment (I lived in 300 square feet in the East Village) or in the California area with a garden: Anytime you can, buy collapsible pieces. We have a pop-up dining table here for our living room, and our son’s desk folds up, as do the chairs. When we have people over, we can tuck his desk away and bring out a dinner table. And you don’t have to sacrifice aesthetic! Our dining table is actually a vintage potting bench, and it’s really pretty.”

“The built-in bed was another thing we loved right away. And another tip: Always go vertical for storage! If you’re in a place that gets earthquakes, obviously be careful with it (we keep all the soft covers over our heads and did a test). But anyways, just go vertical, whether it’s for your guitars or your skis or your books or your plants. Get shelving or floating ledges or hooks and a step stool that helps you access things. I think the most valuable space in any home is the higher spots, and they’re frequently neglected. Going up in the corners with corner ledges  also makes your space that much more unique.”

“The backyard needs some love right now, but we just try to make it feel like an extension of the home. When West was born, we built a small, waterproofed shed out here for a little more storage since we turned our one closet into his nursery. We since converted it back, but the space is flexible.”

“This is the shared area between our house and the tiny cottage next door. Now we use it as a flexible play area for West. We got married on our front stoop—we had 60 people here, and we used this area for extra seating and for kids to run around in. It was amazing. The whole thing was really wonderful.”

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