Decorating with cork

• Cork tiles
• Cork sheeting
• Colours and finishes
• Preparing surfaces for cork
• Working with cork
• Tiling walls and floors
• Hanging sheeting
• Protective finishes for cork
• Finishing the surface

cork tiles

Cork is one of the most versatile of all home decorating products. It gives a hardwearing finish to floors, walls and ceilings, yet looks equally good covering furniture or small household ornaments. And few materials can reproduce the look and feel of a natural material combined with a range of subtle textures and colours in the same way that cork can.

Because it contains a large number of tiny air pockets, cork also makes a large contribution to insulating your home against cold and helps to cut down noise. A floor covered in 5mm thick cork is 70 per cent more effective in reducing heat loss than a comparable vinyl or quarry tile finish; it is also a lot quieter underfoot. Walls and ceilings are likewise better protected from noise and cold if they are covered in cork—especially the thicker variety of tile.

Types of cork

Cork sheet is manufactured by bonding together granules of the bark of the cork oak tree under heat and pressure. The resulting material is then cut into a number of different forms so that it can be handled and applied more easily.

Tiles: Cork is usually bought in tiles 300mm square which vary in thickness from 4mm to 20mm. Although some builders’ merchants do sell tiles separately, they are usually supplied in packs containing between nine and 20 tiles. The advantage of this form of cork is that it can be applied to all surfaces—some tiles are made especially for floors, others for walls and ceilings—yet can be easily fixed and fitted around awkward corners.

Planks: Many manufacturers now produce a range of rectangular cork tiles—called planks—measuring either 910mm X 300mm or 900mm X 150mm. These can be fixed to give a ‘decking’ effect or laid in patterns similar to those used when laying brick paths.

Sheeting: Cork is often applied to walls and ceilings in the same way as wallpaper and rolls of sheet cork are available to do this. Although great care needs to be taken when fixing this delicate material in place, it is well worth the effort since fewer joints are visible and greater insulation is achieved because of this.

Finishes and colours

Cork tiles, slabs and sheeting are usually bought untreated so that they can be waxed or varnished once they are fixed in place. But all types of cork are available ready-coated in a hard wearing protective layer of PVC, polyurethane or wax. Many of the more expensive sealed tiles and slabs have a second protective layer under the cork—usually made of PVC— which acts as a moisture barrier and helps give added grip and stability to the fitted material. When buying cork you can also choose from a wide variety of shades, textures and patterns. Plain colours range from the classic honey shade most commonly associated with cork to a deep chocolate brown—with practically every shade in between.

Geometric and random patterns are produced by combining accurately cut slivers of different coloured cork and this technique is also used to give a textured finish to the cork. More recent is the production of randomlyspaced cork superimposed on a number of different coloured backgrounds.

Preparing bases

Cork is an absorbent, pliable material and unless it is applied to a perfectly fiat, dry and sound base it will quickly deteriorate. You will greatly extend the life of your surface covering by spending time beforehand in strengthening and preparing the base to which it is to be fixed. The approach you use will vary according to where the cork is to be fitted. Timber floors: This is the best surface of all on which to apply cork—providing you make sure that the surface is perfectly flat.

Hammer any protruding nails into the floor, punching them well below the level of the boards if necessary. Use filler to make good any hollow areas and smooth these level with an abrasive block once the filler has thoroughly hardened. The timber floor you want to cover can often be in very poor condition with broken and splintered timbers and an uneven surface. If this is the case, you must lay sheets of hardboard or plywood over the damaged floor to form a sound base. Cut the sheets so that they cover the whole floor and butt neatly against each other and around the edge of the room.

Fix them securely into place with 20mm galvanized nails randomly spaced at 300mm intervals.

Concrete floors: These must be level, clean and absolutely free of damp before cork is fixed to them. Check the floor carefully, looking for patches of damp or areas where the surface is uneven or crumbling. Floors which do not have an adequate DPC should have one added before work continues, but as an added protection against damp, a coat of sealant will be wise.

Also, keep in mind, cork is extremely flammable.