Friday, July 24, 2009

The Unexpected Floor Covering

Most of you have toured professionally designed model homes in your area. Designers turning out those models all seem to have something in common: they have been successful in integrating an element of surprise. What makes a room or a home memorable is the application of materials in a way you might never have thought of. Some of my most seasoned design associates cruise Home Depot in search of novel materials to adapt to home environments. Crazy? Maybe. But when you see the finished product, it appears more ingenious than crazy. The fact that they get requests to replicate what’s been done in the models is testament to the fact that this brand of “craziness” seems to have broad appeal.

If you are among an elite set of homeowners who definitely want something extremely unique for your floor coverings, read on--this article is for you. Before I tell you what this flooring material is, let me outline some of its features:

  • This resource is renewable and sustainable
  • No matter how much foot traffic it endures, or how long furniture stands on it, it retains its shape and elasticity
  • It’s a natural fire inhibitor
  • It insulates against heat and cold and maintains a warm floor temperature in your home
  • It has excellent acoustic properties, as it absorbs ambient sound
  • It is naturally anti-static
  • It has an inherent cushioning nature
  • Its properties prevent the cultivation of mold and resist dust mites and insects
  • This material is resistant to moisture penetration
  • It is an excellent choice of flooring for rooms used by children or the elderly
Have you been able to guess what flooring material this is? I will give you one more factoid: it became popular in the United States when renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose CORK flooring for many of his home designs. I kept you in suspense long enough, so there you have the answer.

Today’s cork floors offer selection, performance, and beauty and can be manufactured as tiles, planks, or even sheets in various thicknesses. The cork goes through a baking process that increases its durability, and is then sealed with polyurethane or wax. One very impressive fact to note is that there is practically no waste--from the harvesting of the raw material--to the finished floor, making it highly desirable as a “green” product. The bark is taken from a cork oak tree and harvested without any negative environmental impact. In fact, the bark actually re-grows and can be harvested again in nine to twelve years! So how do you account for different colorations if this is an all-natural product? It’s the amount of time the cork is baked (in specially designed ovens) that contributes to its light, medium, or dark coloration. The manufacturing process prior to baking is not so different from the manufacture of cork wine-stoppers.

Cork floors are, more or less, synonymous with comfort and gentleness underfoot. This might be your material of choice if you have toddlers and small children at home who seem to be always prone to falls. Homes for the elderly often incorporate cork as the flooring of choice for its unique level of comfort and warmth. If you stand for long periods of time, cork underfoot helps relieve back stress and leg fatigue. But, as adaptive to residential use as this material is, cork has been utilized in commercial settings for quite some time. Conference rooms, libraries, churches, and banks are just a sample of its unique applications. Dating back to the turn of the century, two famous installations included the First Congressional Church in Chicago and the old Toronto Stock Exchange.

Knowing the facts about cork flooring isn’t quite enough. Understandably, your next question will be, “how do I care for a cork floor?” Here are some of the recommendations, according to one of North America’s finest manufacturers of cork flooring, TORLYS Inc., a Canadian company known internationally for its European styling and design-driven collections:

  • Wipe away spills at once
  • Damp mop the floor occasionally
  • Vacuum and sweep regularly to clean dirt and grit that can cause abrasion to the floor
  • Place breathable mats and rugs at entrances to prevent dirt and debris from being tracked in
  • Use a mat in front of the kitchen stove and sink to prevent wear due to excessive use
  • Use felt pads under furniture legs to prevent scuffs
  • If the finish is appearing dull, have your floors recoated to protect the cork
  • As with any floor covering material, use window coverings to prevent excessive exposure to direct sunlight
What NOT to DO:
  • Don’t wet mop a cork floor. Avoid excessive moisture
  • Don’t use mats with rubber backings. (They trap moisture and affect the finish of the floor)
  • Don’t walk on cork floors with stiletto heels
  • Don’t drag heavy furniture across a cork floor. Better to lift and place to protect the floor
There you have a quick and easy “manual” on how to care for cork floors: fairly easy maintenance with a good measure of common sense. Given all the wonderful attributes you’ve just learned about this product, the most impressive of all still lies in the fact that it is one of the most environmentally responsible floor coverings available. That extends from the harvesting of the material to the lifespan of the product and its recyclability! One additional benefit to choosing a cork floor: yours will be one of a kind. Each batch of cork is unique and patterns encompass a wide range, from classic looks to burled designs.

Any way you look at it, cork is making a name for itself, and that would be over and above what it has always done to top your favorite wine.

All information is from the World Floor Covering Association

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