Swapping Hockey Skates for Furniture-making

By Ellie King

Vaughan, Ont.’s Mike Liambas once dedicated his time and passion entirely to playing hockey in the AHL and NHL for the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks. But after playing 11 seasons of professional hockey — two in the NHL — his hockey career came to an abrupt halt after a hit by an opponent on the rink during his 2018-2019 season, forcing him into early retirement. This left Liambas longing for something to fill the void. And that was furniture-making.

Liambas wasn’t new to the trade per se. Throughout the hockey off-season, he would return to his hobby of woodworking. He spent time designing and creating custom wood furniture and household products for his loved ones.

“I was in a pretty (bad) state during my transition out of hockey, and woodworking, which I’d always enjoyed, saved me,” he says.

It was in 2016 that he realized this passion was not just a pleasurable pastime. Speaking with his mother in Toronto, she expressed how she hoped to purchase a wood-framed mirror for her home. Liambas, wanting to help his mother save some money and having the opportunity to work with wood again, jumped at the chance to build the mirror for her. And not just the mirror, either.

“From there, I began picking up tools and supplies, and that’s when my love of woodworking really kicked in,” he says.

In 2021, Liambas settled on the name Nomadic Designs for his fledgling business with his cousin Brent Morden. He then began designing custom cribbage boards for fellow hockey players. Some of his earliest customers included the likes of Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Reaves, Nashville Predators’ Colton Sissons and Manitoba Moose captain Jimmy Ogilny.

“As professional hockey players, we are naturally nomads,” says Liambas about the inspiration behind the name. “We are always on the move and truly wanderers at our core. No matter where hockey takes us, Nomadic Deisgns comes along for the ride.”

Former NHL hockey player Mike Liambas turned his hobby into a business, founding Nomadic Designs in 2021.

Prior to opening his own shop, Liambas worked with his cousin in a warehouse in Winnipeg, with other woodworkers and cabinet makers.

“We are both super-driven, hungry and passionate people,” says Liambas about Morden. “Together, we can attain anything.”

Once Liambas gained more experience and confidence in his skills, Nomadic Designs began designing and selling a variety of home decor items, including charcuterie and serving boards, cutting boards and trays. As for furniture, Liambas added a number of products to the shop’s collection: dining and occasional tables, dressers, credenzas and wine storage units.

Liambas credits Nomadic Designs for not only giving him a new career path but saving his mental health, too.

“I was on Century (Street), where I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. every day, waiting for my buddies, who gifted me space for free, to let me in,” he says. “I wasn’t in a good place, mentally, but having somewhere to go and keep busy did wonders for my state of mind.”

Nomadic Designs began to flourish soon after its initial founding. In 2022, Liambas entered into a partnership with Urban Lumber, a company that salvages distressed trees from Winnipeg, by stripping the bark and making the lumber usable for re-purposing. Now, Nomadic Designs primarily uses the wood from these trees for its products.

Despite business ramping up, Liambas and Molden still take great patience and care in their craft.

“I never want to rush a project,” says Liambas. “I still consider this a hobby even though I’ve invested a fair bit into tools and machinery and such. I (just) never want to think of it as going to work, so to speak.”

Despite Liambas’s approach, Nomadic Designs is certainly no small feat. In fact, the shop is roughly 2,700 square feet, located on the lower level of a Winnipeg warehouse.

“My favourite part of all this is how we get the opportunity to join nature with art,” says Liambas about his furniture and home decor venture. “This makes every single piece we create very unique to the next.”

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