Few architectural terms can cause as much confusion as the word corbel. What is a corbel? Is it the same as a bracket? We will get there. The first thing you need to understand about corbels is that they date back to the origins of architecture itself; one could even say corbels put the arch in architecture. Their versatility, value, and function cannot be understated hence why we see different forms of corbels in almost every style of architecture around the world. They can be so associated with the buildings they reinforce that by looking at these corbels we can date buildings and identify their architectural style. Here is a brief look at the crazy world of corbels.
What is a Corbel?
Corbels are a common architectural term describing the bracket that provides support underneath a structure such as a roof, ceiling, window, beam or shelf. The term corbel is also used when describing a block or structure that projects out from the wall of the building. Perhaps some of the confusion derives from the sheer versatility of corbels. They come in a variety of mediums such as wood, metal, stone, polymer or plaster. They also vary in styles from the ornately carved corbels you commonly see in Victorian architecture to the sleek and simple designs for a modern home. Corbels are also not exiled to exterior architecture. Whether it is supporting a shelf or reinforcing a kitchen island, you can see corbels applied to almost any room. So there you have it, interior, exterior, ancient and modern, in the world of architecture, corbels can be found everywhere.
To make things only marginally more confusing, the Glossary of the National Historical Society’s Survey of Early American Design prefers to use corbel as a verb- the process of “building outward by projecting successive courses of masonry beyond those below.” They prefer to use the singular term bracket when referring to what others would describe as a corbel.
Are Corbels and Brackets the Same Thing?
Corbels are a type of bracket so in a way, yes, they are the same thing. However, it is not quite that simple. Brackets are defined as an architectural element, used for structural and/or decorative support that projects from the wall. Corbels and consoles are types of brackets. Like corbels, brackets come in the same variety of materials and vary in their styles. Some brackets can be extremely elaborate while others are as basic as a simple rectangular piece of wood. Ultimately is the distinction that corbels always provide support underneath something and project outward further than other forms of brackets like consoles.
What are Consoles?
Consoles are like corbel’s fancy little sister. They are smaller, do not project as far outward and thus do not provide quite as much support. Likewise, you often see them in different locations then the hardworking corbels. Consoles tend to be in an elaborate ogee (S or inverted S) or double ogee style so you also see a slight limitation on their applications as opposed to the variety you see with corbels.
The options are limitless when it comes to uses for corbels, brackets, and consoles. They provide personality, character and architectural interest while improving structural integrity to whatever they are supporting. Here is a short list of some of their possible applications:
Corbels and brackets provide support for windows, doorways, roofs, porches, pergolas, archways, and columns.
Corbels and brackets provide support for windows, doorways, ceilings, shelves, fireplace mantels, countertops, archways and islands.
Now that you are crazy for corbels, all you have to do is step outside (or inside) for inspiration. Think about the style or kind of impression you are wanting to project (get the pun?). For example, a Craftsman-style property can display a variety of corbels. There are the simple triangular-shaped, modern corbels or something a little more curved, but clean lines are the basic concept. Whereas, a historical Victorian fixer-upper embraces the ornate with curves, carvings and a lot of them.
Once you have decided how your project can benefit from the addition of corbels, it is important to acquire quality materials built with longevity in mind. For more information, contact us at Worthington Millwork. We pride ourselves in providing the best “American Made Architectural Products.”