Cork placemats are placemats made from cork, the unique outer bark of cork oaks. Cork has a number of interesting properties which make it highly suitable for use in placemats, in addition to being aesthetically interesting. Some home supply stores sell cork placemats, especially if they specialize in European items, and they can also be ordered directly from cork producers located in places like Spain and Portugal.
This wood product is rather remarkable. Cork is highly compressible, capable of being significantly compressed, but it also has an excellent memory, springing back as soon as the pressure is relieved. Cork also resists liquids, and it is extremely durable, resisting heavy wear, rot, mold, and mildew. Cork's antimicrobial properties and inability to absorb liquids make it hostile to bacteria, and it is also very heat tolerant, which is a useful trait in a placemat. Cork's low heat conductivity also ensures that it will not transfer heat to underlying surfaces.
Placemats are designed to protect tables from damage. Hot plates, spills, and sharp silverware can all do injury to a table, creating scars, burn marks, scuffs, clouding of the varnish, and other problems. When placemats are set out, these damages are prevented, ensuring that the surface of the table remains pristine. Placemats are also designed to be decorative, making the table more visually interesting to look at, and cork is one among many materials which can be used to make placemats.
Natural cork is a light brown to cream color, flecked with dark spots. Cork placemats are produced by cutting cork into thin sheets which allow observers to see the natural grain of the bark if they look closely. The mat can also be backed or mounted with felt feet, although this is not necessary. Cork is a nonslip surface, so cork placemats will stay where they are placed until they are deliberately lifted.
In addition to natural cork placemats, it is also possible to find placemats made from cork which has been dyed. Dyed placemats may be a single color, or they may have an array of patterns. Cork-faced napkin rings and silverware handles can also be obtained to coordinate with cork mats, along with cork trivets for hot pots and pans. As with any décor item, cork can feel a bit excessive when it is used repetitively, so using cork placemats, trivets, silverware, and napkin rings could be a bit intense, but a few coordinating cork accents can tie cork placemats into the rest of the table very nicely.