That’s A Corker!

There’s a buzz around now about cork. Some of you may remember it from the 1970s; those infamous cork tiles, the office corkboard, those fabulously chunky cork wedges…

Photo: Original vintage 1970s cork wedges, via dead-rare-records, Ebay

…With today’s technology, cork is back and is being reinvented and reconfigured into incredibly diverse and creative designs – such as this handsome sculpted sink and positively plush bird house.

One of the great things about cork is its flexibility. It has many attractive and practical qualities – it’s soft and warm to the touch, impermeable, buoyant, fire resistant, anti-microbial. It can be as thin and soft as fabric, or tough and robust enough to be incorporated into heat shields for spacecraft, used in architecture as bricks, or in the acoustic and thermal insulation of walls, floors, ceilings and facades.

Photo: Wall of a mid century modern home, via roxydynamite’s photostream, Flickr

Cork is also a renewable resource and one of the most sustainable materials on earth. Most of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal and Spain, where forests of cork trees have been supplying global markets since the 19th Century. The forests are also the last remaining habitat of the Iberian lynx, the Iberian imperial eagle and other endangered species.

Photo: Portuguese cork forest, via

Cork comes from the outer bark of the tree known as Quercus suber. It’s stripped by hand, using traditional methods and skilled axe techniques. The bark then grows back over the next 10 years, when it’s ready to be harvested again. Cork trees live for up to 200 years, none of the cork is wasted and all cork products can be recycled many times. Check out this short video to see how cork’s harvested

Since the advent of screw-top wine bottles and plastic stoppers the cork industry has been badly affected and a few years ago almost dried up. It’s a vital source of work in a struggling part of Europe, which relies on cork to maintain its economy. Now businesses are looking for new avenues of production.

Cristina D´Cotta is Director of CDC, a company which imports and distributes products by Portuguese Designers, ranging from Pritzker Prize winning architects, to lesser known crafts people and young creatives. Here are some of the products she’ll be featuring soon at 100% Design, London.

UK designers and architects are also being inspired by cork. Product and furniture designer Craig Foster developed this distinctive self assembly ‘Kurk’ light, which was chosen as the winning design for the 2012 BDC New Designer of the Year award, at London’s Business Design Centre and also achieved 2nd place at the 2012 Lighting Association’s Student Lighting Design Awards. He will be exhibiting at 100% Design, at the Emerging Talent stand.

Rocking Thing, a contemporary version of a rocking horse, by furniture designer Marcin Bahrij, was featured at New designers 2012. The solid block of cork used in the project is made of recycled wine corks and is resilient and easy to clean.

And, a great example of innovative cork use – The Serpentine Gallery, in London’s Hyde Park, commissioned Ai Weiwei, the world famous Chinese artist, and Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, to design this year’s Pavilion.

Photo: by Iwan Baan, via

The interior of the pavilion is lined with cork and features tactile cork mushroom seating. The Gallery’s Pavilions are an annual undertaking and each is exhibited throughout the summer months. The 2012 Pavilion has been purchased by Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal and will enter their private collection after it closes to the public in October 2012. Get on down there and catch it before it goes, or you can see a video on their website, here