If a Tree Falls in the Forest…
While designing and building sets for photo shoots, Megan Offner became disenchanted with the volume of waste she was helping to create. Elaborate sets would be broken down and thrown out with total disregard for the materials used. Searching for her next career, she studied permaculture and sustainable design.
“My ‘aha’ moment came in 2010, when I was invited to take a course in Wisconsin,” she remembers. “A guy there, following the Menominee tradition, harvests one tree per acre per year and mills it into boards, which he transforms into flooring. The scraps are made into things he sells on Etsy and anything left over is burned in his wood stove.”
This was the first time Offner witnessed an expression of creativity that produced no waste and it inspired her to found New York Heartwoods, a company that gives fallen trees new life. She built the business as a sawyer, milling logs from downed rural trees and urban tree removals, which might otherwise be landfilled, chipped or cut into firewood. The resulting wood slabs—including black cherry, black walnut, red oak, black locust and eastern red cedar—were ideal for furniture, shelving and other surfaces.
Companies interested in sustainable resources found New York Heartwoods and they began fabricating installations for Eileen Fisher retail stores and interiors for restaurants. The business has now relocated to Kingston from its original location in Warwick and evolved to focus more on creating a line of heirloom-quality furniture, which launched this September.
In part, this is due to Offner taking on a partner, Marcus Soto, with whom she connected via Instagram. “He is incredibly talented,” beams Offner, “and we can now feature our custom work and our furniture.” In keeping with Offner’s mission, the company’s tables, chairs, benches, beds and stools—which combine Japanese joinery techniques with elegant mid-century design—all showcase the wood’s natural beauty and character.
With this new emphasis on furniture, New York Heartwoods will, at least for now, outsource the wood and send logs to be milled by sawyers who share their ethos, helping to shift the industry toward greater sustainability. Because honoring the life of each tree is of paramount importance, they are also making cheese boards, knives and other utensils with smaller pieces of wood, available for purchase on their website; donating shavings and sawdust to a local farm for animal bedding and compost; and sending scraps to Jon’s Bread, a wood-fired bakery in Kingston.
Offner likens their “slow wood” approach to the foodshed concept of sourcing ingredients within a 100-mile range. She has a long-term goal of producing zero waste, ultimately drying their slabs in kilns heated with their own wood.
“I’m passionate about natural resources and the conservation of them,” she says. “I’m committed to creating solutions to the environmental challenges we face, and to exploring how we can co-create with nature.” Beneath her calm demeanor, it’s clear that this graceful redhead is powerfully determined. We are lucky that she has put down roots in our valley.