Designer Q&A: Michael Freedman from Innovations Inc. [MATERIAL: CORK]

This months material theme is Cork and Innovations Wallcoverings, Inc. was a company discovered at 2017’s BDNY that uses this material. They were the first design studio to explore and create cork wallcoverings that were suitable for commercial interiors in 1999. 

At BDNY we saw their first ever cork wallcoverings that have been digitally printed. We sat down with Sales & Design VP, Michael Freedman – who trained as a fine artist, to find out more about this interesting material and also this exciting new collection…HyperFocal: 0Can you tell me about your company and how you first started developing cork wallcoverings in 1999?

Innovations was founded in 1975 by Rudy Mayer who, at the time, was working as a store designer for Raymond Loewy. He saw a need in the market and started Innovations to provide the types of unique wallcoverings that he couldn’t find anywhere else.

 The story of how we came to cork and natural products is similar—finding a need in the market. About 17 or 18 years ago, we went to an awards banquet honoring William McDonough, who can be credited as the leader of environmental design. He talked about the evils of vinyl and the virtues of green. It wasn’t something that was on our radar because the contract world had always been dictated by durability.

 So, in 1999 we were doing quite a bit of work down in Washington D.C., and we started getting calls for environmentally-friendly products. Being the kind of company that’s driven by texture and tactile surfaces, and of course ingenuity, we came out with a line called Innvironments. It was the first environmentally-friendly, contract-grade wallcovering collection. No one had it—or at least no one was marketing it if they did.

 At this point we were scouring the earth to come up with interesting textures that were durable and beautiful. That led us to cork. Cork is something that’s been in our line for almost 20 years. It’s had a few different incarnations, and now we’re back at it full force.HyperFocal: 0What are the reasons for wanting to make a wallcovering with this material? Environmental/ Economical/ Quality/ Flexibility Etc?

Cork is a great product because we don’t harvest the tree. The bark is harvested every 9 or 10 years without harming the tree. The tree could live for 150 years; we’re just borrowing its surface. That’s really appealing to us, and at the same time, we’re really attracted to the quality of it. We just love the surface, the way it takes prints, the texture. There’s no other wood that’s like this.

“Cork is just so beautiful that we keep finding new ways to use it. It has a mind of its own sometimes, the way it takes color. It has the feel of happenstance or wabi-sabi with beauty in imperfections. You want something to have a character of its own, and I think cork lends itself to that.”

HyperFocal: 0What has been the process for manufacturing/creating this product? (I know you have explored many different techniques, painting/printing/layering etc)

There are a few different techniques. The way we do it is by creating large blocks that are 30 feet by 20 feet and 5 or 6 inches thick—essentially long sheets. We shear them to create thin veneers and apply that to a nonwoven or paper backing. Then we color the material, and in the case of some of the new patterns we’re doing, we’ll do digital prints.

You have recently created the new digitally printed cork wallcoverings, Chimera and Kaleidoscope. Why the move to digital and what’s special about this new product?  

Digital has infinite possibilities compared to gravure printing. Whereas a roller has a fixed size that limits the height of a pattern, you don’t have constraints on the pattern size with digital. You can have a massive pattern—like both Chimera and Kaleidoscope. You also have a wider range of color. With traditional printing, if you wanted to have five colors, you’d have to have five print rollers. With digital printing, it’s simple. You put it in the machine and press play. There’s a lot less waste.

We have a theme covering the city on Barcelona this month. Have these products been used in a commercial/contract project over there?

Not in Barcelona, but we have a really great cork installation in the Canary Islands—with our product Marbled Cork in the restaurant 920 Atlantico.

HyperFocal: 0CORK, not just good for wine! Have you used cork in an interesting way for a project or do you think it’s a bit of a gimmick? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this material. Please comment below or you can tweet us @DesignInsider1 


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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