In the first of our ‘Material Focus’ series we’ve been looking at cork – it’s sustainable, extremely versatile, and its natural qualities are wonderfully calming.
First introduced to the built environment in 1904, Cork has been widely used in architecture, interior and product design for almost 120 years. The material is unique – porous, lightweight and durable whilst being soft to touch. The raw material is harvested directly from trees and is actually the bark from quercus suber, otherwise known as a cork oak tree, native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. Cork forests are known as montados and are key to the environment of Mediterranean countries – in fact they're so key to biodiversity that they are protected by law.
CORK AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Harvesting cork bark is largely very good for the planet. This is because cork is harvested from the trees, rather than cut down. Bark is harvested from a cork oak tree once every 9-12 years, without harming the tree. Each time cork is harvested the bark regenerates itself and in doing so it absorbs huge amounts of CO2, in fact harvested cork trees absorb three to five times more CO2 than non-harvested trees. Cork oak trees in Portugal alone offset 10 million tons carbon every year, and montados in Portugal have been ranked as among the top biodiversity hotspots in Europe being home to 135 plant species and 42 bird species – many of which are endangered. By harvesting the trees in this way, rather than deforestation, the ecosystem of the forests are protected and can continue to thrive.
Cork is a natural and environmentally friendly material that biodegrades easily, meaning it can be recycled without producing toxic residue or by-products. Each tree is harvested on average once per decade, and a typical cork oak tree (quercus suber) can live up to 170 - 250 years on average.
CORK AND ACCESSIBILITY
There are many ways that cork can be used around the home, office or built environment to increase accessibility and improve wellbeing.
As humans we are drawn to the patterns, colours and materials found in nature – and the use of natural materials as part of a biophilic interior design scheme has been proven to calm us, help to ground a person and give us a more mindful and meaningful connection to our environment. We constantly seek those connections to nature in our daily lives, and where we succeed it has been proven to lower blood pressure and tension, as well as improve memory, focus and happiness.
Cork is also fire, water and weather resistant, it is lightweight and due to it’s porous structure it has fantastic sound absorbent qualities – making it incredibly versatile to use as an interior finish, for a piece of furniture or jewellery, a piece of art or sound absorbent panelling.
Using cork to absorb sound can also help to reduce reverberations or echo in an interior space – which can help to reduce confusion or pain for anyone with a cognitive or sensory impairment, as well as someone who is neurodivergent. The tactile qualities of the material can be beneficial too, as some neurodivergent people will look for interesting surfaces and objects to increase stimulation.
Cork can be fun and playful too – we created a huge cork wall in an office recently for teams to collaborate and pin ideas to, post team photos and ideas as well as inspirational quotes and messages. It can also be used in kids bedrooms, kitchens or shared spaces around the home for similar purposes.
We've picked out some of our favourite cork products or designs below:
These lightweight and durable stools can also double up as side tables.
These beautiful Italian side tables have a cork base and wooden top in a variety of shapes, finishes and sizes.
These simple, elegant door knobs will add a timeless and unique finish to any up-cycled furniture.
These lightweight pots are perfect for planters or stationary pots. They are durable, sustainable and versatile.
Our team are happy to provide free advice and discuss some of the fantastic sustainable materials we've been sourcing. Get in touch to talk to us about your project!