From narrow planks that look like hardwood to large, defined tiles, cork’s design possibilities keep increasing
As this year began, two manufacturers anticipated huge consumer attention on their newest products – cork flooring planks designed to look like wood. With this introduction, Wicanders Cork and USFloors revolutionized the appearance of cork floors, which until then, was limited to larger panels and squares.
New is good and consumers are taking note. But panels and squares are in no danger of extinction.
“The hottest trend we have seen in cork has been the large-format cork tiles,” says Sam Snow, owner of EcoFloors in Portland, OR. “They offer a unique look by having micro-beveled edges that really make the large format stand out. It’s a look of cork with a layout more similar to tile. The skinny cork planks have also gained some interest . They provide more of a hardwood look that works great in smaller, galley kitchens and little spaces where a larger format is not as appropriate.”
As cork options become more versatile, it can also be more difficult to choose. The original lure of this floor has been its warmth, cushioned feel underfoot, and its thermal and acoustical insulation abilities. With so many choices now available, the experts in our network say, be sure to compare styling, finishes, pricing and track records for quality and durability.
Cork finishes vary, and should be taken into consideration, (see Focus on the Finish). Snow notes that Natural Cork from USFloors and WE Cork have some of the smoothest finishes on the market, while Wicanders and IPO Cork have ceramic micro-bead finishes that have rougher textures. EcoFloors sells all of these on a regular basis.
WE Cork, Snow points out, offers some unique looks, including Nairobi and Sardinia, that are not available elsewhere. In addition, WE Cork offers a full range of size options – from the standard floating 1-foot by 3-foot panels to large-format tiles to solid glue-down squares. Solid glue-down cork installations offer an advantage when it comes to true refinishing, but require a subfloor that is almost perfectly level. Floating, engineered or self-locking panels, which are not attached to the subfloor, are more forgiving, can be “floated” over an existing floor and offer ease of installation. While some brands can be “buffed” and recoated with finish, these floors cannot be sanded because the floor’s wear layer is a thin veneer. (See diagram at top, courtesy of Wicanders.)
“We have put WE Cork in kitchens, living rooms, basements and entire homes,” Snow says. “No complaints thus far.”
New this year from WE Cork is the Eco Collection, which is made from recycled wine bottle stoppers. The company first launched the line in two colors – natural and earth.
“The line has been so well –received and the demand has been such that we have launched two more shades in this pattern – ivory and ash,” says Sheila Furtney, WE Cork sales manager.
Interstate Flooring in Portland, OR, has had good luck with WE Cork, which offers some unique looks at fair prices, says John Hill, ecological director. But his best seller — because of quality at a lower price – is Seville by Wicanders, he says.
Judging by the samples customers are checking out from Interstate, the narrower plank floors that look like hardwood also are generating a lot interest, he says.
Wicander’s Corkplank is 5-1/2-inch wide and 48-inches long.
“It takes cork further away from its traditional tile, panel or square look into a dimension that is more mainstream,” says Tim Tompkins, national marketing director for Wicanders. “This dimension has been available in hardwood since the late 1990’s.
While cork historically has been considered first for kitchens, cork buyers are now more inclined to put this flooring throughout their homes, particularly when it has the hardwood dimensions Corkplank offers, Tompkins says.
Judith Huck, owner of Classique Floors in Portland, OR, says that installing the planks in a herringbone pattern has become a noticeable trend. Cork with a pattern in it also is more popular than one without, she says.
“Cork floors are great for us baby boomers who are starting to feel our age,” she says, noting that she plans to put WE Cork in her own home. “Cork feels warm, is easy on the joints and is a comfortable floor to stand on in the kitchen.”
It’s all about “cushioning,” says Heather Curless, owner of Greener Stock in Cincinnati, OH. “Many of our clients are choosing it over ceramic tile, particularly when they learn of cork’s durability and ease of maintenance.”
Curless, whose store has had great success selling brands like APC Cork and Napa Cork from Bamboo Flooring Hawaii, notes that quality is imperative, but the customer also is looking for the best price. Products that have GREENGUARD and other Indoor Air Quality Certifications can cost more, so she tries to research uncertified products well enough to assure that levels of chemicals used to make them will not pollute indoor air.
Still, indoor air quality goes hand in hand with the other environmental attributes cork flooring offers, and that can be extremely important in choosing a product, EcoFloor’s Snow says.
“All cork is not created equally and some may not be as good for indoor air quality as others,” Snow says. “The core boards, adhesives and finishes are a possible source for toxins, and the better companies that are using independent certifications are getting an edge on the competition. More and more building occupants are becoming concerned about indoor air quality.”
– Nancy Kibbee is content editor at www.naturalinteriors.com