Cork Wall Covering – How to Do It

Cork Wall Covering – How to Do It

Cork Wall Covering

Cork in tife, panel or sheet form provides an easy-to-fix wallcovering which is highly decorative and warm to the touch. It will also add to your peace and quiet by insulating against noise.

You may decide to decorate one or more walls of a room in your house with cork simply because you like the look of it. But there are practical advantages in doing this as well. You will also be providing extra insulation as, apart from its decorative qualities, cork deadens sound, is warm to the touch and keeps heat in and cold out. Also, it doesn’t cause condensation and will absorb a certain amount of moisture. It can be quite hardwearing, taking its share of knocks and bumps without bruising, and many of the ranges of cork tiles, panels sheets and rolls available are treated to be fully washable and steam-proof.

Where you might want cork wall covering?

Because of its highly decorative quality and natural texture, cork usually looks best as a feature wall, or forming a focal point on a chimney breast, or in an alcove, or behind some display shelves But because of its insulating quality it is ideal on the inside of walls which *ace away from the sun, particularly if a headboard or seating is placed next to them. Cork tiles on a ceiling can help reduce noise and also add warmth; in children’s rooms, teenage bedsitting rooms, famiiy living rooms, hobby areas, even the kitchen, a panel of cork can also provide a place to pin pictures, posters and memos. Pre-sealed cork is practical for kitchens and bathrooms so long as it does not come in direct contact with the bath, sink or basin edge (you can isolate it with a row of ceramic tiles). It can also be used to face doors, cover window seats ana ottomans, or cover screens and bath panels — so long as you select the right product.

Types of cork

Cork for walls comes in several different types. Some are made by pressing the cork into layers, or mixing cork chippings with a binder, and then cutting it into sheets, tiies or panels of various sizes, thicknesses and textures. Sometimes, to get a rougher homespun look, the actual bark of the cork tree is peeled, mounted on a backing and sold for decorative purposes. The backing may be colored, and if the cork is slivered thinly
enough, this backing will show through, giving a hint of color to the cork. This type may be sold as panels or sheets.

Another attractive cork wallcovering is made by shaving the cork so thinly that it is almost transparent and because of the natural uneven texture, the effect is like hand-crocheted lace. This is then mounted onto a foil backing which glints through the layer of cork. This type is usually sold in sheets or by the roll, as wallpaper.

A new development is a wallcork which is laminated to crepe paper so it is extremely flexible and can be bent round curved surfaces. This type comes in a natural finish, which can be painted, and also in several colors. It is sold by the linear metre (yard) off the roll.

Most wallcorks are presealed, either waxed or treated with a sealant, which makes them washable; some come unsealed including some of the heavily textured types and the very open granular tiles.

Buying cork and planning

Cork tiles, panels and sheet come in various sizes. When you have decided on the type you want to use you will have to work out how much you will need to order from your supplier. Remember the cardinal rule that you should always order more than will be exactly required to cover the wall, to allow for any mistakes, accidents or errors when you are putting the cork up

You may decide to fix tiles or panels in a particular pattern, for example, so they create a diamond or herringbone design. If so, it’s best to work out the design on paper
first; then, after you’ve prepared the surface, you can square up the wall and mark the position of each tile or panel on it. (Remember you can also create interesting effects by using light and dark tiles to form a checkerboard pattern or to form a border or ‘framed’ effect; but you shouldn’t need to mark up the wall for this.)

Preparing the surface

As with any other form of decoration, cork must be hung on a properly prepared surface. If you are going to cover a wall with cork which has already been decorated you should strip off old wallpaper, scrape off any flaking paint and fill any deep holes; cut and re-plaster any crumbling ‘live’ areas. If the plaster is porous, prime with PVA primer diluted 1:5 with water.

Gloss or matt-painted walls can be keyed by rubbing over them with sandpaper to roughen the surface, but as the paint can sometimes cause the adhesive to break down, most cork suppliers recommend lining a painted wall with heavy lining paper before fixing the cork in position. Follow the instructions supplied with the particular product you intend using. If you are going to use lining paper, remember to cross-line the walls, that is, hang the paper horizontally just as you would before hanging a good quality wallpaper or fabric wallcovering to avoid the risk of joins coinciding.

If you are hanging sheet cork wallcovering and using a heavy-duty wallpaper paste to fix it, it may be necessary to prime the wall surface first with a coat of size or diluted wallpaper paste.

Tools and equipment

You are already likely to have most of the tools and equipment required for covering walls with cork, particularly if you have hung some other type of wallcovering before. You will need a sharp knife to trim the cork, a straightedge, a notched adhesive spreader (sometimes supplied with the adhesive) or a pasting brush, a plumbline and chalk or pencil, a T-square or set square, a wallpaper seam roller and (for sheet cork) a wallpaper hanger’s roller (which is wider than a seam roller). You will also require a tape measure and, to cut bark-type cork, a fine-toothed tenon saw. A pasting table (or some other suitable surface) may be needed; put this in a good light so you can see that the back surface of the tile or sheet (where these are pasted on the back rather than pasting the wall for fixing) is completely covered. As you’ll be working at a height for part of the fixing process you’ll need a stepladder. Make sure this is in sound condition so it will provide you with safe, secure access.

