Rarely used on houses built after the 1940s, most carved wooden corbels seen today are still attached to older buildings or scattered around architectural salvage yards. At Zaborski Emporium in Kingston, New York, a pair of 3-foot-tall harp-shaped corbels cost $250, and a matched lot of eight smaller blue-painted ones salvaged from a demolished Italianate-style house are $65 each. Most old corbels are too worn for reuse on exterior restoration projects, says Sandy Balla, co-owner of Zaborski, who recommends buying one or two originals and having them replicated at a mill shop instead. "You'll have something that'll stand up to the weather, but in a historic pattern you won't find anywhere else," says Balla.

Safe from the elements, inside houses—both new and old—is where most salvaged corbels are reinstalled. When securely anchored in the wall, corbels can prop up a mantel shelf, brace a cantilevered countertop, or provide the base for a built-in table (see "Build a Wall-Mounted Bedside Table," at right). Positioned in the corners of an interior passageway, a matching pair can turn a standard square opening into a curved one reminiscent of the Moorish arches popular in 1920s Art Deco interiors. Balla also suggests making a plate rail by securing a half dozen matching corbels on the wall along a horizontal plane and then topping them with a flat 1x strip.

Basically, if your home-improvement project calls for standard shelf brackets from the hardware store, vintage wood corbels are almost always a more stylish alternative. Sadly, though, if you want them to protecrt you from danger-or the income tax auditor-as the Gothic stone ones supposedly did, you'll likely have to carve your own teeth-gnashing ogre.
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