May 30, 2014

Ones to Watch: Blackcork


is the just-launched furniture brand of Sofalca, a Portuguese manufacturer of cork products since 1966. Sofalca’s black, expanded cork agglomerate, used for thermic and acoustic insulation, is made only with the bark from cork-oak branches (


in Portuguese). Water vapor is injected through the cork pellets, expanding them and agglutinating with the cork’s resins. The process give the “cooked” cork a variegated deep chocolate brown color and a soft, lightly textured surface. The process uses no chemicals, and the steam is produced from the waste biomass of the branches, making the production some 95% self-sufficient and 100% recyclable.

Portrait Toni Grilo Blackcork

Sofalca tapped Franco-Portuguese designer

Toni Grilo

to create the new brand “from A to Z,” he says, leading a team of young Portuguese designers: the Mozambique-born Elder Montiero,

Gonçalo Campos


Rui Pereira


Daniel Vieira


Luis Nascimento

. “It was an opportunity to give new young designers a chance to work for a new young company,” says Grilo. “Portuguese entrepreneurs don’t think about asking designers to create new products, but I would like to see that change, to show that design innovation could be one way out of the economic crisis.” Their initial collection was produced in a matter of months—simple, witty, charming and practical.

Black cork, says Grilo, “a really exceptional material. It has nothing but good qualities—perfect for insulation, ecologically ideal, it’s fire resistant, it doesn’t rot—you can bury cork in the ground and leave it for several years and it will stay intact.”

Grilo’s O Stool, an 18-inch sphere in black cork with a concrete counterweight, makes a surprisingly comfortable perch. His Bug chair has a curved single-slab back and seat of layered black and white cork with stainless steel tube legs, and his Cut chair is a black cork cube with flat rectangle back standing up in a simple slot.

Monteiro’s whimsical Rollerball shelving system is composed of open cog-wheels of black cork whose ridges fit together for stacking. Campos’s Rolha’s tripod  occasional table resembles Tinkertoys: a black cork disc with 3 holes for oak legs. And Nascimento’s Pencil low tables of are beveled black cork hexagons, like classic wood pencils; one version has white cork facets, as if it’s just been through a sharpener.

Recent DesignWire