love is in the air

Love is in the air, as Galentine’s Day (thank you, Leslie Knope) and Valentine’s Day are fast approaching. Whether you are spending these holidays with your best friends or your significant other, there are plenty of ways to celebrate! Instead of going out for a night of dinner and drinks, consider these options to help you celebrate love, friendship or togetherness this month!

  • Take a class: Do something that is outside of your comfort zone by trying something new with your partner or friends. Whether there is a dish you have always wanted to learn to make or a SoulCycle class you have been dying to try, take the leap and sign up! Look up local classes in your area for some ideas.
  • Cook a three-course meal: Getting wined and dined at a restaurant is great, but it can be even better at home. Plan out a menu to cook together that includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. Pour the wine and get to cooking!
  • Travel somewhere new: Sometimes last-minute trips are the best trips. Hit the open road and plan a quick weekend trip to somewhere you have never been before. Exploring a new city, whether it is in your home state or a neighboring state, is bound to bring you a weekend of adventures!
  • Host a party: Who doesn’t love a good excuse for a themed party?! Have your guests come dressed in red or pink, throw on some classic love songs, serve some festive drinks and let everyone mix and mingle! Spread the love by asking guests to bring red or pink sweets for all to enjoy!
  • Simply Local recommendation: Bury the Hatchet: If celebrating Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly your thing, try a different take on the day. Grab your friends and head to Bury the Hatchet for some good, old-fashioned axe throwing. Bury the Hatchet has locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Kansas.

No matter what you choose to do or who you spend the day with, I hope you have a great Valentine’s Day filled with love, laughter and fun memories!

travel guide: nashville, tn

Nashville is by far my favorite city I have ever visited in the U.S. The country music, hot chicken and live bands almost everywhere you go are just some of the reasons that I fell in love with this Tennessee city.

I went to Nashville with a few of my friends in 2017, and since then, I have been itching to go back (thankfully I am going back later this year!). From doing a pedal tavern in a rainstorm and celebrating the Nashville Predators winning two Stanley Cup games, to talking about how we pretended to be a bachelorette party on the radio, it is safe to say that our trip to Nashville was full of adventures! Read on below for some of my favorite activities and places we visited while we were there!

Where to Stay

Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Downtown
Just two minutes away from the historic Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, and a short walk to Lower Broadway, the main street of bars and restaurants downtown, the Courtyard is a great location to stay at while in Nashville. The hotel has clean, comfortable rooms and a Starbucks — the perfect combination to kickstart a full day in Music City!

What to Do

Grand Ole Opry Tour
Normally, I would recommend seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry if possible, but unfortunately, there were no shows scheduled when we visited. I still wanted to check out this important piece of Music City’s history, so my friend Allie and I jumped in an Uber and spent an afternoon touring the Grand Ole Opry. Having the opportunity to go backstage and even step foot on the Opry stage is something I will never forget! Find out more about the backstage tour here!

Join the Studio Audience at The Ty Bentli Show
Formerly known as the Ty, Kelly & Chuck show, the Ty Bentli Show on Nash FM is one of my favorite radio programs to listen to. When I found out you can be a part of the studio audience, I knew it was a must for my trip to Nashville. As someone who works in media, it was great to see Ty and Chuck in action. They were incredibly welcoming, and they even gave me an opportunity to be part of the show! After the show, we got to tour the other studios in the building, and we even learned how to line dance with Shawn Parr from Nash Nights Live! Whether you listen to Ty’s morning show every day or hear it for the first time while in Nashville, this is an experience I highly recommend! Click here to learn more about how to join the audience!

Nashville Pedal Tavern
When you walk around in Nashville, you are bound to see groups of people pedaling through the streets, singing songs and drinking. While there are several different pedal taverns to choose from, we chose Nashville Pedal Tavern and had a great time. Unfortunately, it was pouring out the day we were scheduled to ride, but Nashville Pedal Tavern employees provided us with ponchos and a driver who made the day so much fun despite the bad weather! The Pedal Tavern also stopped at a few bars along the way, giving us an opportunity to explore parts of Nashville we had not been to yet. Book your bike tour here!

