Kitchen floors take an awful lot of abuse and traffic, so it’s no wonder kitchen flooring is an intimidating choice for most floor owners. One option that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is cork flooring.
Because of the need for flooring take a beating, cork flooring gets a lot of skepticism, but in my research for this post, I found some interesting forum accounts from Californian realtors and others who mentioned how a lot of Cali character homes from the ’50s come with their original cork kitchen floors, which still look great some six decades on.
Cork’s been around far longer than the design trend magazines would have you think. For a while, cork floors seemed like a design product of the future, but the need to maintain it back then with wax seemed like a lot of work, and cork lost its allure in the modern, busy world for three or four decades.
But these floors last way longer than the six-decades-old floors in those Californian homes. Just look at the American Library of Congress, whose floors date back to 1897, when the opening of the library was lauded as “a glorious national monument and “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world.”
Enduring a century-plus of foot traffic in the American capital, the Library of Congress’ cork floors are an amazing testimonial to the product’s durability. So what do cork floors offer today, and why do they work well as a kitchen choice?
Cork uncorked: Some facts
What you might not know about cork is it’s basically an oak tree’s bark off the Quercus Suber, known as the “cork oak”. Grown in Southern Europe and Northern Africa, cork oaks are a renewable resource and can live longer than 200 years, with the cork getting harvested every 9 to 13 years after the tree reaches 25-30 years of age.
About’s Bob Formisano explains the science behind what makes cork so unique as a flooring product: “Cork bark is made up of a tiny sealed honeycomb cellular structure (14-sided polyhedrons) containing gas of 90% air. These cells provide resiliency (cushion) and insulation and there are about 40 million of these cells per cubic centimeter. Cork can be compressed up to 40% and quickly returns to its original shape.”
Cork’s cushion: Brilliant design by nature
One of the qualities people love about their cork floors is the softness. With a natural, wood-tone look, the soft, faintly squishy, porous feeling underfoot is both comfortable and good for the body. Actual hardwood floors look great, but can do a number on feet and legs if you stand on them too long. This isn’t a problem with cork, and after a day spent setting up for the annual barbecue or cooking for the holidays, cork-kitchen-floor fans testify that it’s much gentler it is on their backs and legs.
That softness is one of the fallbacks, some claim, thanks to making cork floors a little more susceptible to gouges when things fall, as they inevitably do — but when they do fall, they’re also less likely to break, thanks to the innate buoyancy that comes with the air-pocketed intelligent design of cork. And that softness definitely makes the kitchen a safer place for little kids to play while their folks get meals ready.
Those air pockets provide another great benefit — they’re sound-absorbent. This means you get the opposite of what a tiled kitchen sounds like. Sharp sounds are muffled, meaning there are fewer, if any, echoes. This sound-dampener quality makes cork flooring a great sanity-saver for parents in busy families who have a chaotic kitchen as the hub of the home.
Durable and smart
Cork is available in planks and tiles, and can often be easily installed, whether on a nice fresh surface or floated over previously flooring. It’s also a natural insulating material, and it performs very well over radiant heat systems, and this makes it even more comfortable as a flooring choice in kitchens. Despite its seeming softness, cork stands up to heavy furniture and heavy traffic and is far more resilient than you might think.
Easy to enjoy, easy to maintain
Cork flooring is a naturally low-maintenance product, needing a little lightly-damp mopping periodically, and general sweeping and mopping. Harsh cleaning products aren’t needed or recommended. Cork flooring systems can come with slightly different manufacturer suggestions, so be sure you investigate with your product of choice.
Moisture absorption can be a problem, just like with wood, but good maintenance can keep a lid on water damage. Basic common sense, like not dragging heavy furniture over it, using a mat by the sink to absorb splashed water, using scuff-protectors on chairs, and other simple considerations can keep your cork flooring looking amazing in the decades to come.
Some manufacturers offer scratch repair kits, so there are options if your floor gets a little damaged. Tiles and planks of some cork systems can be easily replaced too, making damage less troublesome. Now, some cork floors may require new sealant every five years, but it depends on the product, so again, doing your research on what it’ll take to keep your floor looking fabulous can pay off dividends down the road.
With only seven countries in the world being native to cork oak trees, it means there’s a pretty limited supply when it comes to variety of colors and textures available in cork. As the wild-patterned distant cousin to wood, cork offers a very specific look. Some people consider this a limitation, but I’d consider it a pretty good selling point. Unique is good.
With lots to offer and a look that is as modern as it is classic, cork is a renewable, sustainable flooring product that might just be the missing ingredient in your kitchen.