Though terrazzo has been around for centuries, it has enjoyed a revival in recent years thanks to a reinvigorated love affair with eighties styles. Even a decade ago, you may have walked across a terrazzo tiled floor without giving it a second glance. However, trend-setting designers have been pushing the boundaries to showcase terrazzo’s versatility and beauty.
Left: Mandarin Stone terrazzo in Shard and Pebble. Middle: Amphis Reo pendant in natural. Right: Doherty Design Studio ‘Malvern Residence Two’ with CDK Stone terrazzo tiles. Photography by Derek Swalwell.
Terrazzo is Italian for ‘terrace’ and though there is evidence of it being used in ancient times, the key period of emergence is the 15th century. Tilers and marble workers in Venice would take remnants of broken marble and add them to clay, grind them flat and use this for flooring in their own homes. Not only did these tradespeople get to enjoy high-end materials but, by using leftover pieces from jobs, they would ensure there was less wastage. We like to think of terrazzo as one of the earliest efforts of sustainability in design.
A historic photo of terrazzo grinders and finishers prior to the 1920s, courtesy Venice Art Terrazzo Company.
Over centuries, continuous advancements improved the processes involved in creating terrazzo. No longer do manufacturers use goat’s milk to bring out the finish of the tiles, a method that actually endured for around 500 years. In the 1920s, grinding equipment was developed in such a way that it brought forth what we know as terrazzo today. Epoxies, polyesters, latex and acrylics have improved terrazzo greatly in the past 40 years, and aggregate options have expanded from the traditional marble, quartz and granite to unique materials such as recycled glass, porcelain and metal. And along with the introduction of white Portland cement came the ability to dye terrazzo to different colours, making it a versatile finish, adaptable to different styles; both traditional and contemporary.
Left: Smart Style Bathrooms Bayswater residence with terrazzo tiles from Fibonacci Stone. Photography by Matt Biocich. Right: Paradiso coffee shop by Nomos Architects. Photography by Miguel de Guzmán.
Style considerations aside, terrazzo is regarded as one of the most durable finishes. Because of its strength, impact resistance and hard-wearing nature, terrazzo is used in some of the highest foot traffic areas across the globe. Walking through airports, city streets or hospitals, you’ll no doubt find terrazzo flooring if you look down. It’s also low maintenance, which is a plus for home owners. Terrazzo is a serious contender when it comes to selecting finishes in kitchens and bathrooms, for flooring, walls and benchtops.
As with all iconic trends rooted in history, designers have put a contemporary spin on terrazzo. In the past, terrazzo was generally specified as durable flooring using finer pieces of aggregate. The use of colour was typically reserved for commercial spaces, with natural palettes installed in the home. These days, designers are experimenting with how to accentuate terrazzo in residential projects through creative treatment of large aggregate fragments and unique colours. By utilising the material in new ways, such as for sinks and showers, and even incorporating it into lighting, furniture and accessories, we’re changing the way we’ve viewed terrazzo of old.
Left: Atelier Dialect ‘Anne’ kitchen design project. Middle: Amphis Pepi pendant in pink. Right: Max Lamb ‘Marmoreal’ engineered marble, produced for Dzek. Display at London Design Festival 2015. Photo courtesy of Dzek.
Before you dismiss terrazzo as an outdated finish given how long it’s been around, take a look at it with fresh eyes. This important material has such versatile, sustainable and durable properties that it’s bound to be a staple in interior design for further centuries to come.