Lower Broadway
Lower Broadway is a must for your Nashville getaway. No matter where you go, there is live music playing all day and night. The bands are so talented and they all take requests. Some of our favorite spots include Tootsies, Honky Tonk and Nudie’s!

The Gulch
Have you ever seen pictures of the famous wall murals in Nashville? My favorite is this one pictured here: “What Lifts You?” created by Kelsey Montague! You can check them out in person by visiting The Gulch. A short ride away from downtown, The Gulch also has some great boutiques and restaurants, including two of my favorites: Biscuit Love and Burger Republic.

Where to Eat

Biscuit Love
We may have waited two hours in the hot, Tennessee sun, but Biscuit Love was well worth the wait. This is the first restaurant we stopped at once we hopped off the plane, and from fluffy biscuits to large mimosas, Biscuit Love did not disappoint! Make sure you try a Bonut (fried biscuit dough) while you are there. I promise you, you will not regret it!

Pancake Pantry
This was my favorite breakfast spot we ate at while in Nashville, and we all agreed that the food was amazing. I am a big fan of breakfast, and Pancake Pantry exceeded all of my expectations. From the best crepes to melt-in-your-mouth hash browns, I am still dreaming about this meal!

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Located in Midtown, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken has some of the best hot chicken around Nashville. You can’t go wrong with a hot chicken sandwich and a side of pimento mac & cheese!

Burger Republic
Declared one of Zagat’s 50 Burgers in 50 States, the Tennessee burger at Burger Republic is one of the best burgers I have tasted to date! Topped with a Jack Daniel’s honey glaze, maple bacon and crispy onions, this burger was absolutely delicious! Definitely make this one of your stops while in Nashville!

These are just some of my favorite spots we visited during our weekend in Tennessee! I hope this travel guide inspires you to put on some country music, pack up a pair of cowboy boots and travel to this amazing city!

winter slumberland

Connor and I absolutely love the Christmas season, and celebrating with our friends is one of our favorite parts about this time of year. To officially kick off the holiday season and the countdown to Christmas, we hosted our second annual Winter Slumberland event!

Winter Slumberland is a brunch idea that we came up with where everyone invited shows up in their best Christmas jammies and we eat, drink and be merry! From brunch, mimosas and holiday-inspired desserts to Christmas movies and spending quality time with each other, Winter Slumberland is definitely one of our favorite parties we have ever hosted! Read on below to see how we prepared for this fun holiday brunch!

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To get ready for Winter Slumberland and the holiday season, we decked out the apartment with Christmas decorations. This year, we decided on a blue and silver Christmas tree. With some neutral decorations and pops of red, we worked to transform our apartment into a winter wonderland!

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Once the apartment was decorated, it was time to focus on the menu for Winter Slumberland. From French Toast Casserole and bagels, to quiche, monkey bread and Oreo truffles, there were plenty of options and sweet treats! We also made some holiday treats that were almost too cute to eat! Read on below for some of these fun holiday recipes!

Christmas Tree Brownies

This recipe was so much fun and simple to construct. Start by making your favorite type of brownies and let them cool (for approximately 15 people, we made two boxes). Once cooled, cut the brownies into triangle shapes and add in a small piece of candy cane at the bottom for the tree trunk. Then, we used food coloring to dye vanilla frosting green. With a piping bag, we created a zigzag pattern on the brownies, and we topped them with some crystal and pearl sprinkles for ornaments! Last, but not least, star sprinkles for the tops of each tree!

Santa Hat Pancakes

Another easy holiday recipe! Stack several mini pancakes on large toothpicks (we used six to eight pancakes per stack). Cut the tops of strawberries off to remove the stems and create an even base. Slide a strawberry on top of the pancake stack, and top it with a mini marshmallow! Sprinkle some powdered sugar over the pancake stacks before serving!

Snowman Donut Kebabs

These snowman donut kebabs only require 4 ingredients to make! Stack three mini powdered donuts on a kebab stick. Use a piece of fruit rollup to tie a “scarf” on top of the second donut. Then, add an orange gumdrop nose in the first donut and two green gumdrop buttons in the other two. Finally, add in eyes made out of coal by using black food coloring!

With tons of food to eat, mimosas, coffee, and hot chocolate flowing, and a room full of friends, we spent the day lounging, laughing and celebrating the true meaning of holiday spirit: togetherness.

