Travel, accommodation and expenses for this trip were met by The Colour Flooring Company, but as always, all views are my own.
Just occasionally my love of interiors and my love of travel collide. When I was asked recently by The Colour Flooring Company if I would like to visit Portugal, how could I say no? It’s a country I have never visited before, it was going to be sunny and warm, and we were going to learn about the harvest and manufacture of cork. And as cork is historically one of the most sustainable products you can imagine, this was a topical story not to be missed.
Portugal and Cork
This was an education for me. I’ve always been aware of cork products of course. Mainly as noticeboards and the cork flooring that was popular during my childhood. But I’ve never given the process of these products much thought, other than knowing they are from a natural material. But now I know that 50% of the world’s cork comes from Portugal and visiting a cork forest was the highlight of this trip.
Cork bark waiting to be collected and a tree marked with the last digit of the year in which the cork was harvested.
Luckily it was harvest time and we watched the men at work. Carving the bark from the tree requires great expertise, and a particular skill at wielding an axe one-handed. In fact it is one of the highest paid jobs in Portuguese agriculture. No trees are harmed during this harvest. The bark actually regenerates and is allowed to mature again for nine years, after which it is harvested again. The first harvest takes place only 25 years after planting, and the cork oak forest has the capacity to absorb 14.7 tons of CO2 per hectare from the atmosphere. Which helps to reduce Global Warming Potential and makes the cork industry climate positive.
The harvesters at work.
A Circular Economy
The manufacture of cork is equally green. Factories are located within a few kilometres of the forests and any cork waste is collected, granulated and used in the production process. Even the dust produced is burned to generate 65% of the energy needed. Another mind-boggling fact is the 25,000,000 cork stoppers produced daily! And more recently tons and tons of used corks are collected and recycled to complete the circle. But cork stoppers are not the only use of cork of course. We were there to see cork flooring.
The first stage of manufacture.
It’s the natural honeycomb structure of cork that makes it such an excellent substance for our floors. It gives it excellent thermal and sound insulation properties. It also makes it warm to the touch and comfortable on the feet. Traditionally (and no doubt those floors in my distant memory) floating cork flooring was made with a high-density fibreboard sandwiched between cork layers. But now, thanks to modern manufacturing processes, cork flooring is made entirely from cork.
The Cork Flooring Company
The Cork Flooring Company, is the first company to introduce to the UK, waterproof, pure cork, floating flooring. The company was set up 10 years ago by Lena Corner and Bill Tuckey who met while working together as journalists at the Independent newspaper. Lena was frustrated by the lack of affordable, quality, coloured vinyl flooring for her own home and the pair spotted a gap in the market. The vinyl they sourced proved popular and they have since added rubber and ultra-eco Okofloor to their collection. And very soon Corka will be added too (available from mid-July), an ultra-green, super-tough, easy-to-fit cork range. The cork they have currently on the site is normal cork (not suitable for bathrooms as it’s not waterproof enough).
Corka is available in six finishes, all of which have the beautiful characteristics of natural cork. As it’s waterproof it’s ideal for bathrooms and kitchens. It’s made with a universal locking system so it clicks into place with no glue or varnish. And it comes with it’s own layer of underlay so it’s easy to fit on top of existing floors with minimum preparation. The scratch resistant top layer makes it tough, easy to clean, and easy to maintain.
1908 Lisoba Hotel
In Lisbon we stayed at the 1908 Lisoba Hotel which deserves a mention. Centrally located, this 4-star hotel is housed in a completely renovated 1908 award-winning building by architect Adães Bermudes. Set in the corner of the Almirante Reis Avenue and Intendente Square, it houses an ever evolving art gallery, a restaurant and a bar. The rooms are comfortable and contemporary while respecting the architecture of the original Art Nouveau building. The staff went our to their way to make us welcome and give us advice on how to get the best out of our stay. I’d definitely go back.
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