The Corbel: Something old, Something new
“We were doing green before green was cool,” says Don Charlet, co-owner of the Corbel. “We do it because old things have this character, beauty, and depth that new products don’t. It’s about an appreciation for the originality and history that come with old things, but it also happens to go hand in hand with being eco-conscious.” Don and his wife Susan focus intently on what their customers need in the home building and renovation process. The Corbel employs builders, designers, and artisans who exist in symbiosis, creating custom furniture, lighting, ceiling beam, and wood design for homes. They make architectural salvage and home renovation into an exciting creative process, continuously discovering new niches in the market and uses for their timeless products.
Since the Corbel’s inception in 2004, the business has grown into an 11,000-square-foot store offering a dizzying array of interior accents, flooring, and architectural features. The Corbel is best known for its heart pine flooring, bead board, refurbished furniture, salvaged doors, and great holiday gift items. Don also continues to run his construction company, Charlet Brothers Southern Design and Construction. Perhaps because the nature of their business is finding new purpose for old things, the Charlets’ business model is able to flourish in constant creative flux. With each new project, new energy and life floods into that area of the store.
“Our big new item is imported antique doors. We noticed over the last several years that, whether clients are renovating or building a new home, architects tend to specify 8-foot-tall doors in their plans. In the salvage business, it’s rare to find an 8-foot domestic door, so most people in the area either have to get new doors made or can only find a few odd old doors to fit their home. It’s even harder to find a matching set in that size, because doors in Louisiana weren’t built that way 100 years ago. They were 6 or 7 feet, but rarely 8.”
A solution to this conundrum is news in south Louisiana. The nearest spot that was a sure bet for 8-foot salvaged doors was Dallas, TX, but now the Charlets have brought a new resource to our back door. "We found the answer in France and Belgium," explains Don. "Most of the salvaged doors there are 7 ½-8 ½ feet in height. Now I'm receiving half a container of 100 to 200-year-old European doors every two months. The character of these doors lends itself to the architecture here. We’re the only place in Louisiana that gets these, and we have craftsmen that can patch and square the doors as well as create custom door frames to match them.”
“I only have so much room here—enough for about 750 doors. When two or three people come and buy 20 or 30 doors each, it makes a big dent. Most people want doors that all match, and it’s hard to do, but we do receive a few collections of matching doors within each shipment. We’ve been asking people to follow us on Facebook to see when the next shipment is, so that they can come and have first pick. This change is a real jewel, and people know it.”
On a local and national basis, the Corbel is still reclaiming old stores and homes. The Corbel is famous for their selection of antique beams and flooring from around the country, but they’re also making a name for themselves in refurbished antique furniture. The quality of their unusual finds draws customers with each new shipment.
“We have pickers that go around the United States. In addition to old homes, they often find things in old warehouses—industrial iron tool bases and old pieces of antique tools. We refurbish them and build pieces of furniture around them,” he says. For example, a custom island the Corbel built for a client’s kitchen includes a large iron tool base salvaged from a manufacturing center. An antique cypress board now sits on the tool base, creating a charming kitchen workspace.
“Whenever we let people know we’ve received a shipment of these antique tools, they come over. They say, ‘Make me an 8-foot dining room table out of that piece.’ What they get is a real piece of history put together in a new way with several one-of-a-kind elements. No one else will ever have a piece like that. Also, when you look at the cost of tables at other places, it’s the same or sometimes less, since often we get these bases for a low cost that we can pass on to the customers. We also custom design everything in-house—everything from islands to coffee tables.”
“All these things marry into one another,” says Don. “It’s all part of the symbiotic nature of what’s going on here. We focus on the real needs of people during the home building and renovation process, because we know how it is to build a home. If someone comes to the Corbel looking for antique heart pine beams, they just came to someone who not only has the material, but the knowledge and capability to do the work and design the space.” You can find the Charlet Brothers Southern Design and Construction office in the Corbel store, ready to provide you with an experienced, professional construction team as well as an architect, should you need one. “We understand the aesthetics of old buildings. We know the historically accurate way to add and change things in these homes. The men I have working for me are true craftsmen.”
Don’s childhood primed him in an unusual way, not only for appreciating the beauty of old things, but also for dealing with people under stress. “I grew up in a funeral home. My grandfather and his brother started Charlet Funeral Home in 1947, and the family lived in a complex in the back of the home. It was a big mansion with incredible old wood, shutters, and old glass. It needed a lot of repair, which I learned how to do alongside my dad.” Don grew up to become a licensed funeral director, where he quickly learned how to navigate the troubled waters of emotionally-charged customer relations. “A funeral is a time when people feel both emotionally and financially vulnerable. They’re sensitive, and they don’t always think logically. They tend to get mad, but most of the time they’re not really mad at you. You’ve got to have thick skin. A similar phenomenon happens in construction. When someone is renovating their home, they’re spending more money than they’ve ever spent in their lives, doing something they don’t know how to do, and they’re scared, though they don’t want to admit it. Short of a funeral, I’ve never experienced more volatile interpersonal reactions, but it’s really just human nature.”
As clients quickly discover, no home renovation project is ever perfect. When this happens, it helps to keep a cool head, something Don learned to do long ago. Don’s clients have told him that even when they were mad about things that went wrong, they appreciated his willingness to listen and calmly solve the problem at hand. “Though some people think it’s odd to have grown up this way, it’s where a lot of my gifts came from: my appreciation for architecture and my knack for knowing how to give people what they need. There’s always a purpose. God had me there for a reason, and he’s kept me here for a reason.” ✦
911 Highway 61
Jackson, LA 70748