This Former Hockey Player Left The Ice To Make Furniture

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.