In my quest to use sustainable and eco friendly materials where possible, I've been looking at all the amazing things you can do with cork. Forget about the 1970/80s cork boards you may have had your Donny Osmond or Duran Duran posters pinned to, Cork has moved on and is one of the most versatile interiors materials out there...
Cork is a natural product with remarkably unique qualities unmatched by any other natural material. This 100% natural, organic material is the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber), native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa.
The Cork Oak tree is an evergreen which grows in areas bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Portugal supplies approximately 50%, Spain 25%, with the balance being divided between Algeria, France, Morocco, Italy and Tunisia. As early as 2,500 BC cork was being used for fishing floats in ancient Egypt.
This amazingly supple and versatile material is the only part of a tree that can completely regenerate itself after each harvest.
Much like bamboo, it is now used for all sorts of things in interior design, as well as being used as a leather substitute for accessories such as belts, wallets and bags.
The unique physical properties of cork mean it has some excellent qualities for use in interiors:
LIGHTNESS & BUOYANCY
Everyone knows that corks float, right? You've done that in school. This is due to the fact that more than 50% the cell volume of cork consists of air, making it one of the lightest solid substances in the world...
HARD WEARING ELASTICITY
A cubic inch of cork can withstand a huge amount of pressure without breaking, and retains 90% of its original form after the pressure is released. Less or more normal pressure increase return to original form from 97% to 100%. Due to the tiny air cells in cork, downward pressure simply compresses the air within the cells, so the cork begins to spring back when the pressure is removed, meaning it's incredibly hard-wearing, durable and resilient as a flooring choice.
IMPERMEABILITY TO MOISTURE
While cork is not completely impervious to moisture penetration, it contains fatty substances such as suberin or cerin in its cellular structure, giving it a high resistance to water. You can now even get a treated cork that can be used in wet rooms.
Cork is a highly frictional material, both in its natural form as well as in cork composition. Even when wet or coated with oil or grease, cork retains this quality, even more so that rubber, meaning it's non-slip and great for floors.
Cork, with its 200 million air cells per cubic inch; of which 50% is air, essentially acts as an “air cushion”, absorbing vibrations. The same qualities mean it does not conduct heat - so it's very efficient as both a heat and sound insulator...
Aside from all that, it's utterly beautiful and a great eco-conscious choice for the interior of all homes. Definitely worth thinking about if you're doing a renovation.