TERRAZZO – DISTINCTLY RETRO AND UNDENIABLY ELEGANT

A defining moment in the terrazzo revival – decked out in head-to-toe terrazzo
Valentino flagship store, New York, – Architect David Chipperfield – 2014

A popular flooring material in the palaces of Venice; terrazzo has it’s roots in 15th century Italy. Terrazzo or terrace or a place of encounter was developed when mosaics craftspeople realised that marble chips became a resilient surface when trodden into the ground.

Terrazzo is actually a concrete surface with special type of aggregates of marble embedded into it. Basically chips of granite and marble are placed in concrete or similar materials. Commonly called mosaic flooring, these floors are durable enough to stand the test of time. The people who worked on these floors ‘ the terazerri’ as they were called, were regarded as true artists and they jealously guarded the secrets of their craft, handing them down from father to son. You can see the love that’s gone into it – as it has that handmade look to it. In fact terrazzo was known as the “Floor meant for Kings and Queens”!

“Battuto Veneziano” or beaten Venetian, as it was also called, was first laid in the US by Italian craftsmen in 1890 in the Vanderbilt residence on Fifth Avenue in New York and it’s heydays continued till the 1970s. Architects in the 1920s were the first to recognise the vast potential of terrazzo. Think of Art Deco – the smooth curvilinear styles – it was the perfect medium! New Yorkers have access to a truly spectacular display from these terrazzo glory days.. stunning examples of classic design, craftsmanship and durability were built with terrazzo – The State Building, Radio City Music Hall, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Black terrazzo covers the Hollywood Walk of Fame, grey terrazzo covers the floors of the London Underground and in the Barcelona Metro it covers the red-brown walls. Back home it was a favourite with builders who built apartments for the upper middle class gentry. I remember growing up in a house with mosaic flooring and with a heavy heart saw it replaced with marble. In fact one apartment still has it and am sure with a little cleaning and polishing it can still look it’s best.

THE PLUS POINTS

  1. Flexibility – can be laid in any shape or size
  2. Uniqueness – nothing else looks like it
  3. Sustainability credentials – hard wearing material that last the life of a building
  4. Durability quotient – it has a life span of 75-100 years or more!!
  5. Versatility – can be poured, moulded into panels or into custom shapes like bathtubs, sinks, countertops..
  6. Health quotient – resistant to microbes and mould, if sealed properly. No volatile organic compounds found in it because of it’s natural composition
  7. Infinitely customisable – range of colours and breadth of aggregate options can create a really unique floor
  8. Aesthetic appeal – more towards minimalistic with a softened edge; it is a great alternative to plain concrete flooring with added texture and interest. Think of terrazzo as a concrete carpet!
  9. Easy maintenance – just sweep and mop, no need to use cleaners or chemicals. In fact it is difficult to stain due to it’s texture
  10. The nostalgic appeal of a lovably uncool 1970s thing might be another factor..

THE RENNAISSANCE OF TERRAZZO

Terrazzo was taken over by marble, granite and engineered stone like quartz as it is more expensive, but demand for terrazzo has returned. Today’s highly evolved terrazzo is an environmentally friendly material that combines extraordinary design potential, optimum durability, low maintenance. Terrazzo is the lowest cost flooring available based on it’s life cycle.

Emerald green and terrazzo bathroom – Architect – Dkye and Dean https://www.dykeanddean.com/blogs/journal/terrazzo-flooring

HOW TO USE IT

Multiple sizes can work for different interior spaces. it has been used as flooring from museums to corporate buildings and from bedrooms to bathrooms.

  1. Large terrazzo tiles or slabs – for a splash back , bench top or countertop
  2. Smaller feature tiles – to break up a neutral wall or to brighten up a kitchen or bathroom floor. Even a patio, entrance lobby, stairs, a study or a part of the living area can be done in terrazzo. Why..even the entire house can be in any variety of terrazzo..
  3. In-situ terrazzo – can be laid on-site with playful imperfections

HOW TO LAY IT

  1. Terrazzo tiles or slabs – precast and readily available
  2. Monolithic terrazzo – poured directly onto an existing concrete subfloor
  3. Sand-cushioned terrazzo – layered down sand over a cement base
  4. Thin-set terrazzo – installed over concrete floors or plywood bases

FROM THE FLOOR TO THE WALLS AND EVERYWHERE

Palladiana Terrazzo – floorings made of chunks of marble slab in the aggregate rather then small rocks, creating a paver-like effect. Venetian Terrazzo – walls where larger rocks than usual are used in the aggregate. Both styles are more expensive and create a rarified look. Colouring and patterns in terrazzo can also add a pop of colour and give a variety of options to play with. It is interesting to see how coloured terrazzo fits into a modern space. Aggregates such as chips of shells, mother of pearl and various types of metal or recycled glass too can be added to create a visually appealing floor.

Definitely worth a try even if it is for a small space. Terrazzo requires a bit more planning than other materials, but do your homework and it will pay off as an elegant floor that lasts a lifetime!!

White Rabbit House -Architects Gundry and Ducker – 2019 – checkerboard floor in marble and terrazzo

Tak a look at the Timber Terrazzo too .. and some more creative ways of using the concept “terrazzo”. https://foresso.co.uk/thelondoncollection

And here discarded glass is transformed into terrazzo to create furniture and objects. https://www.dezeen.com/2017/11/16/super-local-bottle-up-terrazzo-homeware-zanzibar-good-design-bad-world-dutch-design-week/

Once you begin observing terrazzo you won’t believe you really did not discover it before! Would be interesting to see how it has transformed onto different materials and products. Do share and add to the list..

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