Terrazzo: The Home Décor Trend You Should Know About
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Long-popular in mid-century modern homes, terrazzo has gone mainstream. Find out why this ancient flooring material stands the test of time.
Terrazzo, a flooring material that’s been around since the Neolithic era, is back for a 21st century encore. Once used exclusively for interior and exterior residential and commercial flooring, in the last few years terrazzo began showing up on walls, countertops, tables and home décor accessories.
So why has terrazzo endured through the eons? Here’s what we know.
What Is Terrazzo?
Terrazzo is a composite material first used exclusively as flooring. Today, it’s made by pouring a solid layer of concrete or epoxy resin, then pressing or embedding chips of marble, stone, glass or other materials into the surface. After the entire surface is set and dried, the terrazzo is ground down using a heavyweight grinder similar to a floor polisher. After being ground down to level, the terrazzo is polished and sealed.
Terrazzo can be installed as a solid surface flooring, or installers can use thin metal strips to divide terrazzo into sections. In this way, they can create geometric patterns or intricate designs using different colors of terrazzo. Terrazzo is also made as tiles, which are installed similarly to ceramic tiles using thin-set mortar and grout.
History of Terrazzo
The first semblance of what archaeologists call terrazzo dates to somewhere around 9,000 BCE, when Neolithic peoples in what is now the Middle East crafted clay floors embedded with crushed limestone. Greeks, Romans and Egyptians advanced terrazzo techniques.
Modern terrazzo is more similar to the form perfected by Italian craftsmen of the 1700s, who embedded marble chips in a mortar base. With the advent of electric grinders in the 20th century, as well as the development of metal strips to divide terrazzo into sections, it became a popular flooring material.
Terrazzo reached peak popularity in the mid-century modern architectural style that started in the 1950s. Architects and designers of this period favored terrazzo for its monolithic, minimalist look. In the 1960s and early 70s, most new homes in the Southeast and Southwest were built with terrazzo floors.
It faded from fashion in the 1970s, when new architectural styles became popular and homeowners covered terrazzo with linoleum, shag carpeting and other then-trendy floorings. Yet mid-century modern design has earned new legions of followers in recent years, and along with it, terrazzo. Today, it’s not unusual for a period home’s new owners to pull up their old flooring and find a real treasure underneath — terrazzo floors!
Pros and Cons of Terrazzo
Terrazzo is a versatile material with advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the major pros and cons of terrazzo:
- Long-lasting. Properly installed terrazzo can last 75 years or more. Just ask an owner of a vintage mid-century-modern home.
- Seamless look. True terrazzo — the kind that’s poured in large slabs — creates an airy, open look, and can make a space look larger.
- Durability. It’s hard to stain, crack or chip terrazzo, and it’s resistant to fading. Most cracks are the result of problems with the building’s foundation.
- Easy to keep clean. Terrazzo can be broom swept or vacuumed, and routinely cleaned with a damp mop.
- Versatility. Terrazzo comes in a huge range of colors. When creatively installed, it can be used to create designs, patterns and geometric effects. It can also be used indoors and out.
- Eco-friendly. Terrazzo is often made of scrap pieces of marble, glass and stone that would otherwise be discarded.
- Maintenance. Although terrazzo is a low-maintenance flooring, it does need to be resealed, typically every two to three years. This is a major undertaking for many homeowners.
- Slippery. New or newly sealed terrazzo can be slippery, which may be a concern in high traffic areas and homes with young children or elderly people.
- Cold underfoot. Without underfloor heating, terrazzo can feel really chilly in colder climates.
- Not DIYable. True poured, ground and polished terrazzo is not a DIY undertaking. Terrazzo tiles can be DIY-installed, but they don’t have the same aesthetic appeal as large, poured sections of terrazzo.
- Expensive. Although it’s extremely long-lasting, terrazzo is one of the most expensive flooring materials out there, in large part due to its installation cost.
- Installation risks. No amount of terrazzo can cover a faulty foundation. If your foundation cracks or settles, so will your expensive terrazzo.
For true poured terrazzo, the cost of materials and installation, which must be done by skilled professionals, runs between $30 and $80 per square foot. Even on the low end, that’s $60,000 to have terrazzo installed throughout a 2,000-square-foot house. For patterns, designs and more complex installations, the price goes up.
Terrazzo tile is less expensive but still costly, even if you install it yourself. For example, we found stone terrazzo tiles at The Home Depot and did a little arithmetic. For a 200-sq.-ft. room, you’d need more than $2,100 worth of tile, plus the cost of adhesive, grout, and sealant even if you do the installation yourself. The same amount of inexpensive ceramic tile costs about $150.
Decorating With Terrazzo
A design trend that started in the late 2010s saw terrazzo popping up everywhere — on walls, countertops, benches, shelves, tables and bathroom accessories. Although this most recent terrazzo craze has faded somewhat, it’s still a beautiful, durable material for those who want a clean, low-maintenance, modern look.