Sustainable Material Spotlight: Cork

This isn’t your grandparents’ cork flooring. Renewable and recycled cork is making a comeback in a big way, and designers are taking notice.
A young couple picks out cork flooring at a flooring store

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If you’re of a certain age—OK, even if you’re not—you probably remember the first time you stepped onto a cork kitchen floor. So buoyant, so light! Cork floors have always been easy on legs and feet, but for a long time, they had a distinctly industrial aesthetic. After all, it is the same material used to back office memo boards.

These days, cork has gone mainstream. It’s an eco-friendly material, making it attractive to young homeowners and buyers. More than 50% of real estate professionals report that their buyer clients are interested in sustainability, according to National Association of REALTORS® data.

Cork 101

Cork comes from the bark of the Quercus suber L. tree, otherwise known as a cork oak. While cork does come from trees, harvesting cork does not kill the tree, which makes it much more sustainable than traditional lumber.

“Cork is taken from the outer layers of a tree, which can then continue growing,” explains Paula Kennedy, a certified architectural color consultant and owner of Seattle-based Timeless Kitchen Design LLC. “It is harvested every nine years without felling or harming the tree.”

An example of cork flooring in a modern living space

©ryosha / Getty

Cork is also completely recyclable, says Lorrie Hochuli, founder and principal designer at Hochuli Design & Remodeling Team in Tempe, Ariz.

“It breaks down completely and does not release toxins into the environment as it breaks down,” she explains. “[It] can also last up to 50 years when used indoors.”

Cork Trends in Home Design

Cork is not new—just look at a wine cellar, after all—but builders, designers and retailers constantly find new ways to reimagine old trends.

Here are a few ways cork is being used in home design today.

Cork Flooring

Cork floor tiles might be the perfect sustainable flooring option for kitchens, bathrooms or playrooms. For starters, cork is naturally antimicrobial. It is “waterproof, childproof and pet proof,” adds Hochuli.

“While no wood floor is entirely scratch-resistant, cork flooring is more adaptable for claws [on] dogs and cats,” says Kennedy. “This is due to the general resilient nature of cork flooring, which is naturally impact-resistant.”

Cork used as a geometric side table


Cork flooring doesn’t have to look like a sheet of corkboard on your floor, either. Kennedy suggests engineered cork planks, which can come in different colors, patterns and wood-like finishes.

Cork Wall Paneling

“Cork isn’t just for the floor,” says Kennedy. “There are wall panels, and [with] wallpaper seeing a resurgence in popularity, why not source a sustainable product for your walls?”

Two examples of how cork can be used as wall accents—one in a dining room and the other in a moody sitting area


Besides adding texture and warmth to the space, says Hochuli, cork panels act as a sound dampener. This natural element can add a sense of both visual and acoustic calm in children’s bedrooms, playrooms or even music or game rooms.

Cork Lighting Fixtures

If you haven’t seen them yet, you’ll probably soon notice a drum chandelier or wall sconce with a cork shade at a boutique hotel or restaurant. Hochuli says lighting is a unique, beautiful way to incorporate this sustainable design material.

Because of its flexible yet durable nature, cork can be used on lighting in a few ways. Natural sheets can be wrapped around standard lamp shades for a subtle golden glow, or the cork can be ground down and stained or colored before being engineered into a pattern.

Finding Cork Resources and Retailers

Cork is only one of many sustainable building and design materials. If you or a client want to incorporate cork in an upcoming home project, both Hochuli and Kennedy suggest looking for a local retailer or company that sells green building supplies.

For cork flooring, Kennedy points to Amorim Cork Flooring, iCork Floor, Amcork, and Wicadors. She recommends Green Home Solutions and the Pacific Northwest CFM Contract Furnishing Mart for sustainable materials in the Pacific Northwest.

“Designers and contractors are using this product more and more, as it is becoming readily accessible,” says Hochuli. “A quick Google search can also bring you to many options for anything cork-related.”