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What Are Corbels? Your Guide to Decorative Corbels

Corbels are one of those things that most people have seen a million times, but never known the name for. But these beautifully-ornamented wall brackets have actually been a key structural element in everything from houses in colonial America to the castles of medieval Europe. So it’s time that we get acquainted with the many delights of corbels and learn how to use them in our decor schemes. 

What are corbels, anyway, and how can they fit into your home’s decor? Today, we’re going to give you the lowdown on these old-school architectural treasures. Our guide will explore all of the information you need to get started on decorating with corbels. We’ll talk about some tips for finding the corbels that will look perfect in your home, and we’ll also throw in some fun ideas for incorporating those corbels into beautiful and lively decor. 

What Are Corbels? Understanding the Basics

A corbel is a type of bracket that’s installed where a wall meets a roof or other extending structure. In earlier times, they served the important purpose of providing additional support to roofs, arches, parapets and more. Because corbels were usually visually prominent, their makers often decorated them with designs that could be quite intricate. Historically, most corbels have been made of wood, although it’s also easy to find stone corbels on larger structures. 

For thousands of years, corbels have been an important element in supporting one of humanity’s greatest architectural innovations: the arch. Corbels are all over the place in many different traditions of historical architecture, including Classical architecture, Romanesque architecture, Gothic architecture and many more. Many medieval structures feature huge corbels with unique and luxurious decor styles. 

Modern construction techniques generally don’t require corbels. However, that doesn’t mean that we should banish corbels from our decor and architecture! They’ve got way too much class, history and utility to fall by the architectural wayside. Corbels have a lot to offer in any time period, and we’re about to show you some of the cool stuff you can do with them. 

Where Can I Find Corbels?

Wooden Corbel

If you’re in search of vintage corbels from an old building, you’ve got a couple of options. Architectural salvage yards and shops are many people’s first choice. Flea markets and estate sales are also good places to find vintage architectural pieces of all types. However, what you find can vary widely in price, condition, quality, style and all of the other factors that matter so much when you’re looking for home decor. 

Van Dyke’s Restorers is the savvy decorator’s best friend when it comes to corbels. We offer dozens of decorative wood corbels in almost every style and size you can think of — from the austerity of Shaker to the warmth of Arts & Crafts to the timeless elegance of Neoclassical. And you don’t have to take hours to hunt through junk piles for what you want. Just spend a short time browsing and you’re almost guaranteed to find something that fits your vision. 

Shop Decorative Corbels 

To Restore or Not to Restore Corbels?

Many people who incorporate salvaged corbels in their decorating choose to leave them in their original conditions — flaked paint, chipped wood and all. For a lot of today’s decorators, the weathered authenticity is the point! 

Some folks enjoy the challenge of restoring older corbels to their original condition. If that sounds like something up your alley, that’s awesome! Take some time to familiarize yourself with best practices for restoring old wood if you don’t have a lot of experience with the process. It’s also a good idea to know what you’ll use the corbels for before you restore them, as these contextual factors will often guide your restoration choices. 

Finally, choosing new corbels from Van Dyke’s allows you control over...well, just about everything! We’ve already talked about the incredible selection of corbel styles you’ll find on offer. But there’s more cool ways to customize. We supply most of our corbels “finish ready,” so you can add a custom finish of your choice and create exactly the decorative piece that you’re looking for. 

How to Choose Decorative Corbels for Your Home

Every decor scheme will require something a little different when it comes to corbel selection. These are some of the important factors to think about when you’re deciding which kind of corbels you need: 

How to Choose Decorative Corbels for Your Home

Corbel Size  

Smaller corbels often measure just five to 10 inches, while the largest commonly available sizes are often 20 inches long or more. Take note of where your corbels will be located and choose a compatible size. 

Wood Type

Every wood tells a different story, and you want to choose a wood that communicates the right one. If you plan on painting your corbels, “paint grade” woods like fir or pine can be a good choice. On the other hand, if you’ll be using a finish that exposes the corbel’s natural grain, it’s usually preferable to choose a hardwood like oak or walnut. 

Corbel Style and Function 

Corbels come in many architectural styles, which means that another important decision for any decorator will be choosing your style of corbels. Typically, it’s best to choose corbels that match your home’s architectural features, such as mission style corbels for a Craftsman home or acanthus corbels for a more ornate Neoclassical home. It’s also common for decorators to match corbel styles with other home decor elements, such as the knobs and pulls on drawers and cabinets. 

Weight Capacity 

Make sure that you check the rated load capacity of your corbel before you try any DIY project that involves putting weight on the corbel. You want to know that it’s capable of supporting the things you’ll be placing on it. Additionally, make sure your corbels are mounted onto a stud or another supporting structure if they’ll be carrying weight. 

Browse Knobs and Pulls

13. Cool Things You Can Do with Corbels

What are corbels good for when it comes to decorating your home? Lots and lots of things, as it turns out! Let’s look at 12 cool options for incorporating corbels into your decor.

1. Make a pair of DIY bookends.

Let’s start with one of the most popular uses for a pair of corbels: delightful DIY bookends that will give your shelf a rustic feel. The square-edged design of most corbels makes them an excellent choice for bookends. Frequently, all you’ll have to do is set them up and go! Display your favorite series in style, or pick a selection of favorite titles that represents you. Be sure to choose a corbel that has two flat planes so that it will sit securely on the shelf against your books. 

