From the Furniture Maker:
Towards a True Holistic Design and Build

BY: MEGAN OFFNER APRIL 17TH, 2019

Last summer, four dying oaks and a shagbark hickory were about to be removed from a yard in Hudson Woods and cut into firewood. A client of ours planted the seed that we might help the homeowner, Jeannie, do something more meaningful with her trees. We were introduced and that afternoon she and I took a walk around and through her home to discuss and identify furniture needs that could be filled by the wood from her own trees.

She requested a large bookshelf, side tables, a bar cart, and enough cutting boards to cross everyone off of her holiday gift list. We sketched out designs and agreed on pricing. Before the week was over, I met with their arborist to produce the logs needed for her custom furniture and contracted a sawyer to pick up the logs later that day.

Four dying oaks and a shagbark hickory were "rescued" from becoming firewood.

To involve Jeannie and her family in the processing of their trees, we scheduled the milling for a day when they could see the history of each tree revealed with each subsequent board - early branches, fossilized in years of growth rings; periods of drought; the moment surrounding trees blocked sunlight and inhibited growth. Engaging in this way fosters an awareness of how we can live co-creatively with nature, and can inspire a deeper connection to the ecological and material worlds around us. By participating in the transformation of one's own trees into furniture, objects are created that hold the memories of that shared experience and thereby are instilled with greater meaning.

We’ve collectively designed our way into a climate crisis and live in a time where we’re being called to design our way out.

We fabricated the pieces and, in just months after the trees were removed, returned them to the site, placing them in their new homes less than 100 feet from where the trees once stood. It’s an incredible honor to work in this way, a way where design isn’t just an end, but a process that when shared can delight, inspire, and alter how we live into our surroundings.

Fine furniture is the result of our process, though the actual objects are essentially byproducts of our love of engagement with others and with the natural world. I believe that to continue to thrive on this planet we are challenged to reimagine how we live and create. We’ve collectively designed our way into a climate crisis and live in a time where we’re being called to design our way out.

The clients were invited to select their boards and even help with the finishing.

Our way of helping to do this is sharing what we've learned with other tradespeople. With Womanufacture, NYC-based curators of hands-on learning experiences, we invited a group of female/non-gender conforming architects and designers curious about the process of turning trees into finished products to also participate in the milling party. This was followed by a visit to the New York Heartwoods woodshop to see a larger collection of of lumber and slabs and the finished products that can be made from them. If more of those creating built environments were exposed to the life-cycle of the materials they used, what a different world we might both live into and design.

Megan encourages a connection with the materials.

If more of those creating built environments were exposed to the life-cycle of the materials they used, what a different world we might both live into and design.

Offner is the owner of New York Heartwoods and is a Brick & Wonder member.

The requested bookshelf in process and installed.
More of Megan's work at our favorite Hudson Valley Maker fair, Field + Supply.
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