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04/29/14 Cork Furniture Designer Daniel Michalik

Many know cork merely as a surface poked and covered or a memento of decadence drunk up. For Daniel Michalik, however, there was more to the material than bulletin boards and bottle stoppers.

While undertaking his thesis at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2003, Michalik was on the lookout for unconventional materials. “It was so plentiful, cheap, and recyclable that I was able to experiment without any regard for failure,” he says, chancing upon cork through a supplier quick to sell him irregular-sized sheets for “next to nothing.” “The experiments led to some pretty exciting discoveries, and that’s where it all began.”

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Working out his studio in Brooklyn, Michalik has fashioned a material often deemed discardable into furniture both elegant and ergonomic. Gracefully arched and almost seamless with the outdoors is his Cortiça chaise lounge, which also lends to gentle rocking. Through distinctive patterns cut at their sides, his Sway Stools react to body movement and also make for quite the conversation piece. Be it a horseshoe-shaped ottoman made entirely from recycled cork or a lighthearted yet effective pair of cork-and-wood knuckles used for self-defense (designed for “THREAT,” an exhibition by the American Design Club), Michalik has certainly bended cork to countless possibilities.

“I love this material more than I ever have and I would like to grow my already strong relationship with the cork culture in Portugal,” Michalik says of a country that remains a prime exporter of the material and has an unknown cultural heritage that surrounds it.

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So far, Michalik has been the foremost proponent of cork artisanship in the U.S., often vocalizing the material’s value and workability as an Assistant Professor of Constructed Environments at Parsons. “Cork trees regenerate their bark every nine years. The interest in it is alive and well but often, it remains within the traditional borders,” he says, excited to surpass these boundaries and combine cork with leather, porcelain, concrete, and glass. Lately, exploration has led him to lighting, where tubes of cork bark have been utilized as blow molds for hot glass to create lit “branches.” “We have begun prototyping these and they are in the works.

“I’d also like to explore casting of granules a bit deeper to make more complex 3D forms,” says Michalik, who plans to accomplish this through the 5-axis CNC mills the Parsons prototyping shop recently acquired. “I cannot wait to begin sculpting really wild forms out of cork on those machines.”

While awaiting what staggering pieces can arise from the technology, NOUS talked to Michalik about the process and ideas behind his studio’s staples.

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