Two-decade FDNY veteran Michael Curneen turns side hustle into art


March 24, 2023 | 8:50 in the evening

He is one of the bravest in town and perhaps the most artistic.

FDNY Battalion Chief Michael Curneen has been fighting fires in New York for more than two decades. But when the father of five isn’t at work at Ladders 108/216 in Williamsburg, Curneen, 52, is usually hacking away in his garage, where his frame work has become a neighborhood hot spot.

“Every minute I’m not at the firehouse, I’m working on frames,” Curneen recently told The Post. “That’s about six days a week.”

“Flatbush Frameworks” is Curneen’s garage-turned-workshop in Ditmas Park. Shaded beneath residential brick buildings and sycamore trees on Foster Ave., there’s a small sign above the carriage doors that welcomes you to Curneen’s Collyers estate—a cramped, cluttered space with dozens of wooden posts hanging from the ceiling with boxes and other framing paraphernalia strewn across the floor.

“People come here and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is great!'” Curneen said. “My wife hates it though. She says, “Oh, this place is such a dump.”

Curneen started making frames in his garage nine years ago.

Currin, a father of five, turned 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 do something,” he said. “I said, ‘Wow, picture frames!'” I was talking about making simple frames and selling them on the street.

In 2014, he discovered a four-day course taught in Long Island by an older man who had learned the craft of framing through old VHS tapes from the 1980s.

Shortly after his crash course, he began picking up used framing tools on Craigslist, including an ancient Morso Guillotine Cutter that cuts moldings into precise 45-degree cuts. But when he starts making frames, his first exhibition in Union Square doesn’t go as planned.

Curneen custom frames start at $75.

“I had nice things—beautiful peanut frames. I just wanted to sell something, but people didn’t even look at it,” he recalls.

And so Curneen continued to chip away. He focuses on projects in his neighborhood, working close to home. While working as a captain in Canarsie, another firefighter asked him to frame some parts for him, which led to more co-workers asking for work done and eventually turning the hobby into a full-time sideline.

“I started making frames again for the guys at the firehouse for peanuts, generally giving them away, and then a few people started trickling in,” he said.

“There was an ad on Google. Then a woman in the neighborhood brought in 15 things to be framed and I was like, ‘Damn!’ It just hit a tipping point and now it’s non-stop.”

Curneen sources his lumber and materials from Long Island.

Because Curneen tends to work in the late afternoon, he can afford to work on the frame in the morning hours. After dropping his children off at school, Curneen starts cutting wood in his workshop at 8:30 in the morning. He imports materials from Long Island and cuts glass on site with a Fletcher 3000, where he has mastered nearly every type of frame—from metal to wood—and his personal favorite, floating frames.

Curneen said he’s seen many customers come in asking to frame protest signs and has done his share of diplomas. He tends to work with local businesses and up-and-coming artists who have open galleries but need quality framing done on a budget, but is delighted when customers bring in their children’s artwork.

He even makes personal items.

“I remember someone brought a title from their late mother; I was terrified I was going to drop it,” he recalls. “When people bring sentimental items, you get closer to them. I get nervous and try to get it out as fast as possible.

Hank Kwon, owner of Bulletproof Comics in Flatbush, said there are thousands of works framed by Curneen, ranging from signed lithographs to original artwork displayed in galleries. What drew Kwon to Flatbush Frameworks wasn’t just Curneen’s low price—custom frames start at $75—but the quality and care he puts into his work.

“Frames should be well priced. It’s an easier sell for me because I’m not paying outrageous prices,” Kwon said. “Customers know what they’re looking for. When they see the end result, they are happy. It is a very professional job on time and he will also make changes.”

Curneen estimates he makes roughly 30 frames a week and believes he’s had at least 12,000 customers since starting his framing business.

Running a business and a fire department sounds like a daunting 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, framing will become a full-time job.

“I don’t hide the fact that I’m doing this on the fire department side,” said Curneen, who has many clients in the FDNY. “But money is important. My grocery bill alone with five kids is just insane.

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