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slow cooker apple cider


Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and I am so excited to see my family and share an incredible meal together. I have been testing out different recipes that I can bring for our Thanksgiving feast, and this slow cooker apple cider has definitely made the list. Not only does it taste delicious, but it will also make your house smell amazing while it is cooking!

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Ingredients:
5 gala apples, sliced
1 orange, peeled and sliced
5 cinnamon sticks
3/4 cup of cranberries
6 cups of water

• Cut the tops and bottoms off of the apples before slicing and placing the pieces into the slow cooker. Peel and slice the orange and add it to the pot as well. Add in the cranberries, cinnamon sticks and the water, and stir.
• Cook the mixture on high for four hours.
• Once the cider has finished, mash the fruit pieces into the mixture (I used a potato masher).
• Strain the mixture through a sieve.
• Pour into cups, top with some cooked cranberries and enjoy!

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how to maintain long-distance friendships

Growing up, one thing I always took for granted was just how close my friends and I all lived to each other. Almost all of my friends lived anywhere between a 5 to 20 minute drive from my home. As we have gotten older, those quick drives have turned into hour-long commutes, whether it be by car, bus, train or plane. Living far from friends can be difficult; however, the friendships are not impossible to maintain. Here are a few tips for keeping your long-distance friendships stronger than ever:

IMG_6104Find the halfway point between you and your friends
A long commute is not that bad all of the time, but now and then it can become tedious. Find the halfway point between all of you, and start researching the towns in that vicinity. Not only will it cut down the time it takes you to be reunited with your besties, but it also gives you an opportunity to explore new places together!  

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Plan a trip
Visiting a place you have never been to before is a great way to be reunited with your friends and satisfy your travel bug. Whether it is a new city or a new state, vacation time with your friends gives you something to look forward to and plan out together.

Send a care package
If you have friends who moved far from home, they may be feeling homesick, especially at this time of year. If your besties cannot make it home for the holidays, send a care package with their holiday and hometown favorites to cheer them up!

Schedule time to see each other
With everyone having lives of their own, plus the distance between you all, the days of calling up your friends 15 minutes before you want to do something are long gone. Whether you meet for dinner and drinks or an afternoon of binge-watching Netflix in sweats, planning a day to get together in advance guarantees you and your friends will get to spend time with each other.

FaceTime
By far, this is the easiest way to get your best-friend-fix when you cannot see each other in person! While a spontaneous FaceTime call is always welcome from friends, setting aside planned time each month helps make sure you stay in touch and up-to-date on each other’s lives. FaceTime also now has a group chat option, but if you don’t have an iPhone, try using Snapchat’s video chatting feature!

I hope these suggestions help keep you and your friends closer than ever, despite the distance between you all! Do you have other ways you maintain long-distance friendships? Feel free to share them with me in the comments below!

the one where we plan friendsgiving

One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of celebrating friendships. Your friends are your chosen family, and what better way to express your gratitude for them at this time of year than by hosting friendsgiving?

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The rules of friendsgiving are simple: the hosts cook the turkey, gravy and any other menu items they would like, and the rest is up to the guests! From appetizers to side dishes and desserts, it gives guests the opportunity to choose what they would like to bring.

Connor and I have both hosted and been guests at friendsgiving, and no matter what, it is an enjoyable evening filled with good food, laughter and memory-making. Here are some tips for hosting your own friendsgiving event this November:

