How to Handle the Holidays in a Small Space
So I asked small-space lifestyle blogger and consultant Whitney Leigh Morris — who lives and works in the aforementioned cottage, aka The Tiny Canal Cottage in the Venice area of Los Angeles — how she navigates the holidays with husband Adam Winkleman and their son, West. Her first book, Small Space Style, comes out Nov. 13.
Entertaining in a Small Space
Q. Do you and Adam ever host Thanksgiving or other big celebrations in The Tiny Canal Cottage? Can you cook a turkey there and eat it too? How have you set up the cottage to make entertaining easier?
A. We’ve hosted numerous larger meals and events in our little home — everything from our wedding to Adam’s 40th. Although I must admit that we’ve never played host at Thanksgiving, specifically.
We’ve even hired food trucks to pull up to our back gate. This creates a joyful sense of occasion while keeping things casual and helping us feed larger crowds on a relaxed timeline.
We create an impromptu coat rack outdoors with the help of two garden shepherd’s hooks connected by a driftwood pole. When topped with a few S-hooks and hangers, this creates ample dedicated space for outerwear. We also place an outdoor mat and a folding bench beneath the rack to provide extra inches for heavier handbags, computer bags and diaper bags.
Q. My kids still like to come home for the holidays, and I love having them! Up to how many houseguests have you hosted overnight and for how long? Where do you put them? How do you make them comfortable?
A. Believe it or not, we hosted one guest from abroad for three weeks. But usually our single guests or couples stay one to three nights. When we host more than one person overnight, two nights is the max since the cottage is also my office.
Our built-in couch can be dressed in twin-size bedding, which we store just inches away in the coffee table-trunk. So individuals can sleep on both sides of the sofa. An inflatable mattress — or both bench seat cushions combined on the floor — can just fit in the space between the built-in and my desk, so that works for couples when needed.
Find a cabinetmaker in the Houzz pro directory to build custom banquettes
We like to string up a privacy curtain for our guests, and do so by simply spanning and tacking twine between sensible points on nearby walls. I either pin a lightweight throw blanket to the twine or borrow the curtains from our bedroom for the evening. No need to buy a dedicated set! During the day, we either slide or pin the linens back, depending on the setup, and that visually reopens the room. We’re always sure to leave enough space between the couch and the curtain so that our guest can stand and walk along the sofa without feeling crowded.
However, thanks to a few Airbnbs within a stone’s throw of our cottage, our friends and family usually stay in a neighboring rental property and come and go on their own schedule, which is great. Hilariously, the Airbnbs almost always cost less per night than the pricey thank-you meals folks feel obligated to take us to if we host them overnight.
Find decorative wicker and rattan trunks in the Houzz Shop
Q. What’s your approach to decorating The Tiny Canal Cottage for the holidays? Do you have a tree? Where do you put your stockings?
A. We’ve approached the tree in a myriad of ways here! Our setup changes a bit every year due to our evolving family situation, and I love that. Last year, we had a full-size tree out on our 8-by-18-foot porch that connects the two tiny houses on our property. At the time, we had both homes, totaling about 800 square feet, and were hosting my parents from Florida for a week. Turns out we didn’t need the space, so it’s no longer ours.
Putting the tree between the cottages was a great way to get the tree’s glow to reach into both units at night.
Christmas Stockings Stuffed With Memories
Why You Should Consider a Living Christmas Tree
Our son is 2, so I’m sure all of this will continue to change as the years pass. I look forward to getting creative each year — it helps shift the emphasis away from the stuff and refocuses our energy on the activity.
Q. Every year, I vow to cut back on gift giving and then get foiled by pressure or desire to reciprocate. How do you tactfully convey to well-meaning, generous relatives and friends that you don’t have a lot of room for presents?
A. We have a bit of a cheat in this arena — after seven years of living here, our friends and family now all know firsthand how tiny our home truly is. Still, whenever given the opportunity, I do state in very clear terms that we don’t want or need gifts but that books for West are always welcome, and usually that does the trick! Before having our son, we’d share the names of our favorite local shops and restaurants, and we were always happy and grateful to receive gift cards to those businesses.
I learned a while back that it’s usually the act of giving that people love so much, and I don’t fight to take that away from them. Instead, I express my appreciation for their generosity and thoughtfulness, and then determine if the item gifted is suitable for our family and home. If it isn’t, I give it to a person or nonprofit that will put it to better use. This might sound rude, but I truly don’t believe it is. I can’t imagine that most people would be angered to know that the teddy bear they’d intended for my son is instead comforting a child in the foster care system within L.A. — whereas if a teddy bear stayed here in the cottage, it would get torn to shreds by our youngest beagle within minutes.
