Why cork?

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Interior design does not need to conform to the stereotypical materials or design concepts often used. I choose to use cork, a natural material that truly influences the furniture that I design.

I was trained in a very traditional craft-based university where I learned the methods of furniture design in wood. When I discovered cork, I found that I was able to create forms and structures that were utterly impossible with wood, but could be created using the same technology and similar techniques.

So when I design a new piece, I begin in the workshop, experimenting with pieces of cork and seeing what it can do that no one has ever seen.

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Interior designers need to further understand the background, unique properties and potential of cork to appreciate why it makes for such an interesting material.

First impressions I was first attracted to cork when I was looking around for alternative materials to use as a chair seat, and cork was on my list of possibilities.

I found a supplier in the US that was trying to sell a large quantity of old blocks and sheets for very, very little money, so I bought it. Having a large quantity of the material allowed me to develop new production techniques to create new product typologies. Sustainable products, in the truest sense of the word.

Sustainability refers to a system that can support itself indefinitely while doing no harm, environmentally, ethically or otherwise.

Cork is sustainable primarily due to the inherent nature of the material and its industry – it regenerates itself every 10 years, it is recyclable, the forests absorb large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere while supporting important habitats and ecosystems, the farming keeps traditional techniques alive and the factory systems produce only tiny amounts of waste.

In addition, the material is healthy. It is non-toxic, when made with suitable binders, resistant to mold, microbes and rot, and it is waterproof and buoyant.

Technical qualities In my opinion, cork has fantastic properties which can not be rivaled by any other natural product. Cork has exceptional thermal, acoustic and vibration insulation properties which make it an ideal material to use in interior design.

It is also an ideal material to have within the home as it is fire resistant, has hypo-allergenic properties and is very soft and therefore extremely comfortable.

Cork is also a very versatile product; almost all of my products are founded on the potential of cork to perform in a way that no other material can, and as it has never performed before. I am fascinating by the balance between flexibility and structure.

I often play with the natural tendency of cork to bend and flex, designing mechanisms that move with the body but never reach their breaking point.

Cork, however, can be expensive, only because it is a natural, hand-harvested resource. I personally do not see this is a big negative as each piece of furniture can be seen to have been on a journey.

Starting from the cork forests of Portugal where experienced farmers tenderly care and attend to their trees, it then moves onto its next lifecycle before arriving at my studio where I aim to keep cork’s distinctive and pure characteristics in every piece of furniture I sculpt. In a nut shell, cork is a material that can teach us to look at other materials, and how we use them, in a new, healthier way.

Daniel Michalik is a furniture designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Visit www.danielmichalik.com. To learn more about cork and the Portuguese cork association APCOR please visit www.realcork.org

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