Doree Friedman founded Fineline Construction (Fineline) in 1980 as a small design-build outfit in San Francisco. “I started out studying sculpture,” Doree, founder and president of Fineline, explains. “But I needed a way to support my family. I came to the Bay Area and got involved with some friends who knew carpentry. It was only a matter of time before they were all working for me.” As a woman, Doree knows how unique her business is in the industry. “I’ve been doing this for well over 35 years,” she explains. “It’s a lonely world out there, but it takes a lot to ruffle my feathers. We are big supporters of affirmative action. It threw open a lot of doors for me, and I am an active member of Tradeswomen Inc., a nonprofit that provides advocacy and support for women in nontraditional blue collar industries.”
The business took off, bidding high-end, design-build projects, which Doree notes, was where her friends and colleagues had carved out a niche. “Within a short time, however, I just thought, ‘There’s got to be more than this,'” she says. “There has to be something more socially redeeming.” Doree started to learn more about nonprofits, and she and the team began working on a range of work for organizations. “Our specialty is affordable housing,” she explains. “We work primarily for nonprofits. We understand how these organizations work.”
Doree says most of her team’s projects are within the Bay Area, and she prioritizes local labor. “Our goal is to hire people within the area,” she explains. “We are committed to bringing people into trades who were previously unemployed. There are a number of people coming in who were previously living below the poverty level. They get to do what they love, while giving back to the community. That can be powerful. Social conscience is important, and I think it is reflective of the wider ethos of the San Francisco area.” Fineline generally has 30 to 40 people working onsite at each project. Where local individuals cannot fill in the work, the business bids out trades. Fineline is signatory to the local carpenters, laborers and concrete unions.
Many of the upgrades her team performs have to happen while a building is in use. “We are doing major modernizations and seismic upgrades in occupied buildings,” Doree explains. “It is important for us to develop a schedule so that the work is done in phases and people can be temporarily relocated. This allows us to redo plumbing, heating, sprinklers, fire alarms and elevators. We have done relocations within the site. We start working with clients up to two years before a project begins, collaborating with architects and owners. We get there by responding to requests for quotes, or RFQs, and we are almost never off budget by more than two percent.”
Recent and Ongoing Work
Fineline is in the midst of two major projects. The first is Woolf House, a senior housing community in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood. The owner of the project is the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation (TODCO), a nonprofit that aims to create and maintain low-income, senior and single-occupancy housing throughout San Francisco. “We’re been turning over 24 units every month,” says Doree. “We’ve added an elevator, modernized the two existing elevators, redone the landscaping, installed new fire alarms, and renovated every unit with a new kitchen, new windows, flooring and paint. We have also been replacing defunct solar panels and replacing them to offer energy savings to tenants. We also built new storage areas for tenant use.”
The team is also in the process of completing a renovation at the Cambridge Hotel, a low-income housing community. “We’re working with the Community Housing Partnership,” says Doree. “The building has 62 units. “We had to put a sheer wall in, adding concrete wall up through the building. W started with micropiles and put an eight foot by four foot by 37 foot footing around it. We had to cut the floor lose, shore it up, put in the wall and weld it back afterwards. We added kitchenettes and remodeled the bathrooms and laundry facilities. In the end, what the tenants get is life changing and the community is one step closer to eliminating homelessness.”
The company maintains close relationships with partners and clients, a testament to its roots as a small business. Fineline is also family-owned and -operated. “My business partner is my son, Paolo,” says Doree. “What makes him so unique to work with is that he keeps his sense of self, even while he’s working for his mother. He has an enormous gift to be able to do that.”
As a business owner who operates on a dedication to community, Doree is not concerned with major vertical or horizontal growth. “We have never wanted to become a big company,” she notes. “We wanted to settle at about $25 million to $30 million. We never want to lose the personal, hands-on aspect of our operations. In the next few years, we have a fair amount of work on the books. I see us staying exactly where we are as long as there are still affordable housing projects to be done.” Fineline Construction is a gem in the nonprofit construction sector that will continue community-focused building far into the future.
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