Natural cork comes from the bark of cork trees, found mainly in Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Scraps of bark left over from punched-out bottle stoppers are ground, pressed, and baked into sheets that are ready to convert into floor planks and tiles. Portugal is the epicenter of the cork industry and accounts for more than half the world’s production.
If you’ve ever noticed how fast a wine cork pops back into shape when it’s released from the bottle, you have a good idea of how springy and flexible cork is. Its shock-absorbent structure translates to comfort underfoot — a real boon in spots where you spend long periods standing, such as in the kitchen or in a home gym. This also means that dropped glassware or china has less change of shattering. Plus it holds warmth and muffles sound like a champ.
Cork also has serious green cred. The trees gradually regenerate their bark after it’s harvested and the harvesting process itself is strictly regulated in order to keep damage to a minimum. Because the trees can live between one and two centuries, it is a long-term renewable resource. And if there’s an allergy sufferer in your home, it’s dream material. It doesn’t accrue dust and it contains suberin, a natural substance that fends off mold, mildew, rot, and pests.
Fans of cork adore its natural variations in tone and texture, which creates a richness and depth that even the best manufacturers can’t replicate. If you’d rather go for a bold look, cork can be dyed or stained any shade that suits your fancy.