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Building With Community: Meet Furniture Designer Megan Offner of New York Heartwoods

By inside + out | June 17, 2023

Inside+Out Upstate NY is pleased to present a series of exclusive interviews in support of Kingston Design Connection and Ulster Habitat For Humanity’s Building With Community Series.

We are Upstate NY with Megan Offner, founder and creative director of New York Heartwoods, a woman-owned and operated studio in the Hudson Valley that creates sustainable, heirloom-quality wood furniture. Working primarily with wood from fallen local trees, or milled from logs removed from a client’s property, the company creates place-based heirloom-quality pieces designed to conserve forests and respond to the impacts of a changing climate. Meg holds certificates in Permaculture and Sustainable Building & Design.

Megan Offner will be at the next Building With Community event this Tuesday June 20th, at Ulster Habitat Restore in Kingston, NY. Joining Megan, is Erik Richards of Limber Tree Services… Richard works across the region to diagnose and treat sick trees. Stop by to learn all about managing trees on your property and salvaging felled and damaged trees to create building materials and furniture for your home. Here are the details:

Date: June 20
Time: 5—6:30PM
Ulster Habitat Restore | 406 Route 28 in Kingston NY
Ticket: $10 per person. Includes preview of new ReStore items before general public

And now, let’s meet Megan Offner!

INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?

Megan Offner: I grew up in Missoula, MT. After ten years of living in The City, I needed to get back into the mountains and fell in love with the Hudson Valley.

Tell us about your business and how it got its start.

In addition to wanting to live in nature, I wanted to figure out a way to work co-creatively with it. I had renovated a couple of buildings and the toxicity of traditional building materials took its toll on my body. I had been creating sets for fashion/advertising print media that ended up in a dumpster in a matter of hours. That waste of resources weighed on me. Following the desire to have a creative life that had a positive impact on the natural world and my health eventually lead me to learn how to mill and dry wood from distressed and fallen trees.

Two weeks later, my mentor and I met someone with an underutilized portable sawmill and within nine months we had an agreement that allowed me to set up a business on this person’s land. The weekend I moved up to start milling full-time coincided with Hurricane Irene. The timing of everything was so synchronistic, which made it clear to me that this was the path I was meant to be on.

I began to trust what showed up and unfolded, so when the furniture requests increasingly came in, I transitioned from just milling + selling lumber and slabs, to focusing on fabrication. When that required the lion’s share of my attention, I stopped milling our own wood to grow our fabrication side and now that the production side of things is handled by the rest of our team – Ashira Israel and Lindsay Black, I’ve been growing that part of our business that helps people make furniture from their own trees.

What inspired your interest in furniture design, and what was your personal journey?

My interest in furniture design largely developed out of a love for trees. It is a byproduct of working with the only material supply chain that I can fully understand.

Felled Trees New York Heartwoods

How does aesthetics influence you professionally and personally?

I’m aesthetically sensitive and drawn to beautiful materials, though I lean toward timeless designs. A big part of sustainability is in making things that are lasting and withstand passing trends.

Who is your ideal client?

Architects working on new construction where trees are or will be removed; interior designers that value sustainability, craft and need fine furniture; homeowners with trees that they love and want to repurpose and artists looking to create unusual objects with sustainable and/or hard-to-find forest materials.

New York Heartwood Design for Sushi Chef Counter made from fallen treesWhiskey Bar designed by New York Heartwoods
What has been your favorite project to date?

A massive installation that we did for the artist Camille Norment at Dia Chelsea, collaborating with Studio Love is Enough to create a bunch of furniture for Little Cat Lodge made from trees removed across the street for new ski runs at Catamount Resort.

What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about your business or what you do?

We’re asked to take down trees a lot, which we don’t do. When I worked with men, people were often shocked that the business was mine and not theirs.

How do you grow your business and how do your clients find you? Do you leverage social media to get work and how is that working for you?

Word of mouth, website, internet search (one client said they searched “furniture from my own tree Hudson Valley”), and yes social media and @newyorkheartwoods. I wouldn’t say we leverage it, more that we use it as a visual diary so that others understand us, our work and our capabilities better. Also, to stay connected to design and our community.

Furniture and Product Design by New York HeartwoodsFurniture Design by New York HeartwoodsFurniture Design by New York Heartwoods
What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?

Collaboration and collaboration.

Great Answer! What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?

The forests are exceptional; the light is unparalleled (the Hudson River School knew what’s up); the maker community is wonderfully vibrant; and, per capita, the number of badass women making and doing in innovative ways is remarkable.

What impact does your business strive to have on your community?

To create material supply chain solutions by helping people generate wood from trees on their land; to inspire creative solutions to environmental challenges; to foster environmental health by sequestering carbon + conserving forests; to teach people – especially women and folx outside of gender norms – woodworking skills.

What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?

Specifically: J&C Fine Finishes, Williams Lumber & Home (our local hardware store), Saunderskill Farm and Accord Market to keep us fueled, Earth Designs Cooperative – we have some of the same clients and they use our “waste”(sawdust) in their seed starting mix, Ulster County Sawing – they’re a great portable mill to work with, Wishbone WoodWorking – our millwork pals down the road where we go if we need a cup of proverbial sugar. Now they have a wood-drying kiln! Verse Work/Shop – one of our architect clients has a store in Red Hook and sells some of our wares. We have an incredible roster of arborists (Limber Tree is a fave), sawyers (shout out to Rothe Lumber who did us a solid last year when we had two months to turn around a massive project for Dia Center for the Arts) and kiln drying partners. A lot of local architects, interior designers, hardware stores, fabricators, pet stores (favorite is Lucas Pet Supply – everyone on our team brings at least one dog to work) and cafes (bless you Village Coffee). It takes a village.

Furniture Design by New York Heartwoods
What is missing in the area that you wish we had?

Another good furniture finisher. The one we use I hope will retire soon, only because he’s a great human and I can see the toll decades of work is taking on him.

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.

I’m only 11 (leap year joke).

What would be your dream Staycation?

It would involve a lot of hiking, lake swimming, saunas, delicious food + time with a couple of my favorite people.

Are there any new developments or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

We’re adding some sweet new pieces to our furniture collection soon and rebuilding our website – check it out in the coming weeks! We recently offered a woodblock carving/printing workshop at a Manolo Blahnik event and are excited to hold more woodworking classes – folks can contact us if they’re interested in participating in future ones.

What is your current state of mind?

A mix of excitement from a client visit that seems will result in us fabricating some really fun sculptures and an underlying existential dread over the fires in Canada and the oak moths that are defoliating a lot of the trees around my house.

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Home Improvement Speaker Series with Meg Ofner of New York HeartwoodsSee you there!

A talk on managing trees on your property and salvaging felled and damaged trees to create building materials and furniture for your home.

Joining this discussion is Limber Tree Services, certified arborists working across the Hudson Valley to help diagnose and treat sick trees. Their work includes trimming and removing trees, stump grinding and plant healthcare.

For more information just click HERE.

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Connect with Megan Offner of New York Heartwoods on Website | Facebook | Instagram

Click HERE to see more INSIDE+OUT exclusive interviews with the amazing folks that proudly call the Hudson Valley home.

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