  • IMG_0181Plan the menu: There are Thanksgiving staples that everyone loves, but writing up a few suggestions will help your friends think outside of the box for other foods to bring if you have a larger guest list. Surprisingly enough, there is such a thing as too many mashed potatoes! Also remember to include food options that cater to any diet choices your friends may have, including vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or gluten-free options!
  • Ask your friends to prepare dishes ahead of time: Cooking the turkey is hard enough; having to worry about friends preparing their dishes at the same time that yours is finishing up can definitely get hectic. Instead, have your friends bring their already-cooked meals to the house, and set up sternos for food items to keep everything hot before and throughout dinner!
  • Set up the food buffet style: While setting the table is lovely, with a large group of people and a plethora of food, buffet style just makes everything easier. To make the table setting feel cozier while everyone is dining, light some candles and scatter some small pumpkins and other fall decorations on the table.
  • Processed with VSCO with acg presetMake the event BYOB: Having a few staples on hand is great, but asking friends to bring their favorite types of wine, beer or liquor contributes to the potluck vibe of the evening, and it gives everyone a chance to share their favorite beverages with the group! If you are feeling creative, add a signature drink to the menu, like this apple cider mimosa: apple cider, champagne and a brown sugar rim is the perfect combination for a festive, fall beverage!
  • Go around the table and ask everyone to say one thing they are thankful for: Everyone is going to be so excited to dig into the amazing dinner and desserts that have been prepared for the evening, but it is important to remember why you are all together — to celebrate your friendships and express gratitude for each other. After all, this is what brought you all together for friendsgiving in the first place!

I hope these tips help you host a wonderful friendsgiving event this holiday season! Here is a sample menu to help you get started with the planning! Hope you enjoy gobbling up these tasty dishes!

friendsgiving menu

appetizers
• veggie platter
• meat and cheese platter
• chips and dip / salsa

main course
turkey
gravy
mashed potatoes

• sweet potatoes
• stuffing
• cranberry sauce
• salad
• green bean casserole
• corn and/or other veggies
• mac and cheese
• pasta
• chicken or eggplant parmesan
• dinner rolls

desserts
• apple pie with vanilla ice cream
• pumpkin pie
• pecan pie
• brownies
• cookies
• doughuts

drinks
• red and white wine
• beer
• cider
• sangria
• soda
• hot apple cider
• hot chocolate
• coffee
• water
• signature drink

motivation monday: how to stand out at work and advance your career

I truly believe in the phrase, “if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.” While it can be difficult to discover what it is that you love to do, I am a firm believer in working hard and never settling. That mentality helped me land a job and advance my career with my dream company in under four years. If you find yourself needing some motivation at work, here are my five tips for ways you can stand out and advance your own career:

Be passionate about what you do: I have had a few jobs since I graduated college, and while I liked and did my best work at all of them, I have to admit that I did not have the same level of passion for those jobs as I do for my current job. My dedication to my work combined with my determination to do well fuels my passion, which helps me be a better leader and employee because I am truly invested in the outcome of my work and the work of my team. I love the industry I am in, and that makes going to work each day enjoyable — no matter how crazy the day can get! When you love what you do, people will notice; figuring out your passions and developing them into your career will always inspire you to work hard and do well.

Step out of your comfort zone: Pursuing opportunities that stray from your job requirements is a great way to stand out at work. It is so easy to slip into the routine of showing up for work each day, performing the same job, leaving and repeating this cycle for the rest of the week, so change it up! Search for new challenges that you otherwise would not encounter in your day-to-day duties, whether it be working with another department, taking on a new assignment or traveling for business. Stepping up and out of your comfort zone will help you network with other employees within your company and may open up doors to opportunities you did not realize existed.

Learn to say yes: Be willing to go the extra mile and put in more work than your daily job duties require. Show initiative at work by always helping others, being reliable, taking on new challenges or working on special projects. Sometimes saying yes all the time does not come with an immediate benefit; however, it will always pay off in the long run. Being the person that your boss, your team and other departments can rely on will help you go far in the workplace.

Find a mentor: We all need people to look up to in life, and the same goes for in the office. Find people who inspire you in your field and talk to them. Find out how they got into the industry you are in, what their career trajectory was and what their successes and their failures were. Ask for advice on how you can follow a similar path to them, and then act on it. Finding people whose work ethic you admire, who are well-respected by others and who do their jobs extraordinarily well is important when searching for mentors. Remember, do not look at those around you as your competition; instead, look to them for inspiration and motivation to become an even better employee.

Become an expert in something: While all aspects of your job should always get your full attention, dedicating a little extra time to learning more about a facet of your industry will be extremely beneficial. Communicate with individuals who are knowledgeable about your industry, study and learn as much as possible so that you can become a subject matter expert on something related to your job. Taking the time to learn more than what your job requires will help you stand out to your peers and leaders, and it will help prepare you for whatever your next step within your industry may be!

