Cork flooring is another retro material first popular in the early 1900s. It’s made of tiny pieces of cork oak bark, typically left over from wine-stopper manufacturing. Notable buildings sporting cork floors include the Library of Congress and several residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (the most well-known being Fallingwater). Cork is sound- and heat-insulating, as well as skid-, fire-, and mold-resistant. It’s resilient, springing back to its original shape if dented. And it’s soft and warm underfoot, providing nice relief if you’re standing for an extended period. Best of all, it’s a renewable and biodegradable resource that’s easily recycled.
Cork doesn’t hurt the trees it comes from. It’s harvested from the dead outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber) every 9 to 15 years. The bark regenerates quickly. One slight drawback, green-wise, is that cork is imported from Spain or Portugal, increasing its carbon footprint.
Cork flooring comes in a wide variety of colors, textures, and patterns. It can look woodsy and natural, or be brightly colored. Not all cork flooring is finished with nontoxic materials, however. It’s best to shop with reputable green dealers to ensure that the cork you buy is free of toxins. Find a green retailer near you by doing a simple Google search or using sites like GreenHomeGuide, TreeHugger.com, and Re-nest.com.