A. My favorite gift to give is almost always freshly baked bread, accompanied by a jar of jam made from the Concord grapevine here at the cottage. I wrap those in a reusable linen napkin or tea towel and tie the bundle off with a bit of twine and a clipping of fresh eucalyptus, rosemary or lavender.
Browse linen kitchen towels in the Houzz Shop
A. West will wake up to a big stack of 29 “new” books from the L.A. city and county libraries! He can keep the titles for several weeks before we have to return them, and by then he’ll be ready for different stories anyway.
I also think I’ll give him his own paddle for the cottage canoe, stenciled with his favorite trucks. He loves to help us row during our sunset paddles around the neighborhood.
Toys to Inspire Budding Architects and Designers
A. I have a convertible desk that converts within a few seconds from a sitting to a standing desk. It’s attractive, the hardware is concealed, and it requires no add-ons to become a standing work surface. For folks who live and work in a small space, it can reduce the number of surfaces needed or desired without sacrificing style.
Find adjustable-height desks
We’ve used our petite three-tier rolling cart for a bit of everything over the years. It’s been a bar, an office supply corral, a cloth diaper goods station, a bookshelf, a plant stand — even for a Christmas tree — and more.
For folks with a gas range, getting a simple over-the-stove bamboo cutting board — or even two, side by side — is an exceptionally easy way to increase valuable surface inches in a compact kitchen when the burners aren’t in use.
Q. Where does a creative person like you do DIY projects and keep hobby doodads?
A. I highly suggest buying only what is needed for a particular project at the time you intend to tackle that project. In other words, don’t buy a set of, say, 100 beads if you need only 10. And don’t buy goods today for a task you plan to do a month from now. You might never get around to it, but then you’ll have to stash the materials regardless. This approach will hopefully save you money, reduce your footprint on the environment and reduce clutter within your home — all without shorting you of the joys and experiences involved.
Additionally, when seeking storage containers, don’t limit yourself to searching strictly for an item by its name or intended purpose. Broaden your scope and search instead for an item that matches your allotted storage space and needs. For example, a bulky craft supply box might not fit well in your small space, whereas a hanging pocket jewelry organizer can keep your supplies orderly while tucking neatly into your closet with ease.
A. Scan them, save the files to a Dropbox and recycle the hard copies. We’ve done this for years, and it’s wonderful for so many reasons. There’s no paper buildup, you’ll always have access to the files no matter where you are — or what happens to your home, knock on wood — and you might even enjoy them more often. I find that I actually see the digital copies of photos and letters far more often than I did when they were crammed into a box under our bed.
What to Know About Digitizing Your Photos
A. Everyone’s space is different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But these are the overarching concepts I’d suggest keeping in mind: Small-space living isn’t about overorganizing and cramming as much as you can into your tiny home or apartment. It’s about figuring out what you need — and what you don’t need — in order to live happily and comfortably. Do you need to stock up on discounted gift wrap at the end of the season? Or can you perhaps save that space and money by instead challenging yourself to come up with clever and eco-friendly ways to beautifully dress your gifts next year?
Once you’ve pared down, get creative with storage solutions. For example, thanks to our Southern California climate, we were able to convert our bedroom closet into a nursery by downsizing and relocating most of our wardrobe to a 2-by-4-foot weatherproof cedar garden shed.
Browse storage sheds
If you don’t travel often, can your suitcase become a place to stash your stockings and ornaments? Do string lights need to be kept in a bulky container, or can they be tucked out of sight by lining the hidden interior of a bookshelf and nestling within the gap between your paperbacks and the back wall? Instead of relying on oversize plastic bins, can you divide hooks and accessories up into upcycled cardboard shoe boxes that can serve as risers for lightweight accessories in the back of a closet or under the bed?
Q. Can buying Small Space Stylebe compatible with downsizing?
A. You’ll notice that one of the things we have plenty of here in our tiny home is books. My general rule for acquiring anything new is to donate at least two things in its place. So when I buy a book, I go through our collection and pull out two titles to give to the library or a friend. I keep volumes that I return to often for reference or relaxation, as well as books written by friends and colleagues. But I let go of standard novels that I’ve read and don’t intend to revisit. So yes— and thank you!
About Whitney Leigh Morris
Morris, a firm believer in the idea that you don’t need to live large to live beautifully, has lived in her 1924 cottage for more than seven years. Through her Tiny Canal Cottage blog, her Instagram account, consulting and now the 200-plus tips and simple DIYs in Small Space Style (Weldon Owen, November 2018; $29), she aims to help individuals, couples and families live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces. She also serves on the board of The RightWay Foundation, which serves foster youth, and is engaged in the Venice community.