What is a corbel?
A corbel is a structural piece of stone, wood, or metal, jutting from a wall, to carry a weight above.
Where do I find them?
Flea markets, estate sales, consignment shops and architectural salvage shops are some of the most common places where you can find vintage and antique corbels.
How do I prepare them for use indoors?
First, make sure to remove the chips and peeling bits. Clean the corbels by giving them a good scrub, then leave them out in the sun to dry. Don't worry, you can't hurt them since they've likely spent hundreds of years outdoors! Once they're prepared, the world is your oyster. You can paint them to match your space perfectly, glaze them with a clear finish, or embrace their original condition. For me, I generally prefer to work with the existing patina, or I will sand them down by hand with sand paper to reveal an interesting layered effect as the years of paint are sanded away.
Design Life: How to make architectural salvage awesome! Part 1: Corbels! (Ep. 85)
Today in my Design Life, we're talking about architectural salvage and how to turn old house parts into awesome decor, starting with corbels! You’ll learn everything you need to know about upcycling these charming exterior fragments and how to transform the dull and ordinary into dreamy decor creations! What are they? Where can you find them? How can you use them? Press play now for my favourite ways to reimagine, innovate and integrate salvaged corbels at home!
9 Ways to Design with Corbels
1. Visual Support
Corbels don't have to be used in the way they were originally intended as support structures. They can instead act as visual support to bring interest and character to new millwork. At Sarah's cottage, I installed a pair of salvaged corbels on the underside of the peninsula which pairs nicely with the 1860's reclaimed panelling I found from an Ontario schoolhouse. The corbels add depth to the counter making it look like it's not hanging in space. The juxtaposition between the streamlined and textured surfaces is a winning combination that brings a new flavour to the kitchen.
2. Open Shelving
Find two pairs of corbels or a set of four and install them on a kitchen wall to act as display shelves for bowls and glasses, or stack your go-to cookbooks for easy access. Keeping your favourite items such as trinkets and precious collectables conveniently located at eye level for everyone to admire is a winning solution to organization that is both practical and stylish!
3. Fill the Void
Let's face it. Renovations can be awkward. Sometimes you're left with spaces that have support beams in places where you'd rather not have them. And then there are times when your newfound open-concept space feels a little too, well, wide open! Corbels can soften the look, bridge the gaps between rooms, and make empty spaces a lot cozier!
4. Desk Support
Need a new desk? No problem! Corbels used to support a desk is a favourite design trick of mine. This is where the scale of corbels comes into play. You need a pair of corbels that have a decent projection in order to support a large desk top. For my girls' desk that was featured in Sarah's House 4, I found these wild pinky-purple corbels that I didn't even have to paint... I embraced the colour and the charm! I also installed a desk supported with corbels in my daughter Robin's room at Starlight Farm.
5. Console Table
Short on space? Got a little niche in the wall that you don't quite know what to do with? DIY a console table! In the lower level hallway at Starlight Farm, I installed a fabulous big pair of corbels and topped it with a piece of leftover wood that I had cut down to size. And the best part (besides the obvious visual perks)? It's easy to vacuum around since it's mounted to the wall and off the floors!
6. Fireplace Mantel
Another great way to incorporate corbels into your decor is by embellishing your fireplace mantel. Start with older salvaged architectural finds, like corbels, and layer in new bits to create your own one-of-a-kind statement. For our living room at Starlight Farm, I found vintage corbels with a star design and used them as the jumping off point for our fireplace build. The corbels have a vertical projection that I enhanced with trim running along the length of the fireplace.
7. Window Bench
For me, a built-in banquette is always a good idea. I had one installed not once, but twice at Starlight Farm. Window benches or built-in banquettes bring value to any space, and are both space and cost effective. Besides, who wouldn't want an extra spot for lounging and enjoying the view from a cozy window perch? In my daughter Robin's room at Starlight Farm, I installed a long window bench, which meant that I needed to add a vertical support beam in the middle. I then used a pair of matching corbels to dress the support beam using a mirror installation to create a lovely pattern.
8. Decorative Brackets
Vintage corbels or brackets are sometimes intended for decorative use only. And when you find a pair that boasts intricate details or pretty patterns, it begs the question... "where can I put these?". I've used them on posts that lead into the living room, separating the dining room here at Starlight Farm, and I've also installed them in archways, perhaps in places that originally had doors. One of my all-time favourite pairs of corbels that I found were used in the dining room at Paisley Acres from Sarah's House 3 where I installed them flanking the opening to the dining room. The flower motif on these corbels are irresistible!
9. Vent Hood
Corbels can be the perfect extension of a custom vent hood and trim your backsplash to boot! I used this treatment at Paisley Acres in Sarah's House 3, and it has become a fan-favourite and one of my forever favourite design moments! Also featured: corbels as shelf supports painted a sunny yellow to match the kitchen island.