If you work hard, learn as much as you can and develop new skill sets, you will definitely stand out as a professional in your field. A strong work ethic combined with passion will take you far in any industry, and when you have the opportunity to do what you love every day, it is extremely rewarding.

I hope these tips help you find some motivation at work this Monday!

fall favorites

IMG_5704This past weekend, Connor and I celebrated our sixth anniversary! I feel so blessed to have someone like him by my side each and every day, and I am always amazed by how much we have done and accomplished together — being in love with my best friend is truly something special. We have shared so many memories and milestones over the years, and our anniversary is the perfect excuse to celebrate all of that!

IMG_5706In the past, we have always tried to travel somewhere new for our anniversary, but this year, we chose to do something different. Life has been pretty busy these days, and our work schedules are completely opposite, so we decided to take a step back and have a relaxing, fun weekend at home. 

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From pumpkin picking and carving to dinner and a movie, we spent the weekend doing some of our favorite things together. 
We had such a great weekend, and in the spirit of celebrating, I wanted to share some fun activities that you can add to your fall bucket list. Grab your significant other or a group of friends and hit up some of my favorite spots before the season ends!

 

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetDemarest Farms
Demarest Farms is the perfect place to spend a crisp fall day. Hop on a hayride to search for the perfect pumpkins to carve for Halloween, and on the way back, grab a bite to eat. Make sure to pick up some apple cider donuts before you leave, and heat them before you eat them! They are so delicious!

Tip: if you visit Demarest Farms earlier in the season, you can also go apple picking there! Connor and I have some apples that we are planning on baking into a pie this weekend!

Angry Orchard
This is a great place to go with a group of friends! From cider tastings and treehouse tours to live entertainment and lawn games, Angry Orchard has a great property for all-day entertainment.

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Warwick Winery
Warwick offers wine and cider tastings, as well as a distillery tour and live music. In the cooler months, there is an indoor tasting room complete with a wood-burning stove; when the weather is warmer, there is plenty of outdoor space to enjoy drinks and food with friends!

Pennings Farm Cidery
There is a variety of ciders on tap here, offering a variety for all palettes. Pair your favorite with lunch or dinner and enjoy! Starting in November, the tasting room is only open on the weekends and for adults 21 and over.



BE5945FC-8B6C-417D-85EE-B65B78C09FDE.JPGBear Mountain Oktoberfest
This is your last weekend to visit Bear Mountain for Oktoberfest (it closes Oct. 28). Grab a stein, fill it with beer or cider and snack on some pretzels while hanging out with friends!

Brownstone Pancake Factory
Brownstone is great any time of year, but it offers amazing fall-themed dishes! From Pumpkin Cheesecake Nutella Pancakes to a Halloween Ultimate Shake, you will be drooling over all of the options!

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Movie Night
Halloween is the perfect movie to get you into the fall spirit this season. Michael Meyers makes his chilling return to the big screen in this classic series, and it is definitely worth the watch. Movie theater popcorn is always an added bonus!

Netflix & Chills
Netflix has several Halloween movies available for binging, but this season, give your full attention to The Haunting of Hill House. This show may have given me nightmares for days, but it is so good. Cuddle up with some hot cocoa and light a few candles, because you will not want to watch this one in the dark!

Almost all of my suggestions are for locations that are open throughout the year, but I do love visiting these places in the fall! Let me know if you have visited any of these spots or have any suggestions of your own in the comments below or on Instagram by tagging @ livingsimplygray!

travel guide: austin, tx

This April, my friends and I hopped on a plane to Austin, TX for a girls’ weekend. Our trip to Austin included a lot of BBQ, beer and bats — read on to find out more about our favorite Austin spots!

Where to Stay

Hyatt Place Downtown: We had a great experience with this hotel. It is located in downtown Austin, so everything we needed was always a quick car ride away. The rooms were clean and spacious; there was more than enough room for the five of us! The hotel staff was also incredibly friendly and helpful. We planned this trip for our friends’ birthday weekend, and the staff helped us kick off the celebrations by bringing champagne and some cake up to the room as a surprise!

Where to Eat

Kerby Lane Cafe: This was our first stop once we landed in Austin, and we knew we were in the right place when our waiter suggested we order queso at 9:30 in the morning. I would do anything to get that queso in Jersey! The food was so good, that we had brunch here twice!

