red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage

I can’t even believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving already.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

I swear it really just snuck up on me this year. Last year I had my entire meal planned months in advance, and because I wanted to share my whole menu with everyone here, I’d even tested, modified, written out, and photographed the recipes well before November even started.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

This year though, the Maxwell’s build-out and opening occupied most of my attention from summer well into the fall, and everything else in my life had to be put on the back burner. I’ve had some ideas stewing that I wanted to test out for my Thanksgiving spread this year, but I just never really found the time, even once Maxwell’s was open and I was able to re-focus my attention elsewhere.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

The funny thing is that I actually first attempted this recipe when I was trying to plan for my Thanksgiving spread last year. I knew that I’d want to make some significant changes to it, and I just had too many other recipes to focus on, so I decided to dog-ear the idea to come back to later.

Well, it’s later now.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, a couple weeks ago I started playing with it to fine tune my vision and streamline the steps. My first instinct was to caramelize the onions and fennel before mixing them in with the cream, but I actually found that by the time the whole thing baked for an hour an a half, the onions and fennel cooked down way too much and were almost indistinguishable. I also originally planned to peel the potatoes, or maybe just the sweet potatoes, but after trying the recipe both ways, peeling just seemed like an unnecessary extra step.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

With everything that goes into making an entire Thanksgiving dinner, I figured that everyone, including myself, would appreciate any unnecessary steps that I could eliminate. Enough effort goes into slicing everything with the mandoline and arranging the slices in tight circles, so as long as it still tastes great, why not make everything else super easy?

Speaking of slicing everything with a mandoline, please be careful when you’re slicing. Those pesky mandolines have bitten me a few times, but if you go slow and use a guard when you get toward the end of the potato, I promise that you can keep your fingertips intact. Another option to keep your fingers super safe would be to invest in a cut resistant glove. Whenever I’ve had any accidents with mandolines though, it’s been because I was going too fast or was distracted by something else in the kitchen. The blades are sharp and deserve your undivided attention, so please use caution! Unfortunately this recipe will be kind of difficult to perfect without one. Sorry friends!
I mean, if you have surgically precise knife skills, by all means please go ahead and just use a knife, but it’s really important that all the slices are the exact same thickness so everything cooks at the same time.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Let me tell you friends, this recipe was worth the wait and the effort. Who could say no to tender, delicate, richly flavored potatoes with crunchy, crispy top edges? The mix of red, white, and sweet potatoes is wonderfully autumnal without being too sweet, and the onions and fennel caramelize in the oven and their flavors go from pungent and intense to rich, mellow, and slightly sweet. The mix of cheeses adds a salty, nutty richness, and the sage, thyme, and garlic make this dish the perfect side to serve with turkey or poultry.
Or maybe I should say turkey would be the perfect side to serve with this gratin, because these potatoes are sure to steal the Thanksgiving spotlight.

It doesn’t have to end at Thanksgiving though! This recipe would be an amazing addition to any fall or winter meal, be it a special occasion, or just a way to up the ante on your sunday dinner.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the recipe below, I say that this dish should yield 6 to 10 side-sized servings, but I want to mention that if you’re serving this at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, with a wide array of other foods, your yield should actually be higher because your portion sizes will be smaller. Although many of your guests may go back in for seconds, people tend to take smaller portions when there’s a lot on the table because they’re trying to fit 15 different things on one plate.

So, at a normal dinner with a main and a side or two, this should feed about 6 to 10 people, but at Thanksgiving I think this recipe should be enough for about 12 to 15. The more the merrier, right?

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Red, White, & Sweet Potato Gratin with Fennel & Sage

  • Servings: 6 to 10 side-size servings
  • Print
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

1 cup grated comte cheese (or other semi-firm nutty cheese like gruyere or emmental)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (sounds like a lot, but this is a lot of potatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 lb red potatoes
1 lb white potatoes
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 large to 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1/2 to 3/4 lb)
2 small to medium onions (about 1/2 lb)
2 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat oven to 400F and adjust rack to the middle of the oven.

Toss cheeses together in a medium bowl to combine. Transfer about 1/3 of the mixture to another bowl and set aside for later use. Back in the first bowl, add cream, salt, pepper, garlic, sage, & thyme; and stir or toss to combine. Set aside.

