My First Philadelphia Apartment

Small Apartment Living Room | Shades of Sarah

Even though I’ve been living in my house for six months now, I still occasionally find myself nostalgic for my apartment. It was the first place I ever lived in by myself. When I moved in, I had an idea it would be the last place I’d live before I bought I house — I just didn’t expect that to be less than 2 years later!

Before I moved out, I made sure to take some photos of the apartment. Living there definitely came with highs and lows, but I enjoyed making the space my own. Hopefully some of these photos can give you some inspiration if you’re also decorating or organizing a small apartment!

Some details about my old apartment: it is a third-floor walkup in a dog-friendly building that was recently updated, but originally built at the turn of the 20th century. I also rented a corner unit, which meant the natural lighting in the kitchen and bedroom is 💯 I lived in East Kensington, near a coffee/comic book shop and tattoo parlor, and really enjoyed my time in the neighborhood.

For additional context, I moved in following a breakup in which my former partner and I shared a large house, so unlike most twenty-somethings, I was attempting to downsize. Anyway, here’s a brief walkthrough of the apartment:

Living Room

Small Apartment Living Room | Shades of Sarah

My apartment door opened up to my living room. For seating, I bought a gray sleeper sofa from Wayfair and green wingback chair (a hand-me-down, but originally from Target). Above, I hung some of my favorite photographs I’ve taken around Philadelphia, but printed them in black-and-white. My mom garbage-picked the side table and painted it white — it’s one of my favorite pieces. For extra storage in the living room, I used a white Kmart dresser as a tv stand. I acquired an IKEA shoe rack through my local Buy Nothing group. To accommodate it, I disassembled my coat rack and bought this accordion rack from Amazon.

Small Apartment Bookcase | Shades of Sarah

The living room also had a crazy crowded white IKEA bookcase. I was blessed with high ceilings, so I placed a large framed front page from the 2003 World Series, originally from my dad, on top of the bookcase. This was the darkest corner of my entire apartment, but I still had enough light during the day for a silver pothos on the bookcase. Clearly, there was a bit of a green/teal color scheme happening.


When I think about it, my bedroom was actually pretty spacious! But I tried to cram way too many things inside — partly because of the lack of storage space, partly because I’m stubborn. Somehow I managed to fit in: a queen-sized bed, a side table, a chest of drawers and (another) small sleeper sofa. The side table, chest and sofa were all hand-me-downs from friends, because my friends are the best.

Small Apartment Bedroom | Shades of Sarah

I tried a comforter and a duvet set before settling on an all-white quilt for the room. The comforter was just too much work to take to the laundromat (#glamorous), and the quilt was plain on both sides, therefore reversible and easy to bleach. For extra comfort, I added IKEA throw pillows and fuzzy husband from Target. I never got around to adding more decor to the walls by my bed, so it was just a canvas painting from a Paint Nite event on a large wall.

Small Apartment Bedroom | Shades of Sarah

My mom and I hung a matching mirror above the chest, and on top of it I kept jewelry boxes, a picture frame, some small plants and a salt lamp. A mini-gallery wall took shape with a framed map of Colombia (my mom’s native country), a wooden map of Philadelphia and another small mirror and Aztec-inspired plate.

This blue sleeper sofa was my original couch, and I moved into my bedroom once I bought my gray Wayfair one. When it wasn’t covered by my laundry, it was another space for me or Arya (or any of our other dog visitors) to lounge. Above the sofa, we hung another small gallery wall and a larger framed print from Minted (you can read about both here).


My kitchen wasn’t too exciting, but I did love the two windows and I had a decent amount of counter space. While living in my apartment, I started to get into plants more (you may or may not have noticed), and most lived in the kitchen.

Small Apartment Kitchen | Shades of Sarah

To take advantage of the light while maintaining privacy, I used cafe panels instead of longer curtains for my tall windows. A friend gave me papel picado (I love Mexican and other Latin American decor), which I hung in the kitchen for extra color.


Even less exciting than the kitchen, but hey, more plants! I made the macrame hanger for my pothos. Above the toilet, my mom and I hung frames I had in my teenage bedroom. They’e actually small puzzles of famous artworks that we put together and then glued to matting.

Small Apartment Bathroom | Shades of Sarah

For extra storage, I added a corner shelf next to the sink. I picked it up sometime in college, and it has been essential in different living situations. Highly recommend picking one up, like this one from Amazon!

That’s about it. It was fun going back through these photos, because I kept almost everything from my apartment but found new ways to arrange and organize things in my house. Things are still coming together, but I see some room tours in this blog’s future! I hope this helps someone who is looking to decorate their first city apartment!

~ Sarah

A Weekend In Gettysburg

Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah

Remember when I went to Gettysburg last summer? I almost forgot, until my friend Nancy asked me for suggestions! What I do remember is that Gettysburg is an easy drive from Philadelphia, and the perfect weekend escape from city life. It’s also an incredibly dog-friendly area, which is a major bonus when you’re traveling with 120+ lb of dogs. (Highly recommend.)

Where To Stay

Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah

I suggest checking out local Airbnb options (here is my referral code). Gettysburg is an interesting mix of tourist areas and rural country hills. You can definitely find a chain hotel to stay at, if that’s your travel style. Airbnbs offer you some more space, and as someone who has always lived in the suburbs or city, more of a cultural experience. What I’m saying is, YOU CAN STAY ON A FARM. Which is exactly what Melissa and I did.Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah

Our Airbnb was a dream. There were chickens, horses, farm dogs and goats. One of the highlights was bottle feeding two baby goats. We brought our own snacks and wine, and drank on the porch and looked at the stars. This is such a city girl cliche, but OMG there are so many stars. The next morning, we drank our coffee and tea on the porch and took in all of the sounds of ~nature~. Definitely a more relaxing soundtrack than city buses.

