The Story of New York Heartwoods, with Co-founder Megan Offner

black walnut from warwick ii
Black walnut table from a salvaged urban tree in Warwick. All photos from New York Heartwoods

New York Heartwoods (NYH), located in Kingston, was founded in 2011 out of Megan Offner’s love of forests, passion for quality craftsmanship, and desire to create environmental and economic solutions in her community. She says, “We make sustainable furniture—sustainable in that our pieces are made to last, are efficient in their use of materials, and are made with wood from fallen and urban trees that would otherwise be landfilled, chipped, or burned.”

In your study of permaculture and sustainable design, how did you become interested in using urban and salvaged wood?  
Megan Offner: I was invited by my mentor and NYH co-founder, Dave Washburn, to go to Wisconsin to study and work with Jim Birkemeier of Timbergreen Forestry. In the Menominee Native American tradition, Jim harvested one dying or diseased tree per acre per year on his 200 acre farm. He used those trees to produce hardwood flooring, the cutoffs of which were made into objects sold in an Etsy shop, and the scraps burned in a wood stove. It was a model for how one can have a beautiful and creative life while improving forest health and producing virtually zero waste. I knew with every cell of my body that that was what I wanted to do.

Two weeks after returning from Wisconsin, we were introduced to Jed Bark of Bark Frameworks who had an underutilized portable sawmill in Warwick, New York. After getting to know Jed and his family, we were able to set up NYH on his land using his mill and we worked from there for the next five years.

When New York Heartwoods began, we had the intention of harvesting dying and diseased trees to improve forest health while obtaining a supply of logs needed to produce lumber and slabs. However, the weekend I moved to Warwick to do NYH full time coincided with Hurricane Irene. There were hundreds of downed trees within five miles of our mill, so our model quickly became one that worked with tree services and landowners to keep high value urban logs out of landfills, chippers, and splitters (the fate of most urban trees).

cherry trees bench
Bench from salvaged urban cherry tree.

Where can folks see your creations?  
Megan Offner: We launched our first furniture collection last fall after years of selling lumber and slabs and doing custom fabrication. Much of the collection is currently in our Kingston studio, open by appointment. We also have a couple pieces at Modern Living Supplies (opening in High Falls), a few accessories at Blue Cashew in Kingston, and are in negotiations with several more stores and showrooms in the Hudson Valley and NYC.

Our custom work can be seen in Eileen Fisher stores around the country—they were one of our first clients and we regularly supply displays and furniture for their stores. The ash counters and walnut bar at Uchu Sushi on the Lower East Side in Manhattan were a recent project. We’ll have a booth at WantedDesign, a design fair in NYC May 19-22, 2018. Come by!

Who are you collaborating with?
Megan Offner: In the past we have worked with the Mayor and DPW of Warwick and the superintendent of Kingston to upcycle urban logs. We’re currently focusing on furniture production and buying wood from other Hudson Valley sawyers that also mill fallen and urban trees. We are not collaborating with anyone at the moment, though we look forward to creating strategic partnerships again in the near future.

chair from black walnut in Warwick
Black walnut chair from salvaged urban tree in Warwick.

Why was Kingston the best home base for your business?
Megan Offner: Kingston is centrally located in the Hudson Valley, a straight shot to NYC, and a vibrant haven for makers. It’s home to an incredible community of artisans, a high-minded environmentalist for a mayor (Steve Noble), and a lot of people renovating homes and needing furniture. I love it here!

You give a percentage of profits back to the community. What groups are you supporting?
Megan Offner: We are members of and donate to NYSUFC, the Sierra Club, and the Pachamama Alliance. We donate wood to local educational organizations such as Wild Earth and Hudson Valley Seed, our sawdust to Seed Song Farm, and wood scraps to Jon’s (wood-fired) Bread (the latter two in Kingston not far from our shop). As we become more profitable, we look forward to investing more in the planting and stewardship of trees to honor the cycle of life that makes our work possible.

What are your favorite urban wood waste resources online or otherwise?
Megan Offner: There’s a great collective model for urban wood utilization in the Midwest, formed in the wake of the Emerald Ash Borer devastation. Dovetail Partners has several interesting reports and feasibility studies on urban wood utilization, and WoodWeb is great for all things wood, urban and otherwise.

MutedSpaltedMaple

What are some species folks might not typically associate with furniture that you enjoy working with?  
Megan Offner: Spalted sweet gum, sycamore, and beech. [Spalted wood has vascular tissue that has been colonized over time by fungus, leaving interesting streaks of color coveted by woodworkers.] A lot of the sawyers that we work with tend to take in more logs than they can actually mill at any given time, so it’s a good thing spalting is becoming more popular! I’m always amazed at the artistry of nature—the patterns and colors in spalted wood can be so incredible.

Have you been able to attend ReLeaf events?
Megan Offner: I have attended ReLeaf meetings and look forward to attending the ReLeaf conference in Rochester this summer!

What else would you like to share?
Megan Offner: There is an incredible untapped opportunity in the reclamation of urban trees. Most logs from urban tree removals are landfilled, chipped, or cut into firewood. If that wood were milled, the U.S. could produce an additional 3 billion board feet of lumber annually while storing carbon, reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and transforming the wood products industry. We’re a furniture company, but it’s this transformative potential that motivates me.

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