Sure, you know cork. Especially if you’re the wine-loving sort that I think you are. But cork has much more potential than a mere bottle stopper or the communal pin board. Sourced from the bark of the imaginatively named ‘cork oak’ (quercus suber), primarily from Mediterranean countries like Portugal, Spain, and Italy the use of this natural material in interiors is having a moment and I’m so here for it. Cork is one the best examples of a renewable resource in the world and it’s use in interiors products feels fresh and new. Softer to the touch than plywood or rattan, cork is the perfect material to use to deliver that warm and natural look that’s so in right now.
While cork is bang on trend for its 1970’s aesthetic appeal (fitting, as it was big back then too), it’s also increasingly popular due to its serious sustainability credentials. Here’s three tips reasons why cork materials in interiors are so eco-friendly:
Cork trees sequester carbon at a higher rate than many other trees, and as such are know as ‘carbon fixers’. They covert CO2 during photosynthesis like other trees and plants, but cork trees also capture and store additional CO2 each time their bark is harvested. Harvested cork trees sequester 3-5 times more CO2 than non-harvested cork trees. It may seem counterintuitive, but its actually better for the environment to keep harvesting cork then.
Cork forests protect biodiversity. The vast cork forests in southwest Europe provide vital habit to a whole range of plants, animals and help to regulate the water cycle and combat against desertification, further protecting biodiversity. Many of the species that call cork forests home are endangered, including the Iberian Lynx, Iberian Imperial Eagle, Barbary Deer, Black Vulture, and Black Stork. In Sardinia, cork forests are home to wild boars, hawks and deer.
Interiors products made from cork keep waste from the waste stream. Many of the cork products made for interiors are actually made from the leftovers (‘blocker waste’) from the wine cork industry. Wine corks are directly cut from the bark slabs, the remaining material is then ground up to make more products. Apparently in Portugal, they say ‘cork is like the pig’ - no parts go to waste!
So how is cork being used in interiors?
Cork flooring is an obvious application of cork, and these days there are some gorgeous options on the market. The Colour Flooring Co. in the UK has a range of colours including several warm traditional browny colours, but also more contemporary options like white and grey. In the US, USFloors looks to be a leading provider.
Cork floors muffle sound, are soft on our feet, and can even contribute to cleaner air space. This is because it combats mould and dust due to its anti-microbial properties and anti-static surface. If it’s looked after properly, cork floors and surfaces can last decades, with upward estimates suggesting around 50 years, due in part because it can be refinished just like wood. There certainly are some cons to consider, see The Spruce’s article dedicated to this question- the biggest issues are pet paws and indentations from furniture.
Cork furniture is also popping up everywhere at the moment (no cork pun intended!). As recently covered in Dezeen, London-based furniture designer Jasper Morrison has created a wide range of furniture pieces made from cork. This includes a chaise longue, bookshelves, a dining table, chairs, stools that double as low tables, a bench and a cork fireplace surround. Even mainstream furniture shops are turning to this wonder material, with Ikea coming out with cork doors for its Pax wardrobe system.
Cork fabric. Yes, it’s really a thing. Cork is being made into ‘cork leather’ or fabric, which can be sewn into any manner of things. While on holiday in Sardinia, I saw make-up bags, cushion covers, wallets, and all kinds of stuff made out of ‘cork leather’. In the US, there’s a firm called Queork, who specialize in all kinds of cork products, including cork fabric and wall coverings - totally worth a gander (click here) if you’re curious just how the fabric thing works! Or you can see them in action on Etsy.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not used cork in my own house, yet. But, a recent poll of cork flooring converts seems to indicate that most people absolutely love it and would install it again, given the chance. I’m looking to update our laundry room floor soon, and I think this could be a good contender. Would you ever use cork in your home or those of your clients? Leave a comment below or over on my Instagram (see side bar).
Other references used in this article include Gil, 2015.