Cork might just be the ultimate sustainable material: It’s a truly renewable resource that can be harvested without destroying the cork oak tree from which it derives. Because of its unique cell structure, it offers high thermal and acoustic insulation and is naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic. It’s also resilient and visually impactful.

Portugal is the world’s largest source of cork. Montado, its over-two-million-hectare cork oak forest, produces 180,000 tonnes of it every year. A single oak tree can be harvested 15 times through its 200-year lifespan and continuously retain three to five times more carbon dioxide than an unharvested tree.

Cork, then, is a no-brainer as a warm material option that is easy on the planet – as can be appreciated in our round-up of recent cork products.

Alain Gilles’ Wall Tiles for Greenmood
Put a Cork In It: 5 Design-Savvy Options in the Sustainable Material
Put a Cork In It: 5 Design-Savvy Options in the Sustainable Material

Cork’s acoustic prowess meets its aesthetic potential in this handsome wall tile collection from Belgian designer Alain Gilles for Greenmood. The four styles of 3D module are: Brickx, a triangular motif that allows for multiple brick wall–like compositions (image top of article); Morse intersperses a dash of a tile with Brickx triangles to evoke the namesake communication code; Sillon (“groove” in English) is a striated square that creates visually seamless and expansive wall treatments (above, left); and Paranthese is comprised of 32-centimetre-long curved tiles with straight edges that match up for a scalloped look in a range of configurations (above, right).

Herzog & de Meuron’s Corker for Classicon
Put a Cork In It: 5 Design-Savvy Options in the Sustainable Material

Though it debuted as a Classicon product in 2022, Corker began its life at the London Serpentine Gallery in the summer of 2012, where it furnished Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron’s pavilion, designed in collaboration with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Inspired by the bottle stopper, one of the material’s most enduring applications, the piece comes in three sizes (a new marble version was launched in 2023).

Una Flooring by Recork
Put a Cork In It: 5 Design-Savvy Options in the Sustainable Material

Cork’s bouncy resilience makes it an ideal and comfort-boosting option for flooring. The U.K. brand Recork (which sources all its material from Montado) offers its products in a number of finishes that blend into modern interiors. Recently, it was commissioned to supply the flooring for Appian, a leading cloud computer company moving into a new 745-square-metre HQ in the City of London. For the common area (above), the choice was Una cork flooring in Concrete Grey. Other finishes in that collection include Birch Beige, Charred Oak and Pale Sand.

Noé Duchaufour Lawrance’s Burnt Cork by Made in Situ
Put a Cork In It: 5 Design-Savvy Options in the Sustainable Material

Cork’s artistic possibilities were recently amped up at Design Miami, where Bohinc Studio chose the material for Utopia, its colourful cloud-like installation. On a slightly more pragmatic note, Made in Situ‘s Burnt Cork collection by Noé Duchaufour Lawrance crafts poetic forms as functional furnishings, like a shapely lounge chair and a sculptural table. Designed as a tribute to Portuguese cork, the collection plays up all of the aesthetic qualities, from “calcined bark to fine grain, from rawness to fluid curves.”

David Rockwell’s Porto Sólido Wallcoverings for Maya Romanoff
Put a Cork In It: 5 Design-Savvy Options in the Sustainable Material

An expansion of the Porto collection (which includes patterns like Deco, Elo and Lino), the Porto Sólido line of wallcoverings by David Rockwell for Maya Romanoff features coloured cork that is hand-inlaid on luminous metallic foil. Available in 10 sophisticated colourways, such as Alsace Almond, Rosé Reserve, and Syrah Slate, Porto Sólido uses micro-thin slices of cork that are hand-treated with water-based inks. Scaled for hospitality and residential, the wallcoverings can be easily cleaned with a diluted bleach solution or disinfecting wipes.

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