Put A Cork On It! Portugal’s Wares at the MoMA

Earlier this month, the MoMA Design Store unveiled the latest installment of its rotating series highlighting international design. The collection, entitled Destination: Portugal, includes more than 100 home products and personal accessories produced in Portugal, shedding light on brands and designers not usually known in this part of the globe. Among the lot is a startling number of products made from cork—and we’re happy to see the lean, green material moving beyond its viticulture rap.

Pelcor, one of MoMA’s selected brands, broke down the process: Forests of oak trees dot the Portugal’s bucolic Alentejo region, set just east of Lisbon, growing by four percent a year thanks to a reforestation program—the area produces more than half of the world’s total cork supply. The growth rate comes from the region’s hot, dry climate—the bark thickens until it’s 1.5 or 2 inches deep, insulating the tree from heat and loss of moisture.

The bark’s outer layer is what we consider cork, and it’s first stripped when the tree matures to about 15 years old, a process that continues every eight or 10 years until the tree can no longer produce top-quality bark. With the cork bark standing in for wood in products and furniture that might ordinarily require that a tree be cut, the tree can live a much longer life. And supple cork bark now promises a wide variety of applications, including bendable, pliable products such as handbags and aprons.

Check out cork pieces from a variety of Portuguese designers in the Destination: Portugal series, which even includes a pretty funky cork umbrella—yes, it’s waterproof!

(Images of cork production: Pelcor USA. Product images: MoMA Design Store.)