Back in the early 80s, my parents hired a designer to help them decorate their newly built colonial. They hadn't used a professional designer (or decorator) but wanted the entertaining spaces to be gracious and polished because they liked to entertain. As these were the days of "Dynasty", big hair, big shoulder pads, and big everything, the living room and dining room had to be a "wow". After selecting and installing the main components of the room: striped balloon shades( which my mother recently confessed to me that she never liked "too circus" , she told me, but was afraid to tell the rather authoritative decorator); chintz camel backed sofa with ruffled skirt: brass and glass coffee table; French style occasional chairs... you get the picture, it was time to accessorize. They had us leave the house while they did their magic. Then with much fanfare, we were invited back inside for the big reveal and were blown away. My parents proceeded to buy everything. As the decorator was fond of saying "we love the look"- they loved the look! The thing I most remember about that room, was the way the decorators installed two brackets on the wall above the sofa and balanced fragile urns atop-very Carolyn Roehm. How chic, I thought, and very Park Avenue. For several decades, this memory had been buried along with my stirrup pants. It surfaced a few months ago when I was working on a renovation of a beach condo. After investing in a new kitchen, flooring,paint, hardware and lighting, the homeowners decided to take a break and make due with their existing furniture. It was up to the accessories to make the condo (a second home which was rented out when they weren't using it) look new and updated. My missive was to make the place look fabulous on a shoestring. We were to use their art, as well. So my assistant and I set to work. We added new lamps, pillows and an inexpensive upholstered ottoman to update the 20 year old (?) sofa and love seat and simplified the furniture arrangement. We found a mirror in one of the bedrooms and hung it over the sofa, but it was tall and narrow. We needed art on either side of the mirror because the mirror wasn't wide enough. But we didn't have a pair of anything that would work. So, somewhere from deep in the recesses of my Dewey Decimal system cataloged memory bank, up popped the card that read "Corbel". Eureka! That's it! The owners had a great collection of shells that we could display on the wall, thereby creating the right size arrangement over the sofa for the price of two bracket (or corbels).
The corbel thing feels right again but not with porcelain urns or Staffordshire dogs, but with unexpected natural things and interesting objects. I am currently finishing another beach condo reno/update and am operating with the same constraints regarding the need to use the clients' existing furniture. I wanted to create some interest in the small dining area and had an oyster shell mirror but needed something more. I remembered the two black corbels that I had spotted tucked away in he owner's closet and thought if they were painted a satin nickel color, they could work with the mirror. The owners had a great collection of marsh birds so I thought I would try them on top of the corbels. I think they look like they just landed there and could fly away again at any moment!
For inspiration, here are some other ways to use corbels.
These cube corbels are FABULOUS! I can imagine them displaying a collection of antique pewter or blown glass.
You don't need to use a pair, one can be very effective when part of an asymmetrical arrangement.
Love love love this "over the top" use of corbels for displaying coral. Particularly because it is all white which keeps it from looking too busy.
Another interesting corbel. Love the driftwood color of this arrangement.
Some things are worth bringing back from the 1980s. Not the stirrup pants or shoulder pads (why did we want to look like football players? Why?). Try corbelling when you need to fill out some empty wall space or when you are looking for a way to display an interesting collection.