Brooklyn — More than 2.6 million viewers have accompanied Anthony Bourdain on his travels for Raw Craft, a video series that debuted in 2015 and features the chef and author interviewing a variety of artisans and craftsmen throughout the United States.
Sponsored by The Balvenie, a distillery in Scotland, Raw Craft highlights Bourdain’s discoveries of artisans utilizing their talents in skills as diverse as shoe cobbling, blacksmithing and metal works. And in season two, Bourdain introduced viewers to Mats Christeen, a Brooklyn-based former hockey player and model turned furniture maker and designer for his bespoke furniture company, Foundrywood.
In an exclusive interview with Designers Today, Bourdain and Christeen talk about the rising demand for craftsmanship, inspiration sources and why “handmade” matters.
How did the idea for a feature on handcrafted products come about?
Anthony Bourdain: The Balvenie approached me with the idea to partner together to celebrate people that make things with their hands, that make things the old-school, foolishly romantic way. Seeing these craftsmen that have real passion for their work is inspiring to me, and it was a different kind of project than many other brands have presented in the past. The Balvenie was a brand I already personally liked, and when I heard their idea, I thought okay, this is it.
We know that artisans and custom products are desired by consumers. What reaction to the series have you had so far?
Bourdain: These craftspeople are doing what they love because they’re passionate about it, and that’s what makes their work so desired — you can tell by the quality of the items that some painstaking work goes into them. But these people love what they do, and are doing it the hard way, despite often knowing that there may be easier, faster, more cost efficient methods to get the job done. It’s been exciting for me personally to view their processes, and I think it’s hard not to have an emotional connection with these artisans after hearing their stories. That’s what resonates the loudest among the feedback we receive from our viewers.
Why is this an important focus for you? How do you see it evolving?
Bourdain: To see what human hands can produce is truly extraordinary. It is very important to me that these kinds of crafts continue into the future and we value artisans who make the decision to choose quality over quantity. There is no doubt for me, that if you can have it, you want the stuff where people have taken their time, paid attention to and personally care about how it was created. I think that sentiment will only continue to grow among consumers, and while there will always be imposters and those taking shortcuts, hopefully consumers will soon be all the wiser on how to seek out truly handcrafted products.
Describe the collaboration process for a potential client or interior designer. What input do you seek?
Mats Christeen: The process is very different from client to client. I have clients that say “do you,” be creative and make me an original — whatever you want. And other ones have a very particular picture in mind — anything from super clean and modern to super rustic.
What furniture pieces do you make?
Christeen: I’ve made anything from little table lamps to side tables to big conference tables, also dressers and credenzas and even reception desks and DJ booths.
Can you give us an idea of prices?
Christeen: For custom work, it’s so different. Whether white lacquer or reclaimed wood, prices vary quite a bit. But to give an idea, my coffee tables range from $1,400 to $2,000 and dining tables range from $4,000 to $7,000. Along the way, there have been tables for $2,000 up to $20,000 depending on the materials and hours of work required.
Tell us about your inspiration. You mentioned New York, but are there other materials or places that you’ve translated into a custom piece?
Christeen: This city is definitely the biggest part. It’s a melting pot of the whole world. I think it reflects on the architecture. But obviously, I love anything old. It’s like it had a previous life and I’m giving it a new one, a new purpose.
I love to walk into a construction site where they’re cleaning out. The floors, ceilings and walls all contain wood beams that are hundreds of years old that I could turn into something new and functional with a story already embedded.
Prior to her role with Designers Today, Cindy attended markets as both a consumer home furnishings editor and interior design client. She has written about the design industry for more than 15 years and still finds editorial inspiration in every corner of the world, from Italian villas to Atlanta urban lofts to country escape tiny homes.