When I was eleven years old, I spent my first full-time working week on a construction site. It was a fire job and I still remember that underneath the burned and soaked carpet, was a floor that looked to me like it was pretty nice. It was terrazzo flooring. And it was the first of dozens I would find covered with carpet.
One look at the photo above and I have to wonder how anyone could ever cover that in carpet, but during the craze of “wall-to-wall” carpeting, lots of really beautiful floors were covered.
Terrazzo is a really interesting material. It’s essentially a mix, similar to concrete, with a colored base (often white) and a decorative aggregate, often (but not always) glass chips in the desired color.
Terrazzo is extremely hard once cured and can be polished to a high-gloss sparkly finish or honed for a more rustic look. The number of uses for this material is impressive.
The most traditional and well known use for Terrazzo is flooring. The picture above shows just how clean and modern of a material it is. Yet I feel like it has a real “retro” quality about it. It makes me think of the Flinstones for some reason. Is that weird?
(time for a design-aside? How awesome is that space above? I love the shape of those sofas.. now that I think about it, I guess that’s no surprise…but check out that stainless shelf in the kitchen, and those drywall room dividers with space to display one’s prized possessions.)
Floors are done by pouring the mixture out over the concrete slab and leveling it off at the desired thickness (usually about 5/8″). Then it’s ground to a flat surface and polished in place. During the grinding and polishing process, the decorative items such as glass are ground flat with the surface of the floor, exposing random shapes of color.
Flooring is just the tip of the iceberg for Terrazzo uses though.
An alternative to bringing giant grinding machines into your house, is terrazzo tile.
This is essentially the same product, but the work is done in a factory and the finished product is in tiles of various sizes.
Tiles are a great use for terrazzo in a bathroom, kitchen, or anywhere you want the look without the mess. (New terrazzo installation is a very messy job)
The downside is that you’ll have seams you’ll need to fill with grout. Some would argue this is a plus and can be incorporated into the design.
This is one of the most exciting developments in countertop materials. Terrazzo counters are just stunning and they are incredibly durable and easy on maintenance.
I wrote a post awhile back on concrete counters which are a very close cousin to terrazzo.
The photo above is apparently a house that was featured on Extreme Makeover and I totally LOVE the look. It’s no secret that I like colorful cabinets, and these are no different.
The way the blue and green glass in the counter plays off the other colors in the room is perfect. And the stainless hardware and fixtures finish off an awesome look using terrazzo countertops.
So, back to all those terrazzo floors we uncovered when remodeling. I’m happy to say that at least a few of them were restored to like-new condition and were NOT covered back up with carpet.
Terrazzo is even better than hardwood when it comes to the ability to make an old floor look new again. A little bit of grinding and polishing and you’re all done.
DIY Terrazzo Floor Polishing? Probably not, but that’s another post.