Using a mandoline slicer, slice all the potatoes, unpeeled, into 1/8 inch thick disks and place into a very large bowl.  The larger the bowl, the easier it will be to toss the potatoes with the cream without making a mess. Slice the onion(s) and fennel bulb(s) to the same thickness and add to the potatoes. Pour cream and cheese mixture over the potatoes and toss toss toss to completely coat each slice of potato with cream. Use your fingers to separate any potatoes that may have become stuck together, so that every single slice is coated in the cream mixture.

Butter the inside of a large casserole, or 12″ cast iron skillet *see note. Organize handfuls of potatoes into neat stacks, along with some slices of onions and fennel, and line them up in the casserole with their edges aligned vertically. Continue placing stacks of potatoes into the dish, working around the perimeter and into the center until all potatoes have been added. Potatoes should be tightly packed. If necessary, slice an additional potato, coat with the remaining cream mixture, and add to the casserole. Pour the remaining cream mixture evenly over the potatoes until the mixture comes about half way up the sides of the potato slices. You may not need all the liquid.

Cover dish tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid/foil and bake for 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven to bake until deep golden brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for at least 15 minutes, and serve.

*cooks note:
I used a braising pan that measures about 12″ across, so a 12″ cast iron skillet would perfectly as well. I also think a 9×13″ casserole should work great, but rather than arranging the potatoes in circles, just line them up lengthwise in three rows.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt #bundtbakers

Whoa. I just realized that I haven’t baked a bundt cake since April.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

This has been one hell of a year, both personally with the Maxwell’s build out and opening, and for the country as a whole. This election cycle really has consumed me, chewed me up and spit me out, and just when I thought it would all finally be over, it seems like we’re in for even more struggle and strife.

While things may feel a little disheartening right now, life must go on, and getting back into the kitchen and revving up the ol’ stand mixer certainly helps me feel centered and whole again.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m so so thrilled that Lauren from Sew You Think You Can Cook chose pears as our inspiration for the #bundtbakers this month. Thank you so much Lauren! Not only do I absolutely love pears on their own, there’s also something especially cozy and satisfying about baking with fall fruit pear-ed (har har) with warm homey spices.

With Thanksgiving only a week away, a pear bundt cake is just what the doctor ordered.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

I have a confession to make though.
I haven’t always liked pears.

My grandfather has always had several fruit and nut trees on his property, and when I was little I thought pears were absolutely disgusting. I don’t know if it was the grainy texture, or the thick sandy skin, or what, but to be perfectly honest I didn’t care for a lot of the bounty of grandpa’s garden.

I was truly a child of the 80’s, and a lot of my culinary influence during my formative years came from spending time in my grandmother’s kitchen. She is a product of her generation, and Grandma’s food philosophy came from the atomic-age desire for shiny, new, packaged convenience foods rather than the back-to-earth approach many of us prefer today. As a kid in Grandma’s kitchen, packaged food was celophane-wrapped, sterilized heaven to me, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Give me a box of doughnuts, a bag of chips, a can of soup, a bottle of soda, and a grilled cheese sandwich made with plastic-wrapped processed “cheese food”, bagged sliced white bread, and margarine from a tub.
Who wants to have to pick and wash fresh fruits and vegetables from outside with all the dirt and bees and bugs, when the fridge is stocked with Cool Whip and Velveeta that’s clean and delicious and ready to eat?

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

Not me.
That’s who.

I did like Grandpa’s strawberries and plums, but even the strawberries had to be scrubbed and sliced and covered in sugar before I deemed them edible.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

Obviously my tastes have changed over the years, and as an adult I’ll take a ripe juicy pear, still warm from the sun, over a tub of chemically Cool Whip any day of the week.

As a kid, trips to my grandparents house filled me with excitement because I knew the cupboards were bursting with store-bought chips and cookies and doughnuts. These days I still get excited when I get to visit my grandparents, but now it’s because I know grandpa will load me up with sagging grocery bags filled with dirty bell peppers, lopsided butternut squash, fuzzy warm peaches, or sun-ripened tomatoes when I get ready to leave.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was planning my bundt for this month, I knew that I really wanted the pears to be the stars of the show. My first instinct was to chop or cube or grate them just like apples into a traditional spice cake for flavor and added moisture, but somehow that didn’t seem like it was “enough”. My pears deserved better than playing second fiddle to cinnamon.

Determined to leave the pears whole (or at least halved) inside the cake, I decided to poach them in a bourbon ginger syrup. They smelled like heaven in the poaching liquid and I couldn’t help myself from sneaking spoonfuls of batter from the pan before it went into the oven. I was congratulating myself on a job well done before the cake even started to rise, and I couldn’t wait to get it out of the oven and see the autumnal perfection I’d come up with.


