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Cork, the new pin-up

Cork

The popularity of screw-top wine bottles left cork farmers looking for customers. As Jill Krasny explains, furniture-makers are stepping in

The popularity of screw-top wine bottles left cork farmers looking for customers. As Jill Krasny explains, furniture-makers are stepping in

Jill Krasny | February/March 2018

“It’s not like using metal or wood or plastic,” says Daniel Michalik, a designer in Brooklyn. “It can perform in ways that other materials can’t.”

The material he’s talking about is cork. While ever more winemakers are turning away from it, designers of high-end furniture are embracing it. This is partly because cork is a renewable resource, which makes it appealing for those with environmentally conscious clients. But Michalik is drawn to it for reasons of style as well as sustainability. As a graduate student, he was looking for a lightweight material he could easily shape and form into unusual, sculptural furniture. After a chance meeting with a supplier offloading cheap cork slabs, he began experimenting. The first chair he built was “pretty boring”, he admits, but in the process of making it he realised that if he cut a single piece of cork in just the right way, he could create furniture that was flexible, strong and weighed almost nothing. “I’d never seen any material do that,” he recalls. Now he’s making sinuous chaises longues out of cork cut with a saw, then carefully moulded by hand.

Maria Gustavsson, the founder of Swedish Ninja, a design firm in Stockholm, is taken by how colours mix with raw cork. Inspired by trendy cork shoes flecked with bright hues, she created the Notebook Cabinet, its cork exterior speckled with red, orange, blue and white. The front can serve as a pinboard, but its playful surface, which looks like terrazzo, is best left uncluttered by scraps of paper. Sheer practicality is part of cork’s appeal. Lora Appleton, the founder of Kinder Modern gallery in New York City, which specialises in children’s furniture, has seen a growing interest from parents, who like its softness, sturdiness and resistance to wear – and the fact that it’s easy to clean.

Cork blimey!
Daniel Michalik’s sinuous chaise longue. MAIN IMAGE The Notebook Cabinet, designed by Maria Gustavsson of Swedish Ninja

Adam Comiskey, chief executive of 4Spaces, a textile producer in Zurich, has found more luxurious applications. Looking for rich patinas of the kind he’d previously found in leather, he began experimenting with cork as a raw material for fabric. It worked, and he started using it for real – initially to upholster the seats in the auditorium and waterfront restaurant at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, a Swiss architecture firm. Composed of micro-thin layers of cork sourced from Portugal or Spain and applied by hand to long rolls of cloth, the textiles comes in 18 colours and can also be used to cover pillows, panels and walls. “At first customers were like, ‘Cork? As in cork-cork?’” he deadpans. “And we were like, ‘Cork-cork.’ Then they asked, ‘How can you have wood in draperies?’”