He’s one of the city’s Bravest — and maybe its most artistic, too.
FDNY battalion chief Michael Curneen has been battling fires throughout New York City for more than two decades. But when the father of five isn’t on duty at Ladders 108/216 in Williamsburg, Curneen, 52, is usually hacking away in his garage, where his framing side hustle has turned into a neighborhood hotspot.
“Every minute I’m not in the firehouse, I’m working on frames,” Curneen told The Post recently. “It’s about six days a week.”
“Flatbush Frameworks” is Curneen’s garage-turned-workshop in Ditmas Park. Shaded under residential brick buildings and Sycamore trees on Foster Ave., there’s a little sign above the carriage doors that welcomes you to Curneen’s Collyers Mansion – a tight, cluttered space with dozens of wooden posts hanging from the ceiling with boxes and other framing paraphernalia scattered across the floor.
“People come in here and are like, ‘Oh, this is great!’” said Curneen. “My wife hates it, though. She’s like, ‘Oh, this place is such a dump.’”
Curreen, a father of five, transformed his garage into a framing studio after having a coming-of-age moment during a meditation session nine years ago.
His vision was clear.
“I had this garage and I wanted to make something,” he said. “I said, ‘Woah, picture frames!’ I talked to myself about making simple frames and selling them on the street.”
In 2014, he went on to find a four-day class taught on Long Island by an older man, who learned the framing craft through old VHS tapes from the ‘80s.
Shortly after his crash course, he started picking up frame-making tools used on Craigslist, including an ancient foot-operated Morso Guillotine Cutter that slices moldings into precise 45-degree cuttings. But when he started making frames, his first display at Union Square didn’t go as planned.
“I had nice stuff – beautiful frames for peanuts. I just wanted to sell something but people wouldn’t even look at it,” he recalled.
So, Curneen kept chipping away. He focused on projects in his neighborhood, working closely to home. While working as a captain in Canarsie, another firefighter asked him to frame some pieces for him, which led to more colleagues asking for work done and eventually turning a hobby into a full-time side hustle.
“I started framing for the guys in the firehouse again for like peanuts, basically giving it away, and then a couple of people started trickling in,” he said.
“There was a Google ad. A woman in the neighborhood then brought 15 things to be framed, and I was like, ‘Holy s–t!’ It’s just reached a tipping point and now it’s non-stop.”
Since Curneen tends to work in the late afternoon, he can allow himself to work on framing in the morning hours. After he drops his children off at school, Curneen begins slicing wood in his workshop at 8:30 a.m. He imports materials from Long Island and cuts glass on-site with a Fletcher 3000, where he’s mastered just about every type of frame – from metal to wood – and his personal favorite, floating frames.
Curneen said he’s seen a lot of clients come in asking for protest signs to be framed and has done his share of diplomas. He tends to work with local businesses and up-and-coming artists who have gallery openings but need quality framing done on a budget but enjoys it when clients bring in their children’s artwork.
He even does personal items, too.
“I remember someone brought in a title from their late mother; I was terrified I was going to drop it,” he recalled. “When people bring in sentimental items, you get close to them. I get nervous and I try to get it out the door as fast as I can.”
Hank Kwon, owner of Bulletproof Comics in Flatbush, said he’s had thousands of pieces framed by Curneen, ranging from signed lithographs to original art displayed in galleries. What attracts Kwon to Flatbush Frameworks is not only Curneen’s inexpensive price point – custom frames start at $75 – but the quality and care he takes in his work.
“Frames need to be priced at a good price point. It’s an easier sell for me because I’m not paying outrageous prices,” Kwon said. “Customers know what they’re going for. When they see the final result, they’re happy. It’s very professional work in a timely manner, and he’ll make changes too.”
Curneen estimates he makes roughly 30 frames per week, and believes he’s had at least 12,000 clients since beginning his framing business.
Managing a business and a firehouse sounds like a tall task, but for Curneen it’s a “happy balance” that allows him to enjoy two sides of his life. He said when he decides to retire that framing will turn into a full-time job.
“I don’t hide the fact that I do this on the side from the fire department,” said Curneen, who has many clients within the FDNY. “But the money is important. My grocery bill alone with the five kids is just insane.”