Sustainable cork ideal for many uses

Whether you are building new, renovating a home or decorating a rental, today’s marketplace and today’s consumers are focused more than ever on earth-friendly, sustainable products. It has become a mantra that is more than a trend, but a way of life that will help us to live in healthier homes long into the future. With knowledge comes strength and purpose; the more we know about the growth and reusability of materials and products we purchase, the wiser our choices.

What makes cork such a valuable natural asset begins with how it is harvested. The cork oak is a unique tree; its bark can be stripped off, allowing new bark to grow in its place. The first crop, known as virgin bark, is cut when the tree is 25 years old. It can then be stripped every nine years for 200 or so years. A tree that is 80 years old can produce 440 pounds of cork when cut. Cork is also 100 percent reusable and recyclable, so once harvested, there need be no wastage. All this is good news.

Cork has been around for a long time. Cork stoppers, cork shoe soles, corkboards, cork insulation and cork floors are not new. The product’s durability, comfort and warmth are universally understood and appreciated, but … not so much stylish. This has changed. The product range is quite exciting.

Flooring is available in rolls and sheets, but also the popular floating floor panels or planks that fit together via a tongue-and-groove system, and do not have to be adhered to a subfloor. Cork parquet floors and floor tiles offer personal design options. Cork can be stained with floor stain available at your building or hardware store. (This must be applied before any sealer has been rolled onto the tiles.) There are also mosaic cork floors, which can be laid in potentially wet areas, including showers and saunas. The mosaic floor is first laid in manageable sections or sheets, then it can be left natural or colored or stenciled to enhance your décor.

Cork tiles are an interesting alternative for walls and ceilings. Their natural markings and woody shades are visually pleasing and make an excellent acoustic barrier. Think about installing cork panels as a decorative accent in a kitchen or bathroom.

Perhaps most innovative of all is cork fabric, which is used in upholstery and decorative accessories. Resistant to spills, cork fabric does not absorb moisture. Its light, smooth, flexible character works well on ottomans, headboards, cushions, drapes and shower curtains. You can even check out fashionable purses and umbrellas.

The tremendous versatility of this renewable resource will continue to broaden the scope of cork products. For more information on the images shown here and an excellent source of all cork products, visit

DEAR DEBBIE: I live in a small apartment with white walls and would like to paint a feature wall. Is this still done? I lost everything in Katrina, and I’m trying to create a place to make me feel relaxed, warm and cozy. — Claire

DEAR CLAIRE: I am sorry for your loss; Hurricane Katrina has devastated so many homes and families.

Even though you are now in a small apartment, it is time to renew and refresh. I love your idea of a feature wall, and they are still very much in vogue. To produce the calm atmosphere you crave, choose colors in a palette of warm greens and browns, shades derived from nature. Wood and cork are naturally warm additions for furnishings. For your focal wall, look for a wallpaper with a large leaf motif, or paint in a darker grass green. A comforting alternative would be rich shades of clay.

Debbie Travis is a columnist for King Features Syndicate. E-mail questions to her at

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