Last week I was off to Portugal with a mission: to learn more about the natural material cork and its use in interior design. And to harvest cork myself. With the local people in the cork oak forests of the Alentejo region in southern Portugal. My fellow bloggers and friends Anette, Nic and Indre joined me on this mission as well as a handful of German interior journalists - we were invited by the Portuguese & German Cork Association to attend a 3-days press trip to Lisbon, Porto and the cork oak forests of the Alentejo region. Today I want to focus on the latter. For Lisbon and Porto stay tuned, I will share some wonderful moments coming week.
First and foremost: This trip has really changed my view on cork. While I was sitting in the plane to Lisbon I was going through the pieces made of cork I have at home or bought for others - a tea pot made partly of cork, some other kitchen accessories with cork elements, but that's it pretty much. Not a lot for a material that has been experiencing a strong revival in the design scene - I have seen quite a lot of cork on the past design shows this year and it seems to be clear that this material is making a comeback in the interior design scene - after its huge popularity in the 1970s and 1980s.
To get a first impression of cork's multiple use in interiors and architecture, we visited a private school in Lisbon with a cork facade and stopped by at the Microsoft headquarters with cork flooring and lighting. But before I was going deeper into cork products for the modern home, I was about to learn about cork in its natural habitat - as the bark of the cork oak and how it is harvested. For that we drove off from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and our road trip ended in the wild beauty of a cork oak forest in the middle of nowhere. After a short hike we encountered the first men harvesting cork. On-the-go we learned about cork oaks and the most impressive fact was the following: a cork oak needs to grow for 25 years before it can be harvested for the first time and then it needs to reproduce its cork bark for another nine years before you can harvest it again. Wow, this is definitely a long-term project - and a sustainable one!
By harvesting the cork bark the tree is stimulated to reproduce its cork bark. And the harvesting technique is an art in itself - the harvesters know exactly how to chop the bark cause under the harvested cork there is already a new layer of a young cork bark that must not be harmed. I loved how these people spoke of the trees almost as of persons - this proved the deep dedication to Portugal's national tree which is also protected by law.
Afterwards the cork bark is transported to the various production facilities of companies like Amorim who produce traditional cork stoppers for wine and champaign bottles, flooring, wall coverings and more. In their flooring unit we learned about the advantaged of cork floors - did you know that cork flooring, apart from being natural and sustainable, is also the most resistent, the most silent and warmest flooring solution when compared to wooden, vinyl or stone flooring? Oh, and if you love wooden flooring like I do, did you know there is cork flooring with real wood coverings that combine the advantages of cork with the great look of wood? That was new to me and I would love to have that kind of flooring in my future home.
Nowadays we are all striving for a better life, for a sustainable life where we combine our urban dwelling with natural elements - we do urban gardening, we shop local, organic food - and for that reason, we should also pay due attention to a natural and sustainable habitat - our own home. And one thing I've definitely taken back from this trip is that cork is one fabulous option for more sustainable design in a modern home.
Happy new week, my friends!
Photography by Igor Josifovic, last photo by PR