What To Do

Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah
Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah
Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah
I couldn’t go to Gettysburg and not visit the battlefields. (Fun fact: I was an American studies major.) Gettysburg National Park is overwhelming in scope. There are a lot of audio tour options and bus tour options, but since we were traveling with Zamboni and Arya, we chose to walk. We mostly walked around Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. (Dogs are allowed on the grounds, but not indoors or inside the cemeteries.) You could spend a whole day walking around Gettysburg National Park and not see everything. Everything is very spread out, and, tragically, it puts history in perspective.

For a more traditional hike, our Airbnb host recommended Pine Grove Furnace State Park, close by in Gardners, PA. We ran out of time for this, but it looked awesome.

What To Eat & Drink

Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah
Melissa and I were pleasantly surprised to learn that Adams County is home to several winerys and cideries (it’s actually nicknamed Apple County)! We wrapped up our day at Hauser Estate Winery, which has beautiful views. In addition to their own wines, they also make Jack’s Hard Cider! My favorite drink was a crisp cider sangria, which was perfect for summer. We also had fried apple dumplings to snack on! Hauser Estate also has dog-friendly outdoor seating, although the pups were too wiped out to join us.

Other wineries and cideries in the area:

Adams County Winery
25 Chambersburg St
Gettysburg, PA 17325

Reid’s Orchard & Winery
2135 Buchanan Valley Rd.  
Orrtanna, PA 17353

Reid’s actually has a tasting room in downtown Gettysburg too (400 Baltimore St.). Before we left Gettysburg, we visited downtown and ate lunch. Also, be aware that much of the town is actually closed on Sundays! We had lunch at One Lincoln, where we sat out on the patio with the dogs overlooking Lincoln Square and drank some Big Hill Cider. We didn’t visit any museums, but the Gettysburg Railroad Station is a very cool building.
Gettysburg Guide - Shades of Sarah

I enjoyed my time in Gettysburg, and I would definitely go back in the future to visit more wineries and try a ghost tour. A trip to Gettysburg is also shockingly affordable compared to a big weekend in the city. You can read Melissa’s recap here.

~ Sarah


Hola Chica Cactus LoafersMany, many moons ago, Julia tagged me in this post to answer 11 things about myself. Now that The Blog Connect is over (more on that later), I figured I might as well answer these questions (and share some photos from…last summer??). Better late than never! 😉 In case you are new-ish around here, these are the basics: my name is Sarah, I’m a Miami native living in the cold Northeast, I love all dogs (especially mine), and I’m accumulating plants at an alarming rate. Now, onto Julia’s questions!

What has blogging taught you?

Ugh, so much. There are skills that are actually practical: self-revision, photography, SEO. Mostly, I am grateful that blogging has opened up a lot of opportunities for me. I interned at a lot of cool places in college, and my blog definitely set me apart from other applicants. Now, I’m on the board(?) planning committee(?) of PHLbloggers, and we just hosted our third Blog Connect Conference. A crazy amount of my friends in Philly, well, I met them through blogging. I’m not sure if starting a blog was my ~sliding doors~ moment, but it has definitely changed my life.

What was your favorite blog post to write?

The first one that comes to mind is when I got to visit the set of American Ninja Warrior! Outfit photos are fun, but I also really like writing about sports (like I did here and here).

What are some of your favorite blogs to read?

Lucky for you, I still have an entire page dedicated to my blogroll!

Where do you live and what do you love about it?

I’m coming up on five (!!!) years in Philadelphia, which is crazy. I did not expect to fall in love with Philly the way I have, but here we are. So what do I love about this city? I love the neighborhoods, the walkability, the food, the people, the history, the culture, the beer gardens, the weather from May through October. I decidedly do not like the Eagles or winter, but nothing and nowhere is perfect.

What was your college major?

I double-majored in communications and American studies (basically the study of American history and culture). While not always  relevant, most of my classes were interesting.

What is your dream travel destination?

This is so dull, but London. I’ve always loved English history, and I still haven’t been! Also on my list are Prague, Montreal and Vancouver (again).

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had traveling?

Luckily, I’ve had mostly positive experiences traveling. My trip out West was great (even though I still have to finish blogging about it!). I’ve been blessed to go to Colombia and Costa Rica numerous times and learn more about my family history and heritage. One of the most meaningful experiences though? Probably my service trip to Esperanza in the Dominican Republic.

What is your favorite season?

In Philadelphia: summer. In Florida: winter. Basically, I aspire to enjoy my retirement as a snowbird.

What have you been reading lately?

The Internet? Is that not a legitimate answer? I did go on a tear of James Patterson books this winter in an attempt to clear out my bookcase.

What is the most meaningful souvenir you’ve gotten when traveling?

Such a good question! There are definitely some pieces of jewelry and clothing I’ve purchased while traveling that mean a lot to me. I also collect postcards, so those are always fun. Nothing beats personal photographs though.

What is one thing few people know about you?

This is so hard. I think I am a pretty open book, so nothing came to mind easily. Despite all my traveling, I’m actually petrified of planes and heights — but I think a good amount of people IRL know that about me. I also cannot ride a bike! I 100% used to know, but guess what, after ten years without riding a bike, you do, in fact, forget how. I wish I had some secret fun facts that make me sound less inept, but not today!

~ Sarah

Top: Primark
Jeans: Gap Factory
Flats: H&M
Necklace: InPink (RIP)
Woven Bag: Thrifted? Hand-me-down? No idea.