Fixing the cork

When you are fixing cork tiles or panels, as with all tiling, the setting-out is vitaily important. The tiles should always be centered on a focal point or wall, so you end up with cut tiles or panels of equal width in the corners or at the edge of a chimney breast. Once you have established your central point and squared up the wall for the first line of tiles, tiling should be quite straightforward; the tiles are fixed with contact adhesive applied to the back of the tile and the wall or with an adhesive which is applied to the wall only.

Sheet cork is hung in different ways. The crucial thing here is to hang the lengths of cork to a true vertical and to plan the layout so cork which has to be cut to fit in width will come at the corners where any unevenness (due to the walls being out of square) will be least likely to be noticed.

Finishing touches and maintenance

If you put up cork tiles, panels, or sheet cork which are not sealed you can seal them with a transparent polyurethane varnish (a matt finish looks best). Dust the surface thoroughly and acply two or three coats of varnish; you may find a spray-on type is easier to apply than one which you brush on but this is only economical if you don’t have too large an area to cover.

Most wall corks (whether sealed or unsealed) can be cleaned by dusting them down (use a cloth or the soft brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner). Most of the sealed corks and the crepe-backed cork can be wiped with a damp cloth. The paper and foil-backed corks may not be w>pable, so check before you buy, and don’t hang them in a place where they will get dirty quickly.

How to choose the right cork?


Cork swells when it gets wet and could become distorted and start peeling off the wall. It therefore makes sense to

  • use a pre-sealed type for kitchens, bathrooms and areas where you are going to have to wipe off sticky finger marks, or
  • use a type of cork which can be sealed after hanging in these areas.


When you are planning the layout of the tiles you are going to use on a wall, aim to place cut tiles where they won’t draw attention. For example:

  • it’s best to have cut tiles at the baseboard rather than at the ceiling
  • on a chimney breast, butt cut tiles up to the junction between the chimney breast and wall rather than to the outer corner of the chimney breast.


Because of the adhesive used to fix them, cork tiles can be difficult to remove once they are up; if you try to scrape them off you may either have large lumps of cork left stuck to the wall or large holes left in the plaster. To help you make it easier to have a change of decor later:

  • fix the cork to panels of plasterboard, hardboard, partition board, chipboard, plywood or other dry lining
  • fix the panels to furring strips which are screwed to the wall; these can be unscrewed and removed when you choose

How to fix the first tile step-by-step:

  1. Work out how the tile pattern will fall on the wall by drawing central horizontal and vertical lines. Adjust these to avoid awkward cuts.
  2. Starting at the center, spread adhesive in one of the angles formed by the lines. (With contact adhesive apply it to the back of the tile as well.)
  3. Cover an area slightly larger than a tile, then align the first tile using the horizontal and vertical lines as a guide to the exact position.
  4. Press the tile into place flat against the wall, taking care not to let it slip out of line as you do this. It’s crucial you get the tile correctly positioned.
  5. Roll the tile with a wallpaper seam roller to get a better bond particularly at the edges. Be careful not to get adhesive on the roller.
  6. If any adhesive gets onto the face the tile wipe it off with a damp cloth before it sets. With some adhesives you may need to use turpentine.

How to fix other tiles step-by-step:

  1. Apply more adhesive then butt the second tile into place using hand pressure and a roller. Then continue to fix all the whole tiles.
  2. Where the tile has to be cut, for example, to fit at the edge of a chimney breast, you should first place it over the last whole tile in the row.
  3. Butt another tile up against the comei so that it overlaps the tile to be cut; use this as a guide to mark off a cutting line with chalk or pencil.
  4. To cut the tile, place it on a firm surface then use a sharp knife to cut along the marked line. Use a straightedge as a guide.
  5. Coat the exposed wali with adhesive and fix the cut tile in the same way you’ve fixed the whole tiles. Continue mamng up, cutting and fixing the tiles.
  6. When you’ve completed the front of a chimney breast you can tile the sides. Work so the cut edges go into the junction with the wall.

2 thoughts on “Cork Wall Covering – How to Do It

  1. What adhesive should be used on cork wall lining??
    I have tried PVA (might as well have tried to use plain water to stick the cork) and Evostick instant ( thick jelly-like with poor cover and horrid fumes). Returned them to B&Q- who were unable to advise what adhesive should be used on their own brand cork lining! Now trying out ceramic wall tile adhesive but will have to wait a day or two to sell whether it has set.

Leave a Comment