Corbels and consoles have long been used in architecture and design to provide a decorative element or support. Whether for something as hefty and complex as buttressing the cornerstone of a cathedral or as a slight design element beneath a slim countertop, wooden and stone corbels have been an essential element for years. But have they remained the same for too long? From the modillions of ancient Greece to the scrolling wooden slabs that inherit some aspects of the classical style, corbels haven’t changed all that much, and design experts and trendsetters, frankly, have had enough. Ornate and high-volume have gone out of style with more modern silhouettes, textures and colors taking hold. Rather than the chunky wooden consoles that used to hold up a 6-inch overhang, interior designers are opting for more counter space, further extensions and sleek, slim woods or metal—often stainless steel.
So what can a contractor or architect do when he or she walks in and discovers the designated location has a supported surface with undesirable add-ons? Removing conventionally installed corbels is a process that takes a bit of know-how and a lot of patience, but they can be easily replaced with supports that give a more modern feel.
Sam Schwartz, a carpenter and design specialist at Federal Brace with much experience in this area, says, “It’s important to take time and not rush, yank, pull or smash anything when removing corbels or consoles—unless, of course, the idea is a demolition.”
Schwartz’s advice is to preserve expensive countertops, conserve time and money, and minimize overall impact by simply removing the offending piece and replacing with a brace that provides similar or greater support.
- If the piece is adhered to the cabinet or wall by caulking, cut along the console through the caulk, but avoid damage to the mounting surface by focusing on the piece itself.
- If the piece is bolted or screwed to the mount surface, carefully remove the bolts or screws without stripping them; they become significantly more difficult to manage or remove without damaging the surfaces around them once stripped. These bolts or screws are sometimes hidden by wooden plugs, which must be located and removed. Find these by searching for mismatched grain or by gently probing areas that look as if they’ve been spackled or filled.
- It is common with commercial construction to find glue, epoxy or silicone as the chosen fastener for corbels. If this is the case, pry the console or corbel little by little while cutting at the adherence with a knife or chisel until it can be safely removed. Silicone, in particular, may be easier to cut away. Removal solutions, such as acetone or other deglossers, should be used with caution; they can easily damage wood, finishes, floors, paint or drywall.
- If worse comes to worst, your patience has evaporated and you’ve located a corbel that is nearly impossible to remove, a reciprocal saw may be used with extreme care to cut any fasteners that are unable to be removed through force. Use several layers of painter’s tape to protect the surrounding mount surface and then pry the corbel up to fit the saw beneath it. Carefully saw through remaining fasteners while being careful not to touch cabinetry or walls. Test your technique, first, in an area that is easily hidden from view.
When it comes to retrofitting a modernized corbel or metal support to an existing counter, Schwartz indicates the process is much easier than taking off the old corbel. He states: “The key to retrofitting your support is to ensure full contact is made between the supporting top flange and the underside of the counter or shelf. If gaps are allowed in the new installation, you may get deflection, which would compromise the supported surface.”
With the available options in commercial and residential counter supports, designers and property owners can now retrofit a variety of applications to match their desired finished look. From low-profile to completely hidden to a self-supported reception counter, a retrofit design goal that can be imagined can often be realized. Through this relatively simple renovation, apartment managers, hotel owners, and commercial real-estate developers can update the look of their existing space while at that same time updating the support levels under their surfaces and serving counters. The step of removing corbels and retrofitting supports will add value and longevity to the property and ensure the space is safer for tenants or guests.