The term “preconceived notions” has a negative ring to it as those involved in the production and sales of cork flooring can readily attest. For a segment that has been around for generations, it seems not nearly enough people know fact from fiction when it comes to the benefits and performance attributes of this alternative offering.
Today’s cork flooring manufacturers have made it a large part of their mission to change this perception, or misperception, and make the product a more acceptable, mainstream option for the end user. Using education as their chief weapon, cork executives seek to raise awareness about a natural product that was actually green long before it became cool to be so.
According to Gary Keeble, marketing manager for USFloors, as a result of secret shopping the company does from time to time, probably the two biggest myths out there about cork flooring are that it will absorb water and it is not very durable. “With regards to the absorbing water misconception, it must be the cellular structure of cork that reminds people of a sponge, but if you think about cork being used as a fishing float, it quite obviously doesn’t soak up water. In fact, it actually repels water due to the suberin that is naturally created by the cork tree. Suberin also protects the cork bark from mold and insects, and resists fire.”
It is Keeble’s contention that one of cork flooring’s biggest attributes is its durability and points out the Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR) Décor[k] mobile cork flooring exhibit as a case study. “One of our products, Corte from Natural Cork, is used in the main thoroughfare of the exhibit. To date, we’ve had over 30,000 walk-throughs at trade and home shows across the country, and the product looks as good as new with no maintenance other than sweeping. It’s pretty remarkable and highlights cork’s natural resilience and ability to perform.”
Ann Wicander, president of WE Cork, told FCNews that the idea of cork not being durable goes back decades. “This impression probably comes from people’s exposure to low density bulletin board material, which could be easily torn and [even] crumble.”
Cork flooring is made quite differently than wall covering, she explained. “Cork floors have four to five times the density and we use a different binder that makes the product moisture resistant. We can point to hundreds of installations that have been in service for over a century and the reason institutions continue to choose cork flooring.”
John Kocemba, vice president of marketing for Torlys, agreed with Keeble, noting there are several myths about cork flooring that can easily be dispelled. In disputing the perception that cork is boring and it all looks like bulletin boards, he said cork flooring today comes in many different colors, patterns and different sized planks and tiles. “Designers are specifying cork more than ever and as we know, designers tend not to specify boring products.”
Wicander seconded this notion, saying that today WE Cork uses new techniques resulting in leather, stone or bamboo visuals. “These visuals have opened up the design options to please all different tastes. These new designs have also been married to new formats and bevels.”
On the water front, so to speak, Kocemba dispels another myth that cork is not appropriate in the bathroom. However, a few guidelines need to be followed. “Caulk the perimeter of the room and the toilet bowl base to ensure water does not leak under the floor. Do not let water pool—simply dry up spills. Torlys uses wax in the joint so no surface sealant is required.”
Another falsehood, according to Kocemba, is that cork will not complement existing hardwood. On the contrary, he noted, cork is the bark that grows on cork oak trees. “It’s nature’s perfect complement to hardwood. Designers love it because it’s natural and organic like hardwood. Cork flooring comes in a variety of tones that stylishly complement the wood furnishings in your home and help define a separate space. For example, classic natural red oak hardwood and natural cork create great harmony to- gether.”
And yet another cork myth, noted Tino Couto, senior product development manager for Torlys, is that it is only good for kitchens. “Cork is resilient, comfortable and a natural insulator. And, because of the air trapped in its cells, cork is also a natural cushion for your legs and back. It really is an ideal kitchen floor. However, due to its warmth, quietness and overall comfort, it’s also a great choice for basements and children’s rooms. And, with the available selection of colors and styles, cork is being laid on the entire main floor of both homes and condos.”
Randy Gillespie, vice president of sales and marketing for Expanko, believes all levels of the market have “misunderstood” cork flooring, noting that it has been presented to commercial interiors design groups, residential designers and directly to the homeowner as a natural, environmentally responsible flooring solution. “It is a unique product with many features and benefits. There have been many claims that are either unfounded or not applicable to all cork flooring formats. It is important to separate fact from fiction when evaluating the many choices of and applications for cork flooring.”