It was an absolute disaster.

The pears soaked up too much moisture in the poaching liquid, releasing it back into the cake to create a jiggly bundt with the weirdest almost blubbery texture I’ve ever had the misfortune to put in my mouth. As the cake cooled it sagged and the cake separated from the pears and slumped into a wobbly mess on the plate.

So, back to the drawing board. I knew I’d need a thicker, denser batter, and I obviously needed to find a way to pull moisture out of the pears before baking them into the cake. With poaching out of the question, I decided to try dry roasting the pears so they’d be tender but slightly dried out before going into the batter. Thankfully, it worked out beautifully and I think the pears are almost as happy about it as I am.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

You’ll want to use the smallest pears you can find for this recipe, because if they’re too big or tall they’ll take up too much room in the pan. They might cause the batter to run over in the oven, or could stick out the top of the cake and cause it to sit unevenly when plated. I also think that Bosc pears are the only variety firm and sturdy enough to stand up to being roasted, handled, and baked in this way without turning to mush or falling apart.

The bit of extra effort in roasting the pears and toasting the walnuts really pays off when you slice down into the cake to reveal a perfect cross-section of a whole pear (depending on where you slice).
And the flavor? Fuggitaboudit. Warm spices, tender roasted pears, crunchy toasted walnuts, buttery tender brown sugar spice cake, and a thick and tangy cream cheese glaze.
I mean. Come on.

This is basically THE perfect fall cake, and it would make an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving spread to boot. If you’re looking for even more fall inspiration and pear-y wonderfulness, make sure you scroll down past the recipe to see what the other #bundtbakers came up with this month!

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

Roasted Pear and Walnut Spice Cake

  • Servings: 8 to 12-ish
  • Print
4 to 5 small firm Bosc pears, depending on the size of your pan
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts
2 1/4 cups all-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoons cardamom (optional)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs

Cream Cheese Glaze:
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 10 to 12 cup bundt pan, refrigerate.

Peel pears, slice in half, and scoop out seeds with a melon baller or spoon. Place cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Flip and bake 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Spread walnuts in an even layer on a small baking sheet and toast for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they smell toasty. Do not let them burn. Set aside to cool. Reserve 1/4 cup for topping the cake.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, & spices together in a bowl. Set aside. Mix vanilla into buttermilk and set aside.
In a the bowl of and electric mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute or two and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions.
Alternate additions of flour and buttermilk, mixing on low just until combined, and scraping the bowl between each addition. Start and end with flour so there are 3 additions of flour and 2 of buttermilk. Stir in 1 cup walnuts until evenly distributed.

Pour about 3/4 of the batter into the prepared pan, and tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. Push pear halves into the batter, top side facing down into the bottom of the pan, arranging them so the cut halves face each other as a whole pear. Arrange pears so they’re evenly spaced around the pan. Spread remaining batter over the top, leaving at least half an inch of room for the cake to rise so it doesn’t overflow in the oven. It’s okay if the pears stick out of the batter a bit, as the cake should rise around them. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, and cool in the pan for 30 minutes before turning it out onto a rack to cool completely.

While the cake cools, make the glaze.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until it’s fluffy and smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 4 tablespoons of milk and blend until there are no lumps. If necessary, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition until the glaze reaches the desired drizzle-able consistency. It should be about the consistency of thick melted ice cream to drizzle correctly.

Place a tray under cake and cooling rack to catch any drips. Pour glaze over cake and let the glaze work its way down the side, tapping the tray on the counter if necessary. Top with toasted walnuts.

Well covered in an airtight container, this cake should keep at room temperature about 2 days, or longer in the fridge. Just make sure to serve it at room temperature if you refrigerate it.

roasted pear and walnut spice cake bundt | Brooklyn Homemaker

The bundt bakers really outdid themselves this month, and all these perfect pear cakes have my mouth watering like crazy!

You can see all our of lovely Bundts by following our Pinterest board. Updated links for all of our past events and more information about #BundtBakers, can be found on our home page.

apple cider boulevardier

Do you guys need a drink?

Cuz I need a drink.

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

This week, and really this entire election cycle, has been a complete emotional whirlwind and I think we’re probably all ready for a nice stiff cocktail right about now.

And boy oh boy have I got a cocktail for you today.

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few months ago I discovered the “Boulevardier”, and I fell head over heels in love. (Don’t tell Russell).
If you’ve not heard of a Boulevardier, it’s basically just like a Negroni, but with whiskey instead of gin.

