April 13/20, 2015; Volume 29/Number 1
By Amanda Haskin
Manufacturers have been touting cork’s benefits for years, namely its durability, comfort, sound control, thermal capabilities and, of course, its green and sustainable properties. But to their bafflement, this category has not picked up as quickly in the U.S. as it has in other countries, where cork is a well-known and respected product.
Bo Barber, vice president of marketing and business development for Ecore, describes his relationship with cork as a love affair. “[In Portugal], when you witness these old, grizzled guys cutting the cork off the tree who treat that process with such care, you fall in love with it. You’re taking and getting all the benefits of wood—the warmth, the organic simplicity, the naturalness—and you’re not cutting a tree down. It’s this wildly harmonious thing.”
He added that cork has been popular in commercial health care projects becuase of cork’s healing capabilities, and, on a practical level, its warmth and softness underfoot makes it ideal for these installations.
Since cork is still somewhat bound to the green niche category, the goal for manufacturers today is to make it a mainstream flooring choice, selected for its beauty and high-performance attributes, not just for its sustainability.
But many consumers and industry professionals alike are confused by the category and have a predisposed expectation that cork flooring will look like a bulletin board and have the durability of a bottle cork. In reality, cork flooring can be extremely durable and stylish, and the range of design options continues to widen as advances in innovation and digital printing technology grow.
Classic cork looks
There are many in the industry who would argue that, despite advances in design capabilities, the classic cork look is the style that will withstand the test of time. One such company is Ecore, which recently relaunched an exclusive line of cork products under its heritage brand, Dodge Cork. With the brand going back to 1871, the company’s perspective is that cork should be “traditionalist, purist and timeless,” said Bo Barber, vice president of marketing and business development for Ecore.
“We have the Original Collection, which comes in three shades—light, medium and dark,” he noted. “That is how cork was born; three shades, a couple of different finishes, that’s it. And in the Luxe Collection the patterns are simple and timeless. When you talk about fashion, the tendency is to attack the trends. If we can sell cork in its purest form, the opportunity to grow the market is better than trying to spread cork out to be more than what it is.”
Courtney Brophy, marketing manager for Expanko, has a similar point of view. “The classic look of homogeneous cork flooring is one that has withstood the changing tides of design trends over the decades,” she explained. “Expanko Light, Medium and Dark glue-down cork floors have been a staple in American design for more than eight decades. While we work to be responsive to current market conditions, our highest sellers have always been Light, Medium and Dark. These looks offer a traditional, naturally warm design aesthetic that works well in many different commercial markets.”
Design without sacrificing purity
Cork manufacturers are trying to push the boundaries of design while staying true to the look of the natural product. One such line is USFloor’s Cork Deco line, which uses layering techniques that accentuate the textures and rustic feel of the cork itself.
“Cork Deco takes some of the ‘tried and true’ cork visuals and enhances them using various production techniques,” said Gary Keeble, product and marketing manager. “For instance, the Cubis series employs a layering technique that adds depth and interest to the veneer pattern and puts a new spin on the traditional block pattern. The color palette throughout the collection incorporates current and emerging trends with varying shades of gray and white, in addition to the more traditional brown tones.”
Another company utilizing unique design techniques is Capri Cork, known for its award-winning Mediterra Rigato line. The collection features handcrafted homogeneous patterns with strips of cork, creating linear looks that can be used across an entire space or as design accents.
“We want to encourage people’s creativity with what we have to offer,” said Margaret Buchholz, marketing and design director. “You can still see the cork and it’s a homogeneous construction, which means the pattern goes through the thickness of the entire tile or plank.”
Digital printing for enhanced visuals
Advances in digital printing technology have brought the benefits of the category to consumers and designers on the market for specific looks.
“We do understand that [classic cork looks] are not the right choice for every project and designers want more options that can incorporate the high performance attributes of cork into their designs,” Brophy said.
“In response to this demand, Expanko has recently expanded its Vallarex floating cork flooring line,” she continued. “With this expansion, we have introduced 24 new visuals, including both patterned cork looks and digitally printed designs. The options of where to use cork floors has certainly expanded. We are seeing increased interest particularly in retail, hospitality and corporate markets.”
EcoTimber has added digital printing technology to its cork collection with Designer Series in four designs; two wood looks and two stone.
“Cork is a natural product so you can change the way it looks but you can’t change the material,” said Bruce Graye, product manager of cork products for TW Flooring Group, parent company of the EcoTimber brand. “Digital printing is how different cork manufacturers will stand out in the industry. We are able to provide looks and patterns that are current with the added value of it being on cork. The natural cork look will stand the test of time, where the digital printing will probably evolve according to the trends of the moment.”
WE Cork’s Serenity Collection brings this progressive technology to a new level, featuring digitally printed cork floors in wood and stone visuals while offering unlimited customization options. Any design or image can be printed with clarity right onto the cork.
“We’re showing more customization possibilities for commercial applications,” said Ann Wicander, president. “If you have customers who want to brand themselves, this is the way to do it. If you want the forest floor, we can give you the forest floor.”