The level of respect, adoration, and fame that come with a professional hockey career casts a bright flame. Naturally, it draws a lot of moths. Mats Christeen was pulled to that alluring light from an early age. But while he skated in raucous arenas, establishing a promising career on the ice, another flame caught his attention and carried him in a completely new direction: The world of interior design and handcrafted furniture.
Christeen’s eventual obsession with woodworking began as a hobby. He liked working with his hands, so he’d reupholster a vintage chair here or rebuild an old table there. It was a nice way to relax on weekends. A moment of quiet reflection, away from the cacophony of sold-out arenas. Then fate stepped in, and Christeen decided to turn his art into a livelihood.
As a kid, Christeen spent every winter on the ice in Sweden, as far back as he remembers. When he was only 13 years old, he decided to make hockey his life. Five years later, he’d signed his first contract to play professionally and the path before him seemed clear. The ice brought a taste of stardom. Christeen even dabbled in modeling thanks to his Thor-like good looks. But even men who look like mythic gods aren’t invincible, and Christeen’s knees proved to be his achilles heel. At 25, Christeen underwent his ninth surgery. The writing was on the wall for his NHL career: It was time to hang up the skates.
After leaving hockey, Christeen felt lost. He filled his days indulging in his favorite hobby. He built a credenza, some chairs, a table — just some items for around his new house.
“I just had some hand tools and started building stuff that I needed,” Christeen says. “And then a neighbor saw it and wanted a piece and then another friend. Suddenly, I got a new order for 20 tables.”
Christeen’s life had a new path born from his backyard hobby. Seizing on the opportunity, he went all in on making furniture. He set out on his new career with one caveat: He would never repeat himself. Each piece from Christeen’s woodshop is a singular piece of furniture that doubles as a piece of art. The design is just as important as the utility.
Christeen didn’t go to design school but he cites John Houshmand and BDDW as huge influences on his aesthetic. He’s self-taught and his work has a naturalistic feel. It often utilizes dark woods and heavy metals that are planed and twisted to the artist’s whims.
As he developed his creative voice and more orders came in, Christeen collected more and more tools. Eventually, he had to move out of his backyard and into a small woodshop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He called his new spot Foundrywood. Furniture building became as central to his identity as hockey once was.
It’s funny how the roles in your life can suddenly switch, making your dreams into hobbies and your hobbies into dreams. In an interesting twist, ice hockey became Christeen’s new hobby. He took a part-time job as a hockey coach at Chelsea Piers to make ends meet while he toiled in his woodshop.
“There’s been so many times over the years where I’m running to the rink to make some money to buy some extra sandpaper, to survive another day, you know?” Christeen explains. “Then I’d be back in the shop working 48-hour shifts to get paid for a piece just to try and pay the rent that month.” Christeen didn’t relent. The drive he learned on the ice as a teenager kicked in and he focused it on building his shop.
Although he only wants to make unique pieces, Christeen allows himself to explore all avenues of furniture making. He starts conversations with his clients. He studies their spaces and individual tastes. Then he devises a plan. Next, over the course of a month or two, Christeen makes a piece of furniture that fit the client in a way that may not have been evident before.
“There’s stuff that I wouldn’t normally make — a white lacquer table for example — but then you’re faced with a new challenge in that job because that’s what the client wants,” he says. “It’s super inspiring and fun/ Every time you step outside your wheelhouse you’re challenging yourself. Which is always great artistically.”
Christeen’s work is starting to expand. He’s now working with acclaimed street artist MRToll on the Graffiti Vanity Project, which will send his collaborative art around the United States. Christeen has also started dabbling in one-of-kind skateboard cruisers.
Mats Christeen’s woodshop keeps churning out wholly unique and handcrafted furniture that fulfills a new place in his clients’ everyday lives while fulfilling him artistically. Just like in his hockey days, he seems to revel in working non-stop. He’s even still running back and forth from his Brooklyn woodshop to coach little kids on the ice in Chelsea.
“It’s just a little hard to shut off at night sometimes because there’s always something else that can be done,” he tells us, “but, waking up inspired is kind of priceless.”