If it sounds like I’m speaking a foreign tongue and you have no idea what I’m saying, a Negroni is a classic cocktail, which first appeared in print in 1919, consisting of gin, campari, and sweet vermouth. They’re strong, herbaceous, floral, and rather bitter in a really refreshing way. The bitterness of Campari can be a bit of an acquired taste, but if you are a fan of apéritifs or digestifs you’d probably really enjoy it. Orson Welles said of the Negroni, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
Smart man. It’s all about balance.

The thing is, I personally find the combination of gin and Campari a bit overpowering, so when I first tasted a Boulevardier, which substitutes bourbon for the gin, I was ecstatic and have been a huge fan ever since. It’s a strong cocktail, but the bitterness encourages sipping rather than chugging, which is never a bad thing!

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

We recently hosted the official opening part for Maxwell’s, and when I was planning the cocktail menu I decided to share my new love for the Boulevardier with all of our friends and neighbors. Like I said though, this is a pretty strong cocktail, and while we wanted everyone to have a nice time, we weren’t really trying to get all our friends wasted in the shop! Also, knowing that Campari can sometimes be an acquired taste, I was looking for a way to sweeten it up a little and mellow out the bitterness to make the cocktail appeal to a larger audience.

Since I was also making one of my favorite cakes for the party, and I was already buying fresh apple cider anyway, I thought I’d see if a splash of cider would help cut the bitterness, sweeten things up, and water things down.
Worked like a charm!
The cider mellows out the intensity of the Campari and makes this a delicious, autumnal, beautiful cocktail that everyone absolutely loved! I also decided to garnish the drink with some very thinly sliced apple rather than the traditional orange peel. So good!

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know that many people outside of the US are not very familiar with apple cider as we know it here in the northeast, so to explain, it’s basically nothing more than freshly pressed, unfiltered apple juice. If you can’t find fresh apple cider where you live, you could definitely substitute apple juice in a pinch. If you can get fresh cider though, I really think it has a superior flavor that’s a bit less cloying with a more intense apple-y richness.

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

Now, if this cocktail sounds good to you, but the idea of peeling yourself off the couch and putting pants on doesn’t, I’d like to offer you another way to put the ingredients for this drink into your hands.
Drizly is similar to the food delivery websites that are so popular in larger cities right now, (Russell and I would probably starve to death without Seamless) but instead of food, Drizly delivers alcohol!

You have to be 21 (obvi), and you have to live within one of their delivery windows, but if both those things are true for you, the sky’s the limit! You can have any and all of your favorite hooch delivered right to your front door with the click of a button!
I mean, talk about a dream come true!

You can get the bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth you’ll need to make your very own boulevardier, and in some areas, you can even have the cider delivered! (I had to go to the store for that though, what a buzz kill!)

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, what are you waiting for?
You really have no excuse not to make yourself a fancy ass apple cider Boulevardier. It’s the perfect grown up cocktail for fall, and did I mention that Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away?

This drink is strong but not too strong, sweet but not too sweet, bitter but not too bitter, with a wonderfully warm, herbaceous, bright, and fruity flavor.

It doesn’t get much better than that, unless of course you have all the booze delivered to your front door without changing out of your PJs. Which you can.

apple cider boulevardier | Brooklyn Homemaker

Apple Cider Boulevardier

  • Servings: 1 cocktail
  • Print
1 1/2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 1/2 oz. fresh apple cider
Thin apple slices for garnish

Place bourbon, campari, sweet vermouth, and apple cider into a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake just until well mixed and cold. Strain into a rocks glass, and serve with more ice.

Garnish with a slice or two of fresh, thinly sliced apple.


Maxwell’s for Hair

Alright friends! Here we are again! I promise you that this time you’ll get to see how it all turned out though!!!

The last time we were here we were just wrapping up our tiling job and I’d finally gotten the hang of mixing the grout and spreading it on in small patches so it wouldn’t dry too fast.
The next step was to finally start making the shop look pretty! Yay!

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve always loved interior design and home decor, so when it came down to figuring out a layout and design for the shop, we decided we’d forgo an fancy pants designer and just do the work ourselves. Based on his experience and expertise, Russell helped me figure all the practical details like the layout, the spacing between the stations, and how high to hang mirrors and fixtures, but for the most part, the pretty-ification of the space was up to me.