Gordough’s Public House: Gordough’s has a food truck and a restaurant, but I recommend heading to the restaurant. Pitchers of Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s were plentiful, as was the food here! Hands down, this was one of the best meals I have ever tried: crispy fried chicken, a potato pancake, warm cream corn, candied jalapeños — all on top of a hot donut. What more could you ask for?!

Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden: Banger’s is an awesome spot for dinner and drinks. With outdoor seating and a menu of 30 homemade sausages and more than 100 craft beers, it is a great place to hang out with friends, have a few laughs and share a tasty meal!

Torchy’s Tacos: This is the best taco spot we found while we were in Austin! The menu has a huge variety that will cater to anyone’s taco cravings, and while there might be a bit of a wait, it is definitely worth it!

Truluck’s Steakhouse and Seafood: One thing we have learned while traveling on long weekend trips is that we should set aside one night to wine and dine ourselves. Truluck’s was the perfect choice for that. The wine list was extensive, and the food was absolutely delicious.

What to Do:
Bat Watching
: Admittedly, I was skeptical about watching bats, but when a handful of people recommended this activity to us, we had to check it out. There are 1.5 million bats that reside under the Congress Ave. Bridge in Austin, and around dusk, they fly out in swarms. Most people were lined up along the entire bridge, while some even sat in boats nearby to watch this phenomenon. If you are looking for an experience unique to Austin, this is it!

Graffiti ParkThis was our last stop before we left Austin, and it was one of the coolest things we saw while we were on this trip. The original location of Graffiti Park is on Baylor Street, but there are plans to move it to a new location. We were able to visit the original location while we were in Austin, and it is safe to say we left our mark in Graffiti Park! It was so much fun to look at all of the art that was created here, while making some of our own! I cannot wait to see what the new location will look like once it is launched!

UnBARlievableThis was our favorite bar in Austin, and it was 100 percent because of the “Fun Slide!” Besides an actual slide in the middle of the bar, UnBARlievable has a great atmosphere, live music and good drinks!

Lucille: This bar is set in a renovated house and has an outdoor space with hammocks and lawn games. We stopped here on our first night out in Austin, and we had a great time!

Recess Arcade Bar: This is a fun bar to visit on 6th Street during the day if you want to channel your inner child. From giant Jenga to Skee Ball, there are a ton of games to play while having a drink with friends.

We had a great time in Austin, and we cannot wait to go back and visit again some day!

decorating for fall

Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year. The crisp, cool air, red-orange leaves scattered across the ground, pumpkin spice lattes and cozy sweaters are just some of my top reasons for loving this season. While the weather in New Jersey has not fully transitioned into fall just yet, our apartment certainly has!

I love decorating for fall because there are so many different looks that can be chosen for a space. It is easy to feel overwhelmed while walking through the aisles of stores like Home Goods, Hobby Lobby and Michaels at this time of year, but focusing on a few key design elements will narrow down your search for the perfect fall decorations and help you create a cozy environment for all to enjoy.

When I am shopping for decorations, I look for pieces that will reflect the season and fit seamlessly into my year-round design style. I love the welcoming atmosphere that is created by utilizing the warm reds and oranges of fall, but to blend it better with the color scheme of my apartment, I added in some neutral colors and some blues. Using a more neutral color palette provides more options for you as a decorator, and a few pops of color can really help bring the look all together.

I also look for decorations that will get me through an entire season. I picked up classic fall staples like pumpkins and candles, but I also found a few items that will transition our apartment from the start of fall all the way through the end of November. As tempting as it can be to buy new decorations each month, pieces like these help me create a more cohesive design and save money in the long run.


Focusing on smaller details and unique pieces is also important to me when I am decorating a space. I like the idea of incorporating something into my design style that cannot be bought “as is” in a store. To get that unique element for fall, I picked up a bunch of separate flower stems and combined different styles and colors together to create an arrangement for our standing vase. I utilized some of the fall colors I found for my decorations, but I also kept the majority of it neutral so that it could tie together the look of the warm, cozy atmosphere I set out to design.

No matter what season it is, my goal is to create a space where our family and friends always feel welcome in our home. I hope these tips help you create and decorate your own space for fall!