Matt Canale has worked with wood for as long as he can remember. Like with most kids at a young age, he found joy in the simplest of things - swinging a hammer and pounding nails into a board. But while most adolescents leave that passion at a hammer and nail, Canale’s passion for woodworking grew. Graduating from his grandfather’s basement to helping his handyman father around their house, he ultimately found a career path in it.
Throughout high school, Canale dove deeper into carpentry and remodeling. While studying Liberal Arts at Monroe Community College in Rochester, carpentry helped him get through. And one day, a revelation.
“The more I worked with wood when I was at school, the more I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Canale told me. “It got me through school. When I picked up my first job in woodworking - a cabinet maker whom specialized in fine finishing - that’s when I knew I really wanted to get into it.”
Almost a decade ago, Canale moved to Ellicottville to work with a furniture designer. He traded time between that and working for a family member’s carpentry and remodeling company, learning and evolving his skill set along the way. Now, custom furniture building (Canale Designs on Facebook) is his bread and butter.
“For the most part, a customer will give me an idea and I’ll take it from there,” he said when asked how he designs his pieces. “The rustic side of furniture is so cool - taking a massive slab of wood and furnishing a dining room table or countertop. I took my 15-year background in cabinet building and held onto it … that’s what I apply to my work.”
Working with rustic furniture requires viewing through a different lens. Putting a square edge on something and saying “It looks fine” is easy; using the wood at your disposal to create the perfect match is not. When it comes to Canale’s creative process, he lets the wood do the work.
“You’ve got to let the slab of wood lead,” he said. “The features, the curves … they tell you what it will be good for. When I go into a house and ask what the customer wants, I start to visualize what would blend in best with its surroundings. I let the wood tell me what it wants to do.”
If you try to ask Canale about a favorite piece he’s ever done, forget it. As is the case with most creatives, there is no favorite - each piece, which you’ve put heart and soul and sweat into, finds a spot in your heart.
“Everything I’ve ever done is custom,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the process. Each one you work with grows on you, and you almost hate to see them go (laughs). But you never know what’s next in line. Things as small as a rustic floor lamp, which I made out of Iron Wood. The first one I did, I didn’t want to sell it! But since then, I’ve made about a dozen, each one different than the last. Those small pieces catch a person’s eye … and that’s where the business grows.”
Harnessing the prowess he’s accumulated through the years, Canale built a 9-foot vanity out of walnut and cherry. The weeks of finish and the hours of creative process yielded a gorgeous finished product. And like with most pieces he’s done, he fell in love with it.
“Things like that (the vanity) lead to more work,” he said. “Once I did an entire kitchen. Another, a customer wanted two dozen (!) pieces for their chalet. But at the end of the day, you build that relationship - and that’s what is most important to me.”
Canale’s wife, a schoolteacher, sets up a farm stand in the summer by their house in East Otto. While talking to him about this, I got the vibe that Canale and his family are the personification of the American Dream. Taking a skill set, fine-tuning it and capitalizing. And while the bottom line is paramount (in what business is it not?), you can tell that this grounded woodworker cares more about the relationship and finished product than he does about the money.
“I like to keep my work local,” he said. “Even if I expanded into other states or even nationwide, I’m not sure I would want to. A major part of why I do this is to build that repertoire with my customer so I can provide the perfect piece. It all starts there.”
Matt Canale can be found on Facebook and Instagram at Canale Designs, and encourages you to check out his work. If your home is lacking that perfect rustic piece, give Matt a ring at 585-414-3558.