This Ventura Apartment Blends Earthy Tones With Sustainable Finds
Inside environmental activist Leah Thomas' tiny but mighty abode.
For Leah Thomas, intersectional environmentalism isn’t just her work — it’s an extension of who she is, and how she lives.
Dotted around her 700-square-foot Ventura apartment are thrifted pillows, glossy ceramics by local artisans, and a collection of vivid houseplants. Each item an ode to Thomas' personal ethos of sustainability and social justice.
But, its charm doesn’t just come from the ensemble of decor inside — it's the apartment itself that lured Thomas in. Tucked away in a community lined with symmetrical houses and evenly spaced lawns, the dwelling proved to be a surprising diamond in the rough, offering a welcome respite.
“It was kind of random,” Thomas recalls. “There’s all these palm trees inside and it has this enclosed Spanish courtyard — and then the rest of the neighborhood is just suburban. So, it definitely stood out. From the outside of the apartment complex, you can't see all those details, but when you get inside, it’s really pretty.”
So, perched above an ornate fountain, surrounded by warm clay tile and peppered white stucco, Thomas, partner Alec, and their beloved cat Mama decided to make the tiny apartment their home. The decision came fast — maybe even too fast.
“My partner and I were planning on moving in together, but did so a little bit more quickly than we would have expected because of the pandemic,” Thomas admits. “[This place] was the only apartment that we actually toured — which was probably irresponsible, but it worked out. It was just a really nice space that I didn't think would be there, and a really tranquil place to be able to bunker down for quarantine and work remotely from.”
That sentiment — tranquility — was imbued throughout the home, accomplished through pared-back decor, neutral tones, and some nifty Pinterest inspiration. It was there that Thomas discovered Scandinavian minimalism. Soon enough, mood boards full of pale hues, clean lines, and organic materials populated her page, all with the intention of cultivating comfort and inner peace.
“I thought it was really cool. There's lots of browns and nude colors throughout, and also some grays,” Thomas explains. “And, not decorating too much, not putting too much on the walls — so, really embracing the white walls. That was kind of my approach to styling it — just keeping it minimal, because it's a small space and I wanted to make it feel a little bit larger.”
Fittingly, the color palette of the Spanish courtyard that initially drew Thomas to the apartment worked its way inside. The warm tones of the clay reflected in the terracotta pillows, the white stucco in the pale walls, and the leafy foliage in the houseplants.
This is perhaps most evident in Thomas’ bedroom, where no detail was left unturned. Here, aesthetic, comfort, and intentionality all merge into a satisfying, almost spiritual alignment.
Plush sunset-hued bedding from Morrow Soft Goods pours over the frame, sourced from a woman-owned brand that prioritizes conscious consumption. Paired with a marigold Goodwill throw, the bright hues pose a stark contrast to the blank walls behind, punctuated only by a singular SpaceX vintage travel poster. Bedside plants breathe life into the remaining space, one perched atop her nightstand and another shyly towering in the opposite corner.
If you’re curious about where this ardent dedication to sustainability comes from, look no further than Thomas’ Instagram. She coined the term “intersectional environmentalism” in a viral post last year during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling for a version of sustainability that protects both people and the planet. In other words, ditching the ‘100% vegan and zero-waste’ mentality for one that acknowledges how sustainability and social justice are intertwined.
Since then, the concept has snowballed into a movement and community of over 380,000 people. And, at just 26-years-old, Thomas has become a prominent face of this new wave.
It’s no surprise then, to see that ethos extend into her home. Take, for example, her hydroponic garden.
“That represents food justice to me,” Thomas says. “It's essentially this contraption that uses a minimal amount of water and a minimal amount of soil — and it's able to grow vegetables and herbs and fruits and things like that. Hydroponics, or farming in this way, is a really great way to fight against food insecurity, because it doesn't require a lot of energy or space. It grows upward, so it's perfect for urban environments.”
Meanwhile, literature on the subject adorns her bookshelves — the spines of which have been clearly broken into, bookmarks peeking out of the pages. Parsing through the titles is like parsing through Thomas’ mind, one that boldly and thoughtfully reimagines what the future can look like.
On one end sits All We Can Save, an anthology on the feminist climate renaissance. On the other, Black Nature, rich with writings by African American poets. And, tucked in between, classics like The Alchemist and letters from Langston Hughes urge the importance of following your heart, much like Thomas is doing herself.