Use corbels to hang your shelves

2. Use corbels to hang your shelves. 

Here’s a cool way to use corbels for something close to their intended purpose. If you’ve got some shelves to hang, a few good pairs of corbels can make beautiful and distinctive supports for your shelving. Measure the depth of your shelves and compare it with the corbels’ projection so that you can be sure the corbel provides sufficient length to match the shelf. Try purchasing some unstained, unpainted wooden shelves and corbels from Van Dyke’s and then using the same stain or paint for both of them to create a perfectly harmonious look! 

3. Incorporate corbels as part of a vignette. 

Vignettes are fun little decorative “scenes” that can add tons of pop to your home, and a corbel is a perfect thing to throw in when you’re composing one. A vignette is just a collection of items that, when presented together, tells a story of some kind. (Think of it like an artist painting a still life.) Corbels provide an anchor object to tie the vignette together, but they usually have pleasing ornamentation that makes them an essential compositional element rather than just abstract bulk. 

4. Add some tasteful flourishes to your kitchen. 

Corbels can create striking accents in many different spots around your kitchen. They can look spectacular as supports for the cabinets on your wall or brackets for a kitchen island counter. Choose some corbels that match your cabinetry as well as your knobs and pulls. Van Dyke’s has tons of options available! Do ensure, however, that you have enough space to comfortably hang the corbels without obstructing people’s ability to use the kitchen.

5. Create a floating side table or nightstand. 

Floating side tables and nightstands are another clever use of corbels that’s gained popularity recently. Rather than having a table surface supported by a traditional nightstand or end table structure, some home designers have started attaching corbels to walls and using them to support a table! Choose the style you want for your table, find a corbel in that style with sufficient projection and weight capacity and you’re only a short DIY project away from an awesome floating end table.

6. Use corbels to give your bed a floating mantelpiece “headboard.” 

Instead of a traditional headboard, why not try a floating mantelpiece-like shelf mounted with corbels? It’s a great space saver if your bedroom doesn’t have room for a nightstand, and it gives you a cool place to display your stuff! This is another project that you’ll want to sketch out before you buy any corbels or drill any holes. Be careful to leave yourself sufficient room above the bed so that the corbels don’t get in your way! 

7. Frame a doorway using corbels. 

Try installing a pair of corbels in a doorway to frame the space and give it some major zest. Just choose a pair of corbels that you like and add them to the top two corners of a doorway, pointing inward toward each other. The addition of decorative corbels can instantly take any doorway from plain to distinctive, and the feeling it creates is often something akin to walking through an elegant gateway. It’s a perfect way to add a little touch of architectural magic to the everyday. 

8. Create some corbel-based light fixtures.

Tons of cool things are possible when you use corbels to create your own sconce light fixtures! You can go super simple with a minimalist sconce that’s just a corbel, a cord and a hanging lantern. Or, if you’re inclined to get creative and aren’t afraid of a little woodworking, you could use your DIY skills to integrate a bulb, shade and power supply more thoroughly into your corbel for a truly impressive homemade sconce. 

9. Mount a desk on your wall using corbels. 

Plenty of folks have gotten creative with how they’ve incorporated a home office into their space, and adding a wall-mounted desk using corbels might be one of the most inspired choices yet! You’ll need a sturdy pair of corbels and a long, flat desk surface for this one. Cool floating desk options, like floating desks with built-in drawers, are widely available.

10. Give your ceiling beams an elegant accent.

Ceiling beams already have a wonderfully stately look, and you can make them even more distinguished with a well-chosen set of corbels. Place the corbels strategically, such as the points where your ceiling beams join the walls, to really complete the image of your beams and up the razzle-dazzle factor a little bit. 

11. Frame a centerpiece on a dining or coffee table.

A great centerpiece often requires skillful framing to truly look its best. That’s why you should consider a pair of corbels to frame that amazing centerpiece on your dining room table or coffee table. Their symmetrical design makes them an ideal fit for framing a centerpiece such as a flower arrangement, sculpture or candelabra. 

Corbels on a Fireplace Mantel

12. Add or Update Corbels to a Fireplace Mantel 

Fireplaces are an often overlooked area of home decor and are not the focal point of most remodeling projects. But there are many ways that you can decorate a fireplace mantel including installing fireplace mantels. Fireplace mantel corbels are both functional and fashionable additions to fireplace mantels. Decorative fireplace corbels support the weight of the mantel and can add an elegant look to your living room, dining room or bedroom fireplace mantels. 

13. Paint or decorate your corbels and let them stand alone.

Last, but not least, we’re here to remind you that corbels can stand all by themselves, especially when you get creative with your finishes and decorations. Their elegantly sculptured shapes make them look excellent in many different contexts, so you’ve got plenty of room to experiment! Try painting or staining a corbel with colors that match the decor scheme of your room and then allowing it to stand alone as a decorative piece. 

Shop Corbels

When you apply your creative instincts as a decorator, corbels can add just the flourish you’re looking for to almost any space. Van Dyke’s offers an unmatched selection of wooden decorative corbels, built for quality and style by some of the most respected manufacturers in the world of architectural restoration. You can shop our entire selection of corbels now or see our guide to installing decorative corbels for more tips on getting the most out of your corbels. 

Image Credits: 
natthanan phettae/