ImageMomentum Builders is a new age, green building company.  The company focuses on residential homes that incorporate old world craftsmanship with cutting edge building techniques and materials.  They don't do developments -- each home is unique and crafted with the owner's lifestyle in mind.  So says AJ Browne, a partner in the company.

"We focus our attention on projects that incorporate green building strategies, techniques, products, and mindset," Browne says.  "We don't work in residential developments, or build modular homes, or neighborhoods of McMansions. All of our projects are unique.  They all have some characteristic that makes them a unique, green project."

Browne partnered with Shaun Whistler when they founded the company in 2005.  Browne had experience in environmental engineering, while Whistler focused on framing large, high-end custom homes.  They started small, working their way up from decks to garages, additions, and finally to houses.  They work directly with the client, bringing together the team needed to complete a house.

Browne says he likes to start working with a client as early as possible.  He likes to help clients develop the project, literally from the ground up.  That might include walking potential pieces of land with a client to give advise on how a house could best be positioned to maximize solar gain, and to locate viable building spots.  He fits projects with their budgets, and with the client's lifestyle.

"I look at a house as a home, and I view each home we build as a kind of living organism that has to work symbiotically with the people living in it," he says.  "It offers shelter and warmth and protection, and people take care of it.  The old adage says home is where the heart is.  Memories and the things that happen to people and families in their homes are sacred.  Whatever we can do to create a good environment to allow that to happen is what we're after."

Browne was born of an English mother and a Jamaican father.  The family moved to Westchester County, where he grew up and went to school.  He earned his civil environmental engineering degree at The College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.  There he met Whistler, a Buffalo native, who was working on his Associate Degree in Forest Technology and Bachelor of Science in Resources Management. 

After college they took different paths.  Whistler started as a forest manager and arborist, then apprenticed himself to a master framer in Seattle.  Meanwhile Browne got a job at environmental consulting firm Blasland, Bouck & Lee.  He worked on on soil and ground water remediation, mapping of contamination in underground groundwater tables, super fund cleanup sites, demolition of big industrial facilities.

When he and his wife moved to Ithaca he had decided he wanted to go into building.  As a civil environmental engineer he spent his time cleaning up the environment after the worst happened.  Now he wanted to do something proactive for the environment.

"I always envisioned being more on the forefront of the environmental movement, whether that was designing new systems or building environmentally responsible homes," he says.  "I found no better way to merge my desires than to work in the building industry, to help people create their ideal home environment."

When he moved here in 2004 he hoped to get a job as an Ithaca city engineer.  When that didn't materialize he took a job as a manager at Home Depot, which was just opening.  He helped open the store and managed a department there for about a year while he thought about what he really wanted to do.  He also made a lot of area contacts.

"I felt at the time like it was a step back, but I also knew I was going to be able to take away some good lessons from there," he says.  "My goals were not so much to understand the retail environment, although that proved to be very helpful.  But I learned a lot about what goes into a home.  I got a lot of experience with windows and doors."

But he really wanted to become a builder.  He was hired by an individual to gut an old farmhouse, and renovate it with new wiring, plumbing, heating -- the whole package.  He learned as he went, and by the time he finished he knew he wanted to build custom houses as a career.

Meanwhile Whistler was becoming frustrated in his Seattle job, feeling he couldn't go further in it.  He and Browne had maintained contact, and when Browne asked whether he's like to become partners in a building company he was interested.  Between the two of them they had the skills they would need.

"It was really good, because I knew I could go into a situation and not have to say no," Brown explains.  "I knew that Sean would be able to frame it and figure out the carpentry aspects."

This year is a transitional year in that the two have taken on full time employees for the first time.  That means Browne is spending more of his time getting clients and marketing the firm.  Chris Wike has worked with the owners for some time.   He has a background in timber framing in barn country in Pennsylvania.  Julie Kitson comes from a carpentry background, and Andrew Tretiak works as a laborer.

Building a company is more challenging than building a house, especially now that they have to provide steady work for employees.  The company suffered a bump when a client stopped a lucrative project because of an unexpected financial problem.  Browne made lemonade out of lemons, storing materials over the winter and staying in touch.

AJ Browne

"Their financial situation turned around in the Spring and they were happy to have us back," he recalls.  "They are more than grateful that we did that for them.  We finished the work.  It is a great project, and they are a lifelong client now.  That's what we try to do, to establish relationships."

He acknowledges that building a house is a major endeavor for most people, and approaches each project as unique, customizing it to suit each client.

"It's our goal to make projects work for people," he says.  "That can range from somebody trying to build a house on a budget to somebody that's got an open pocketbook who wants to do something spectacular.  We're very flexible."