With activism so central to Thomas’ work, it’s become increasingly important to step back and nourish herself, too. The kitchen perhaps best facilitates this. In the mornings, you’ll catch her leaning over the countertop brewing a ritualistic coffee or matcha, and in the evenings, cooking up a tried-but-true recipe.
“I just love food and I love cooking, so I love being in the kitchen,” Thomas notes. “I'm also really proud of my plates and bowls and things like that, because I love getting them from local ceramic artists and different artisans in the area. I love all the different colors, so I feel really proud of [the] collection that I've developed.”
She’d often stumble upon the vibrant, bulbous creations at Findings Market, a community marketplace that works with local, eco-friendly artisans and independent designers.
Thomas is also no stranger to perusing Instagram or even her own platform — where she’s cultivated a database of BIPOC-owned sustainable brands — whenever she’s on the search for something new. The ever-soothing Always Pan was one such find, which often sits pretty atop her stove.
Living in a small space, minimalism turned out to be more than just an aesthetic choice for Thomas — it served as a reminder of how a clear space can cultivate mental clarity.
“Clutter breeds anxiety. But, when there's clutter, there's a lot of anxiety to clean it all up. So, then you procrastinate, and then you don't do it, and you become more anxious. So there's kind of an anxiety spiral that goes on and on there, which is a bit unfortunate,” she illustrates.
“To avoid that, and promote well-being in a smaller space, it's just getting into the habit of putting things away as soon as you are finished with them. Because even the smallest spoon or something on a table in a small apartment is really apparent because there's not much space. Getting into a routine where you’re like, ‘Okay, I just cooked, so I'm going to do the dishes as I go' — I feel like that's really helped with any anxiety around clutter.”
One thing that got her organized? Getting creative with storage. Thomas herself opts for the mason jar variety. Scattered behind the cabinets and tucked away in hidden nooks of her home, you’ll find a slew of them, brimming with craft supplies, grains, and coffee beans.
“[They] are kind of sentimental to me — I know that sounds really funny,” Thomas laughs. “I think they're peak low-waste living, stereotypically. But, I honestly have had so many mason jars and containers that’ve been on so many journeys with me. They have so many purposes and are just a really good reminder of sustainability.”
Another challenge that came with the stark square-footage was designating boundaries for different areas of the home.
“We have more space now,” Thomas explains, as she’s since moved to a larger Santa Barbara abode. “But, during the pandemic, it was really hard because I was working from home and trying to live from home — so the lines of when to turn off from work definitely blurred, especially because a lot of my work was on social media. I almost felt like I could never turn off.”
“But, one thing that did help is I put a little desk in the corner of my bedroom that I could work from that was separate from my living room," she adds. "So, that definitely did make some sort of distinction. I feel like if you're in a small space, there's ways to create even smaller spaces that feel a bit separate and have some boundaries.”
In her WFH setup, an oaky World Market desk encloses the space, while geometric Society6 drapes and a lime green rolling chair offer a relief of color. Behind, the decor remains minimal with a gifted macrame wall hanger and artwork from Heritage Goods.
Her favorite part of the home? “The living room,” Thomas admits. “That's definitely where I spent the most time during the pandemic, watching Netflix and things like that.”
Warm tones envelop the space, with a plush sofa, scarlet patterned pillows, and honey-hued textured rug — all from Burrow. Her favorite piece, though, is the dining table adjacent, which she found on Facebook Marketplace. Its circular shape allows conversation to flow seamlessly over meals, and turned out to be quite versatile, too.
“It's collapsible, and that's the best part because you can change it to be so many different orientations,” she dotes.
No stranger to universally loved Target runs, she decorated the table with a neutral crochet runner and rounded chairs from the guilty-pleasure department store — after all, sustainability is about progress, not perfection.
Still, while many enjoy a fresh home edit from season to season, Thomas ultimately goes for a timeless look, departing from fast fashion trends that have taken over in recent years.
“I honestly try to stay away from getting stuff that I don't need because I feel like that helps keep it pretty minimal looking and airy,” she says. “If anything, I'm usually updating things in the kitchen. So, like a new air-fryer that I got or different kitchen appliances, because I feel there's always a need for some random kitchen appliance.”
The self-proclaimed green girl’s tips for others looking to create a greener space?
“Thrifting and repurposing things as much as possible is one of the most sustainable things that you can do in your home when designing. So, even when picking up little knick-knacks, making sure that you're thrifting it or supporting a local artisan when you can,” she says. “Also in terms of purifying your air, plants are the best purifiers. So, having houseplants if you're able to is a great way to create a good environment.”