I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this before, but I consider Pinterest to be an incredibly useful tool when it comes to organizing thoughts, ideas, and inspirations, as well as a great place to store information on specific products and even DIY projects I want to be able to easily find when I’m ready for them. I used Pinterest in this way when planning my own wedding, and I honestly don’t think it would have gone so smoothly and turned out so beautifully if I hadn’t had such a well organized and easily navigable place to “pin” everything I had floating around in my head. So, when it came time to come up about a modern, cohesive, and inviting concept for Maxwell’s, I knew just where to start.

We already knew we were working with a base of white subway tile, so we decided to go for a kind of classic black and white scheme with lots of warm wood accents. Everything was being done on a tight budget, so I did A LOT of comparison shopping and bargain hunting online, and every time I’d find something I liked, I’d “pin” it and then look around for similar, cheaper options. Sometimes I found them, sometimes I didn’t. If not, we’d talk it out and decide whether it was worth a splurge or not. Our biggest splurges, the barber chairs and the huge round mirrors, ended up being the pieces that have the biggest visual impact in the pace, which is why we decided they were worth the money.

To make up for those splurges though, I tried really hard to find ways of using basic inexpensive items in unexpected ways to make them look more interesting, impressive, and “expensive”.

To that end, I found some basic builder-grade vanity bars online that were available in a matte black finish rather than the standard brass or nickel. To make them look even more “custom” I mounted them vertically to flank the mirrors, rather than horizontally above them. It’s a simple touch, but I think it makes a big impact.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

The shop has no closets or storage at all, so we knew we’d need to put in some cabinets or something. Originally we were thinking about buying some kind of second hand armoire or freestanding cabinet, but after a quick trip to Ikea we decided to just put up some inexpensive pine wall cabinets instead. To make them feel a little warmer and a lot less “Ikea-y” we decided to stain them and add some hardware.

Since our mirrors are framed in a rich, warm acacia, we decided to mix two store bought stain colors together to make one that would help make our pine cabinets look like they matched, or at least complimented, the mirrors.

While the shop was still under construction we kept the mirrors in their original boxes, and when we tried matching the stain we only opened the box enough to reveal a section of the frame. After the cabinets and stations were stained and the mirrors were hung, we realized that the mirror’s frames are made up of many smaller pieces of wood all with their own varying tones and colors, most of which aren’t quite as red as the small section we originally used to choose our stain color. The frames overall feel a little warmer and more yellow/brown than the reddish stain we went with, but in the end the stations and cabinets still look amazing and compliment the acacia really well, so who cares?

I mean, I do.
But only a little.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn HomemakerMaxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

When it came to the stations themselves, we decided that some floating box shelves would add a clean, custom touch with plenty of storage. They were really simple to build, thanks to mom and her handy dandy miter saw, and we used pine again to save a few bucks.

Russell requested that we find a way to add a hole in the stations to hold a hair dryer, and thankfully, there’s a drill bit for that! Easy Peasy!

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn HomemakerMaxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn HomemakerMaxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Next up: Paint!
With an entire wall of bright windows and tons of white tile going so far up the walls, we decided that we could afford to add a touch of bold dark color at the top of the wall without making the space feel cramped or dim.

After testing some colors on the walls and comparing them against the larger pieces in the room, we decided on a rich, deep, dark foresty green to compliment the gold tones in the chandelier and the warm red tones in all the wood. It looks almost black in many of the pictures here, but please just trust me that in person it’s a rich modern forest green.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

From the very first day, one of the most confusing areas to design around was the electrical panel door toward the front of the shop. I tossed several ideas around with Russell, but we just couldn’t agree on anything. We talked about hanging his licenses from it, or using it as a service and price list, or mounting a long mirror on it, or even just painting something on it, but nothing really seemed right to either of us.

When the solution finally came to me, it was so simple that I almost felt stupid for not coming up with it sooner.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chalkboard paint dummy!!!!

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Now that we’ve tiled around it and painted the frame white, it actually looks like an intentional design piece rather than an annoying feature we were forced to design around.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another that thing we knew would be a thorn in our sides from day one was the front wall of the shop.
When we first saw the space we noticed that the entire front wall was strangely slapped together and incredibly poorly insulated. It consisted of little more than wood framing holding up single panes of glass above, with thin single panels of wood covering the facade below.

We eventually decided that the most cost effective option would be to leave the wood panels in place on the outside, and just put in some insulation inside with more wood covering it up on the interior. We didn’t consider exactly how we’d make that happen, but were just taking one thing at a time and figured we’d worry about that when the time came.
Well, the time came, and our plan ended up being much more of a pain in the ass than we anticipated.

