A great cork harvest in Portugal - without the need for any trees to fall. | Image: Jim McClelland

In celebration of spring, our new Green Issue is dedicated to stylish sustainability and cork is a hot topic; for laying floors, lightweight contemporary furniture and rustic decor pieces. But did you know that cork is harvested without losing any trees? DECO’s Melanie Loser investigates.

Cork is a hot trend right now and definitely one of our decorative favourites for this season. It has been seen popping up in many areas of design, all the way down the fashion runway straight into home décor.

Here are some facts and reasons as to why Cork is stealing the show, and how it has transformed into so much more than just being a wine stopper.

How wine stoppers (corks) are actually made.


Cork is the shell of the Cork Oak Tree, Quercus Suber, a protected species since the 12th century. This material is the way forward in sustainable living, due to the fact that it is harvested off the tree without having to chop it down.

 A cross section through the trunk of a Cork Oak tree showing exactly where the layer of cork begins.
A cross section through the trunk of a Cork Oak tree showing exactly where the layer of cork begins.

Unlike wood, the tree is the manufacturer of the product and not the actual product itself. This amazing tree is endemic to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. A prominent distributor is Portugal, where there are mass forests known as Montados covering over 720 000 hectares.


When the tree is 25 years of age, the cork that we love can be harvested. It is skilfully and carefully removed by hand in the months of spring and summer when the cork is fragile and comes away easily. It takes 9 years for the cork to be fully regrown and the actual tree is estimated to live for 150 years. The tree is never cut nor damaged, allowing it to keep turning carbon dioxide into oxygen for us to live happily. This is a unique human-nature relationship where no harm comes to any party.

The cork comes away easily from the tree, leaving it bare but unharmed.
The cork comes away easily from the tree, leaving it bare but unharmed.


The fact that cork can even be recycled once used shows just how sustainable this material is. It is a zero-waste material that can be reused multiple times over without losing any of its qualities. It is a buoyant and waterproof material which lends itself to so many uses.

Cork is quickly becoming the new leather, replacing it in many products such as belts, shoes, hats and even jackets. It is not only used for accessories for you but also for your home. Furniture and kitchen accessories can all be made with this amazing material.

So there is no excuse not to put a cork in it!

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in the UK by Swiss architects Herzog& de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei_ showing just how stylish cork can be. The entire gallery under the water feature is all cork.
A close up on the cork character, prevelant in The Serpentine Gallery.
A close up on the cork character, prevalent in The Serpentine Gallery.


Keep an eye out for more stories coming soon revealing our top local cork shopping tips.

ELLE Decoration Green Issue coverThe Green Issue edition of ELLE Decoration South Africa is on the shelf of your nearest magazine retailer now. Packed with sustainably stylish interiors, it’s full of all your favourite features and decor tips plus the green spaces of Patrizia Moroso and Pietro Russo. Pick up your copy today – across South Africa wherever magazines are sold – and tell us what you think on Twitter @ELLE_Deco, sharing your #GreenIssue #DECOselfie.


LIKED THIS? Then take a look at our spring mood boards for more on-trend inspiration.


Melanie Loser ELLE DecorationDECO intern Melanie Loser was born and raised in the rustic utopia that is Empangeni, KZN. Animals and nature are her go-to for relaxation and escape – although Roald Dahl and a good glass of wine come a close second. After finishing her undergrad in Architecture at UCT, Mel decided to explore her creative side at ELLE Decoration, hoping to incorporate environmental and green living concerns into her future design work.