Megan Offner has forged an impressive path in the wood and woodworking industries, while making minimal impact on the natural world around her. Here she is working on a custom walnut stacked slat coffee table.
The founding of New York Heartwoods in 2011 was the culmination of Megan Offner’s inherited maker/woodworking talents and a youth spent embracing the outdoors, but she had no idea what was ahead while growing up in Missoula, Montana.
On her LinkedIn page, Megan writes: “New York Heartwoods (NYH) creates furniture to conserve forests. We are a woman-owned and operated fabricator of solid wood furniture and retail displays that is committed to using sustainable locally-sourced materials, including wood milled from fallen and urban trees, and working with our clients to transform their onsite trees into finished heirloom-quality products.”
A Family Affair
“I’ve loved making things as long as I can remember,” Megan said, “playing with paint, getting my hands dirty, making and selling jewelry at my mother’s work craft fairs. My mother was a maker in her spare time, and her father a woodworker in his.”
Her mother’s youngest brother inherited her father’s woodshop at age 11 and always made things with Megan and her brother. “He definitely inspired our creativity,” she shared.
Megan’s family camped a lot in national parks like Glacier and while visiting family in Oregon. Those trips showed the extent of clear cutting in forests and the harm it does, which left a lasting impression on Megan.
From Set Work to Cutting Timber and Making Furniture
Armed with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in art history and French from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, Megan worked in architectural salvage and learned about carpentry by trial and error while working on a house she bought. Two years later she moved to New York City and ended up building props and sets for photo shoots – and finally to disgust over the waste in making pieces that ended up in dumpster.
Megan’s sickness from toxic building materials in a NYC row house she renovated led her to classes in permaculture design, sustainable building and design and silviculture in search of a way to work and create that would be healthier for herself and the natural world.
In 2010, Megan met Dave Washburn, who became her mentor. He invited her to a class in Wisconsin about transforming dying trees into finished wood products and burning the scraps in a stove for zero waste. Megan said the class was a turning point for her: “It was the moment I knew what all I had learned up to that point was meant for.”
Megan returned to set work on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but “The contrast of doing something that had so much meaning and purpose and then doing work that was so incredibly vapid and wasteful sealed the deal for me,” Megan said.
Dave introduced her to Jed Bark, who owned a portable sawmill in Warwick, New York, which he taught the two to use. In 2011, Offner and Washburn cofounded New York Heartwoods. Initially, they sold lumber and slabs made from fallen trees to New York designers.
Soon requests came from tree services and landowners to turn their downed trees into one-of-a-kind tables. Then NYH began making holiday displays for 65 Eileen Fisher clothing stores. Next, Megan found a space in Kingston, New York, where NYH is located now, and hired veteran furnituremaker Marcus Soto to design a NYH collection launched in 2017.
In December 2017, Megan wrote “The Emerging Economy of Urban Wood,” the story of New York Heartwoods. Click here to read it.
Megan Offner crafts a piece of reclaimed wood into a usable object.
Curly walnut milled from urban trees was crafted into this chair using a Marcus Soto design. A walnut tree slab for sale stands behind the chair.
Changes and Navigating COVID
Since 2011, Megan said pretty much everything has changed at NYH. She has stopped milling wood but continues to oversee the whole process for the NYH full circle furniture projects.
“We’ll soon stop selling lumber and slabs and small accessories to focus on furniture, our full-circle projects, and consulting,” Megan said. As smaller scrap wood projects are phased out, NYH scraps and sawdust will all be donated to various groups, including a wood-fired bread making shop.
“We moved last December (2019) to a building owned and occupied by a woman-owned cabinet shop. There’s also an upholsterer and a knife maker in the building,” Megan said. Currently she has two people that are working with her full time and two that cycle through as needed.
Growth in the area economy and city dwellers moving to the area have keep NYH busier in COVID-19 that it has ever been. Current projects include five beds and two tables, plus two projects using clients’ own trees.
One rough spot in this prosperous time: Megan became ill with COVID in the spring. “I was the sickest I've ever been for three weeks and didn’t leave my property for five.”
“Since the pandemic, our production team has evolved into a collective of makers,” Megan said. “I help with the fabrication, though that is getting harder as the company grows. Much of my time is spent consulting, managing the log-to-lumber process, working with clients and growing the business”
Helping Clients Preserve Their Trees
A white oak tree removed to make room for a home addition was transformed into a book-matched custom countertop and a bench with storage (above) for the tree owner.
Challenges for Women in Wood Industries
“There are benefits to being a woman in this industry – there’s a competitiveness that men sometimes have with each other that I perhaps experience less as a woman,” Megan observed. “Though with that can come a lack of being taken seriously, and being treated like a daughter or an object instead of a peer. We definitely have to work harder to prove our gifts and talents."
What does Megan hope for in the future?
“For the company, for this collective of primarily female and gender-nonconforming craftspeople that we’re forming to be full time all under one roof (which we are currently designing a space for). To have our own mill and kiln to do our full-circle furniture process all onsite. To offer woodworking and ecology classes, specifically for those in underserved communities.”
“For me personally, to do more consulting and help people have healing connections with nature – whether it’s by transforming their trees into objects that they can continue to be connected to, teaching more log-to-lumber workshops so people understand the relationship of the wood that they use to the natural world, or something that I haven’t even thought of yet.”
Thanks, Megan, for sharing your extraordinary story.