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North Hills Monthly

Uncorked: From Floors to Key Fobs, Cork Finding New Uses

Aug 31, 2016 10:30AM ● By Erica Cebzanov

In 1860, Thomas Armstrong and John Glass began manufacturing cork bottle stoppers in Pittsburgh. Within four years, their Strip District factory–which exists today as apartments–had grown into one of the world’s largest cork closure producers, according to George T. Fleming’s History of Pittsburgh and Environs. Today, local innovators continue to find new uses for cork. 

Nest Expressions sells cork flooring as an alternative to hardwood and ceramic. Bob Klein, who co-owns the business with wife, Janine, explained that some clients purchase cork due to its sustainability. “What makes cork sustainable is that you can harvest it off a tree–it’s actually the bark,” he explained. “The tree will then regrow the bark, so it doesn’t contribute to deforestation.” 

According to Klein, cork is warmer than ceramic and hardwood and absorbs sound, making it ideal for entertaining. Additionally, cork is hypoallergenic and insect-resistant.

“One other advantage of cork is that it’s much softer to walk on than, say hardwood or ceramic, so it’s less fatiguing,” said Klein. He and his employees experienced this firsthand when working at the store’s Duquesne Light Home & Garden Show booth. In prior years, they experienced back pain from standing on carpet atop the convention center’s concrete floor. This March, they replaced the carpet with cork flooring. 

“The difference was like night and day,” Klein said.

Cork flooring is also fine for households with children and pets. While dog owners will need to keep their pet’s nails trimmed to avoid scratches, Klein said that it’s no more sensitive than hardwood. As far as maintenance, cork flooring has an acrylic surface, which cannot be sanded and stained like hardwood if it becomes damaged. One can reapply acrylic coating to reinvigorate the cork and replace panels if necessary. 

Nest Expressions carries cork flooring from US Floors in 48 colors and a variety of textures, and it is available either in 12-by-12-inch tiles that are glued down or in interlocking planks that are placed directly atop most existing floors. Klein recommends the latter for ease of installation and removal. 

In another use for cork, Tia Bess Vaught repurposes wine corks into jewelry and key chains, which she sells through her Tia Maria Designs Etsy shop. She initially made the jewelry for her mother and posted the images on Facebook. Eventually, she gained a national following and started fulfilling custom orders using corks from her clients’ sentimental occasions, such as engagement and wedding celebrations. 

She asks them for color preferences and designs three different pieces from which they choose. “I communicate a lot; I usually send them pictures where I’ve measured against something to scale, and I’ll ask them questions like, ‘What kind of clothes do you wear? What kind of neckline do you like?’” she explained. “Some of my clients are older, so some of the clasps can be an issue, so I try to cater to them.” 

According to Bess Vaught, key chains that are constructed using fishing lures and corks are popular with men. “I know it sounds goofy, but men like the fact that if they drop their keys in the water, they float,” she said.

Kathy Mazur has used cork bottle stoppers as mulch for approximately 10 years, distributing intact corks around her plants. Cork mulch is anti-microbial and mold resistant, and also helps to retain moisture. Be cautious if you have pets, though, as even small pieces can cause intestinal blockages.

“We just wait until we fill up a little area of the drawer, and we take the corks out,” said Mazur. “If we’re sitting outside with friends, having a bottle of wine, we’ll throw the cork in then.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT CORK FLOORING, contact Nest Expressions at 724-933-5500 or