We didn’t have a table saw so we weren’t able to cut our own panels of wood to size, our contractor was already finished and long gone, and all the hardware stores we spoke to refused to cut the panels to the exact size we needed. The Home Depot in Brooklyn even has a big sign at the wood cutting station that says “No precision cuts”, which we assumed meant they couldn’t guarantee cuts to an exact 1/16th of an inch measurement, but what it really meant was that all they’re really willing to do is cut a board in half for you so it’ll fit in your car.

I played with a ton of different options in my head, but none of them ever turned out to be plausible. Once the tiling was done and we had no choice but just figure it out, we took a trip to hardware store to see what we could come up with. We were just about at our wit’s end after spending waaaay too much time wandering the aisles and coming up with zilch, when suddenly I spotted these packs of tongue and groove wainscoting panels. They were just about the right height and could easily be fit to the width we needed. Score!

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

All I had to do was staple-gun them in place, trim them out, and paint them glossy white to match the rest of the woodwork on the facade. I only sliced the tip of my finger off once while installing them too, so that’s good. Right?

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Here’s the before, during, & after; all rolled into one!
(sorry the photos don’t exactly match up right, but you get the idea)

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

With the lower part of the wall well insulated, we planned to just live with the single pane windows above for the first year or so. Unfortunately, a few days into the buildout we noticed that one of them was actually cracked and we hadn’t noticed. The people who had the space before us had so much tape and crud and gunk on the windows that we didn’t even notice that they’d “sealed” the crack in the window with cheap packing tape.

So, we ended up having to replace the windows with fancy dual pane insulated ones, but now it’s done and we won’t have to worry about it again.

With work beginning to wrap up on the interior of the shop, I figured it was finally about time to go ahead and paint the exterior too.
After caulking and sanding the facade, I opted for some matte black paint for a simple, understated look that would let the interior view really pop through the oversized windows.

We also added some wood panels to the little awning above the shop in the photo below, and painted that all black as well. Eventually we’ll be mounting our logo to the the panel, but that’s a work in progress so for now the entire exterior is just a simple flat black.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

With all that out of the way we were almost ready to open, but it was still really warm out and we still hadn’t sorted out the whole issue with the weird electrical work and the non-functional AC.
We had called in a work order with the utility company, but these things take time…

A lot of time…

So much time…


With the finish line drawing nearer and nearer, Russell decided to put in another call to see if there was anything we could do to speed things along. Long story short, Russell used his ability to make people fall in love with him to his advantage, and forged a friendship with someone in the customer service department.

I won’t go into all the details about everything that had to happen, but it took several appointments to figure out what was wrong, and even more to fix it. They actually ended up having to bring in a crew to dig a hole in the street outside to run new wires in to our electrical panel, and believe me, the whole process could have (and would have) taken several months if Russell hadn’t made that friend.

Lucky for us, because the source of the problem wasn’t inside the building, it was the utility company’s responsibility to fix it and pay for it, and not ours! Finally, something worked out in our favor! Imagine that!

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

You can’t imagine what a relief it was when it was finally fixed, but it also felt kind of weird and anticlimactic, like oh, it’s just working like normal #NBD.
But then, when the shop was suddenly cool and comfortable after so many months of being stiflingly sweaty and unbearable, we definitely did plenty of jumping up and down with joy. And we didn’t even break a sweat!

Around that same time, I suddenly looked around the shop and realized that after months and months of hard work and countless to-do lists, there wasn’t really much of anything left for me to do!

The only problem with all of our sparkly white tile was that even with the warm wood tones and custom accents the space ultimately ended up feeling a little cold and sterile.
We’d always known that we wanted to bring in a couple of plants to add some life and color and texture to the room, but once we were about ready to open, it quickly became clear that we needed more than just a couple. The next thing we knew we were amassing a small jungle, and the bright greens and mix of tones and textures instantly brought a welcome warmth and vibrance to the space! We’ve actually added even more since these photos were taken, and I still have my eye out for more yet!

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn HomemakerMaxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, there you have it folks! After months and months of hard work and gallons of sweat, Maxwell’s is open for business!

If you live in Brooklyn, or ever find yourself in Bushwick in need of a haircut and some sparkling conversation, please stop by Maxwell’s at 274 Troutman St. Russell specializes in barbering and short hair, but his staff can do short hair, long hair, straight hair, curly hair, men’s hair, women’s hair, you name it! This place is the total package folks, so come check it out!!!