Richard Feldmann is close to realizing a dream in a vocation with roots that go back to England, circa 1843, and, at the same time, is just starting an enterprise in an industry that is brand new, but that is fast gaining momentum.
Feldmann has opened an office of Greenstreet New Jersey, a green construction management company, on Witherspoon Street. The company is an off-shoot of a New York City company of the same name that has racked up a string of firsts in the nascent green building industry — first residential grid-tied solar electric system in New York City, first LEED certified museum in the country, first Health House for the American Lung Association in New York City.
The green builder is also a cartoonist, working hard at an art form that made its first appearance in Punch magazine more than 150 years ago. After years of honing his craft, Feldmann has been invited to regularly show his work to the editors of the New Yorker, the sine qua non of the cartoon world.
Feldmann, a graduate of Rowan University (Class of 1981), came to building — and also to cartooning — thanks to the cash reserves he built during his first career, as a financier. He spent the first 21 years after graduation on Wall Street, working for E.F. Hutton and then for a number of companies that acquired that investment house. In 2003 he and two friends started their own private wealth management company, CapTrust Financial, which was located in Lawrence, and has since been sold.
While he was working in the finance industry Feldmann was also getting an initiation into the building industry. He had the good fortune to buy, renovate, and sell houses just as the housing escalator was ascending to the top of the most recent bubble. Drawn to older houses, he worked on projects in locales ranging from Bordentown to Nova Scotia. In Princeton he renovated the houses at 27 and 29 Pine Street. That work came to an end when prices began to decline.
With savings from his financial work and his investments, Feldmann took two years off and spent time traveling and working on his cartoons. His children, a grown son and a daughter who is now studying at Rowan University, often accompanied him.
While developing his work, Feldmann was introduced to Henry Martin, a Princeton graduate who sold his first cartoon to the New Yorker in 1950 and went to contribute over 650 more. Martin, whom Feldmann recalls as a fixture at writers’ gatherings at the Alchemist & Barrister restaurant on Witherspoon Street, encouraged him and offered suggestions.
Martin was instrumental in helping Feldmann gain entre to the New Yorker cartoon meetings where, he says, “all the gods of cartooning” gather to evaluate new cartoonists’ work.
He has not sold any cartoons to the New Yorker so far, but in recent meetings cartoon editors have chosen his cartoons to be in the group from which they make their final choices.
Forging ahead in pursuit of his target publication, Feldmann is also working at getting Greenstreet NJ off the ground. In doing so he draws upon his eclectic background, which includes stints working for Princeton area architects on a range of projects, including sustainable design.
The company now has three employees. Rees Keck, a Rutgers graduate, has a background in construction and is developing Greenstreet Energies, an energy auditing and energy construction service. Daniel Doningues, the construction manager, has a degree from Drexel University and a background that includes work in a family structural concrete business.
During a conversation in his offices last fall, just as he was moving in, Feldmann said that he had met with many Princeton area architects who specialize in green building projects and was encouraged. Green building tends to be at least somewhat more expensive than traditional building, but at that time he didn’t think the added cost would be a problem. Money is not much of an issue for many Princeton homeowners, he said. Two months later, however, his view is more cautious.
“It’s changed a little,” he says. “People are much more budget conscious.” Many potential clients do have the money for building or renovating, he says, but they are now sitting tight. He senses that people are putting off big projects because “we don’t know what next year will be like, how long it will take to turn things around.” Optimistically, he adds, “with Obama we’re in the best situation possible.”
Green building, as Feldmann, who has researched it thoroughly, describes it, is nothing fancy. Many green practices are simply common sense. He want to recycle materials in renovation projects whenever possible, and stresses that it is important to keep debris from construction sites contained, and away from neighboring yards. As for green staples, such as solar panels and geothermal pumps, he says that including them — or not — is up to the homeowner, and is sometimes a function of budget.
He sees his job, in part, as education. Reading voraciously, he keeps up to the minute on the rapidly developing science of green materials so that he can help homeowners making decisions on the most environmentally friendly — and safest — kitchen cabinets, wall and floor materials, and lighting options.
Some clients are driven by concern for the environment in a broad sense, while others are thinking of their own health and that of their families as they undertake building projects. An out-there concern a very short time ago, worries over the gasses that chemicals in carpets, countertops, and overhead lights can give off are becoming commonplace.
“Green building is becoming the norm,” says Feldmann.
Greenstreet of New Jersey Inc., 221 Witherspoon Street, Suite 201, Princeton 08542-; 609-356-0872; fax, 609-356-0880. Richard Feldmann, LEED AP, director of operations. Home page: www.greenstreetinc.com.