Frame Home

It is not often that we get written up in the NY Times but last week we were given the honor by C.J. Hughes who covers real estate for the NY Times. It is a project that we are very proud of and excited about doing more.

Article below from the NYTimes. There is another one from City Reality here.

Five Stories Tall and Made of Wood

A rendering of a rental building in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, that is being constructed by Frame Home, a new development firm, using mostly wood. 

A rendering of a rental building in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, that is being constructed by Frame Home, a new development firm, using mostly wood. Credit…Jessica Wilson

Exposed wood may be a familiar sight in some 19th-century buildings in New York City, like lofts in TriBeCa and Dumbo, where it was necessarily used in columns, joists and ceilings. But in the kinds of apartments that make up most of the city’s current housing stock, the only timber that is visible in a near-natural state is on the floor.

But Frame Home, a new Manhattan-based development firm, is trying to change that. In one of the first-of-its-kind efforts in New York City, Frame Home is using mostly wood — instead of the concrete and brick that’s been common for decades — for the construction of a series of rental buildings in Brooklyn.

First, Frame Home had to address the city’s fears about using a form of engineered wood for its residential buildings that is typically banned by the building code over concerns about its strength in relation to fires. But the company was granted an exception to the code.

“Cities across the globe have brought back wood to build 40-floor buildings,” said Joanne Wilson, a Frame Home co-founder. “New York City should be doing the same to dramatically expand the number of environmentally responsible living opportunities.”

The first and subsequent buildings in the series are being designed by Loadingdock5, an architectural studio in Williamsburg.

“Wood is solid, it’s calm, it’s warm and it smells good,” said Sam Bargetz, a principal of the studio. “It’s a very inviting material.”

But there are other considerations than just aesthetics. In using wood, a renewable resource, Frame Home is hoping to create housing with a smaller-than-normal carbon footprint, which is a choice that might seem counterintuitive: How can chopping down trees ever be green?

The developers say the wood they use doesn’t come from old-growth forests, but rather is harvested from places like tree farms that replace stumps with saplings. And because the trees used are fast-growing spruces, any environmental loss is mitigated.

In addition, making concrete causes far more pollution than cutting down trees, some environmentalists say.

A rendering of the building, called Frame 283, in Clinton Hill, which will have 10 two-bedroom apartments with one or two baths, all with outdoor space. 
A rendering of the building, called Frame 283, in Clinton Hill, which will have 10 two-bedroom apartments with one or two baths, all with outdoor space. Credit…Frame Home

The first project in the series, called Frame 283 and located at 283 Greene Avenue in Clinton Hill, is an industrial-style five-story building with 10 apartments, all with two bedrooms and either one or two bathrooms, and private outdoor space.

Spruce boards, which are glued at perpendicular angles to make thick beams called cross-laminated timber, are clearly visible in columns, beams, walls and ceilings. And the veins, knots and whorls in the wood won’t always be concealed behind Sheetrock or paint.

But not every surface at Frame 283 is wood. Some walls are made of unfinished concrete, giving the building, which has open-air staircases, an almost work-in-progress look. Some pipes are exposed, too. Other building features include an 80-panel solar system, a shared roof deck and a bike room.

While wood can be pricier than concrete, labor costs can be much less, developers say. In fact, because Frame 283’s cross-laminated timber arrived in prefabricated sections, it took only about two weeks to put up its main structure, in what might traditionally be a six-week project, said Ms. Wilson, of Frame Home, who would not divulge the development cost. The land, city records show, cost $6 million in 2015.

The building, which began marketing in the fall and expects to open this winter, is priced near the top of the market.

Rents start at more than $4,000 a month, which is high for Clinton Hill, where market-rate two-bedrooms have averaged $3,300 a month, according to the brokerage Ideal Properties Group. But two-bedrooms in next-door Fort Greene average $4,100, the brokerage said.

Wood isn’t universally loved. Critics cite the grim history of apartment fires in cities, and say they worry about its flammability. Those concerns are often still represented in building codes, though some cities are relaxing rules to allow wood-frame office buildings.

Frame 283, a Brooklyn rental building, shown in a rendering, is being built with mostly wood construction, but the New York City building code prevents the material from being used on exterior walls.
Frame 283, a Brooklyn rental building, shown in a rendering, is being built with mostly wood construction, but the New York City building code prevents the material from being used on exterior walls. Credit…Frame Home

Though multifamily residences made of timber are turning up in places like Portland, Ore., the practice is far less common in cities like New York. Currently, the city’s building code allows only one kind of wood material to be used in any building, an engineered product that’s generally called nail-laminated timber, which is made of wood pieces arrayed parallel to one another. Some proponents of the product say lining up the pieces like that makes nail-laminated timber stronger than cross-laminated timber, which has more seams, and can be perceived as weaker because of it.

In New York, cross-laminated timber is generally prohibited, though with Frame 283, an exception was granted only after Frame Home added an extra-strength sprinkler system and special noncombustible insulation. But Frame Home is undeterred by the extra red tape and is planning its next project, a 17-unit rental at 118 Waverly Avenue in Clinton Hill. That building is expected to break ground this year.

In New York, another similar residential project is at 80 Ainslie Street, a five-story, 16-unit project made of cross-laminated timber that is under construction in Williamsburg. Parkview Builders is listed as the developer on building permits.

Housing development is a new professional pursuit for Ms. Wilson, whose main focus has been investing in tech start-ups, to the tune of about 130 in the past 14 years, including Curbed Media, which according to new reports sold in 2013 to Vox Media for between $20 million and $30 million in a cash and stock deal.

But if low-carbon-emission buildings are the next business frontier, they’re also good for the planet, which shouldn’t be overlooked, she said. “It didn’t make sense,” she added, “to make something that wasn’t thinking about the future.”