What are Corbels?

It’s all in the details that change a kitchen from the old and worn out look, to a new, cohesive, and functional style. Easy details to incorporate are architectural structures, the corbels. Corbels are 90° supportive brackets utilized as decoration or functional pieces under island bars, shelves, mantels, cabinets, and counters and room dividers.

These brackets can be made with many different materials, wood, plaster, resin, metal, and stone, and constructed in a simplistic or ornamental design.

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A Bit of History

Having survived the centuries, corbels have played a significant role in the architectural realm. They were first carved into the stone walls or cut from stone and secured onto the walls and have supported many weighty roofs, opposing walls, and shelves. These architectural structures supported many buildings with some in more elaborate and complex ways. Corbels were named for their beak-like shape, deriving from the Old French-based Latin word “corvellus,” which means raven.

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Corbels were originally constructed from concrete or stone. Carved either into the wall itself or formed as a separate piece and later attached, the bracket structures fortified nearby walls, shelves, and overhangs. It was during the Victorian Era when a new concept was explored: wood corbels. Quickly growing in popularity, they circulated the society and were established into many buildings such as cathedrals, libraries, and community buildings.

Corbels eventually worked their way into homes, as they were lighter, smaller, and much easier to design. With their new versatility, the primary focus of corbels being a supportive structure shifted into what they are mainly known for today: a decorative piece. While their counterparts, the stone and concrete, were used for functionality and support before carved into unique and amazing designs, wood corbels were designed for the artistic aesthetic before used as a functional piece. This shift in focus carried on in what corbels are known for today.

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The decorative designs and carving selections are limitless for wood corbels. Modern and Minimalist corbels have more of the clean and simple aesthetic with simple cuts, shapes, and patterns. Traditional corbels draw inspiration from nature. Many of these designs incorporate delicate and intricate flower, vine, grape, and leaf motifs, mostly known as the Acanthus Leaf style.

Corbel designs also draw inspiration from animals, angels, and people. When using corbels as decoration, please keep this rule of thumb in mind: corbels should look as if they are functional pieces even if they are only used as decoration.

Corbel Styles

Throughout the centuries, there have been many styles, patterns, and carvings crafted onto corbels. Here are a few to start.

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Wood

Wood corbels are typically machine-carved or hand-carved. In kitchens, they compliment the cabinet styles by being stained or painted to match. These wood structures enhance rustic and elegant kitchens.

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Mission Style

This style of corbels is reminiscent to the colonial Californian Spanish missions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which had an influence on the design. The style also mimics that of the Shaker cabinet door styles with its vertical lines and flat, recessed panels, sometimes referred to as the Shaker style. The Mission Style works well in contemporary kitchens.

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Curved

These corbels work well in contemporary kitchens with their flat surfaces and simple, curved shapes. They give a clean but unique element to the room.

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Acanthus Leaf

The well-known Acanthus Leaf corbel embodies the intricate and detailed leaf pattern inspired by the Classic Greek era. Mediterranean kitchens typically use this type of corbel for decoration.

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Modern

Modern corbels are sleek, clean, flat-surfaced structures with no details. These can be used in any Modern kitchen as a small decorative feature or a functional piece stretching to the floor on kitchen islands.

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Photo Credit: Houzz

Wrought Iron

Some corbels are constructed from metal for both functional and decoration structures. Wrought Iron corbels are elaborate metal pieces that add the right flair in Spanish, industrial, Mediterranean, and traditional kitchens.

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