This Sustainable Material Is Coming to an Exterior Near You in 2022
And plenty of places inside, too.
Published Dec 16, 2021 1:04 AM
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What does 2022 have in store? Our community of editors, experts, and tastemakers predicts the trends coming soon to a house near you.
Surely you’re familiar with cork because of office display boards, or, um, wine. But lately we’ve been seeing it in the most unusual of spaces—living rooms, kitchens—and even as exterior siding. So we’re calling it: Cork is the material of 2022.
But first, a lesson: Cork is a natural material extracted from the bark of the cork oak tree (aka Quercus suber for all my science friends). The tree predominantly grows in Portugal, where cork accounts for 90 percent of the country’s export industry. The bark is harvested by hand, so as not to damage the rest of the tree, because its epidermis regenerates every nine to 10 years, ready to be stripped again—that’s what makes it a sustainable pick for designers.
Melanie Abrantes is a Bay Area–based wood turner and designer producing handmade, mixed-material vases, planters, and more. While she’s been working with cork for more than eight years, she’s excited to see the renewable material’s blossoming popularity and thinks an increasingly eco-conscious population has a lot to do with it. “Cork production is so ingrained in no waste that even the cork dust by-product is gathered and burned to power local factories,” she says.
Tom Dixon, the British founder of his namesake design company, was drawn to cork to create his “extremely fat-edged” furniture for similar reasons. He also loves the material for its tactile, hard-wearing, sound-absorbent, lightweight, and fire- and water-resistant qualities. When it comes to design, he says that cork has been used for thousands of years, but its eco-friendly qualities make it “the ultimate traditional material for the future.”
In interior design, cork is also emerging as a common wood alternative. Genus Furniture’s Adam Steiniger was first introduced to cork when installing flooring for a residential project. Its warmth, workability, and organic properties resonated, leading to a collection of tables and chairs. As a designer, Steiniger loves its simple maintenance. “If something will not come out, we suggest lightly sanding it with fine-grain sandpaper and it will look like it was never there.” (Buffing imperfections out of furniture? Yes, please!)
Abrantes also treats cork as a wood alternative, even finishing her designs with homemade wood butter, a blend of mineral oil and beeswax. “A really thin coat keeps it pretty pristine,” she shares. Beyond that, she hopes cork’s commonality will catch up with wood. “I want people to be educated on the process and really value cork,” she adds.
But wait—aren’t we going to deplete the earth’s cork resources with all this new demand? Abrantes isn’t worried. “Relatively there’s still such a small number of items made from cork,” she says. “Cork purveyors are targeting furniture designers because the wine industry has shifted away from cork stoppers.” With so much opportunity and cork to go around, it should be a staple in the future. We have a feeling this is just the beginning.