Distinctive and sustainable: why cork is one of the biggest trends of the year

Cork is enjoying a renaissance. Once seen as a cornerstone of 1970s interior design, cork is now being used for everything from flooring to cladding and furniture and accessories.

This is hardly surprising given the unique properties of cork. First, it is a renewable and sustainable raw material, with no trees damaged or cut down when the bark of the cork oak is harvested. With cork oaks absorbing five times more carbon dioxide than other types of tree, pure cork products have the potential to be carbon negative given the right manufacturing and supply chain setup. Second, cork is incredibly flexible and able to withstand impact due to its elastic honeycomb structure. With easy maintenance it is a great alternative to domestic favourites such as laminate flooring. Finally, it contributes to health and wellbeing through acoustic and thermal insulation properties, as well as low chemical emissions that result in better air quality.

But these practical considerations aren’t the only reasons cork is enjoying a design renaissance. It is also a naturally beautiful material that works perfectly with a wide range modern design trends.

Far beyond the orange

Anyone old enough to remember seventies cork décor is probably picturing the deep orange cork tiles and pinboards that fitted perfectly with the earthy, autumnal palette of the decade. But in its natural state cork has a far more subtle colour, that works with multiple design themes. Our Una Birch Beige flooring, for instance, is close to the colour of natural cork and has a neutral, organic feel that would fit any home or office.

What’s more todays cork products are available in a variety of contemporary shades and finishes to suit any colour scheme. At Quadrant we use a premium plant-based impregnating oil, to colour the cork and enhance its natural beauty, while still allowing its innate warmth and unique texture to shine through. The coloured cork is then coated with a specially adapted protective lacquer to increase durability and perfectly showcase the cork’s inimitable aesthetic. From whites and greys that complement Scandi themes to rich browns, today’s cork flooring is a far cry from the fake tan orange of the 1970s.

Biophilic design, which involves incorporating elements of nature into the buildings where we live and work, is a powerful way to recuperate mental and physical energy and reduce everyday stresses that can lead to illnesses such as mental health disorders and cardio-vascular disease. It is thought to reduce stress and blood pressure levels while boosting productivity, creativity and overall feelings of wellness.

Cork in general, and cork flooring in particular, can help designers meet biophilic principles. These include optimising thermal comfort levels, ensuring acoustic comfort, improving air quality and ventilation and reducing toxin levels. They also involve using natural materials, textures, patterns and colours to make a building’s inhabitants feel that connection with the natural world. Cork products can help meet all of these goals, and bring the outside in, especially with its entirely unique organic patterns that ensure no two products are ever the same.

Embracing the corkitecture trend

Cork is even beginning to be used in architecture, leading the industry to coin the phrase ‘corkitecture.’ In 2019 a house created entirely out of solid blocks of expanded cork was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, awarded to Britain’s best building. While buildings made from cork aren’t likely to be a staple of housing developments any time soon, it’s interesting to see the potential of this incredible material. Discussing the aptly named Cork House in the Guardian, architecture critic Catherine Slessor wrote, “If Cork House were a book, it would be a manifesto or polemical tract that aimed to radically reframe the processes of architecture and construction through the prism of whole life sustainability, from design to demolition.”

At Quadrant we’re really excited about the role cork is already playing in building and interior design, and are proud to incorporate this incredible material into our sustainable flooring. To discover the beauty of cork for yourself, simply check out our product page or order one of our sample folders.

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