Invented by the Venetians in the 1500s, cement-based terrazzo is one of the oldest types of decorative flooring systems. Highly prized for its timeless beauty, this mosaic-like floor topping consists of small pieces of marble or granite embedded in mortar followed by polishing. But a newer type of terrazzo has entered the scene, offering a host of benefits that threaten to shrink the market for traditional cement-based systems.
This formidable competitor is thin-set epoxy terrazzo. It is applied at a thickness of only 1/4 to 3/8 inch, as opposed to traditional terrazzo that must be applied at thicknesses of 2 to 3 inches. This modern-day terrazzo is excellent for multicolored patterns and designs because the epoxy resin matrix can be pigmented, like paint, to achieve an unlimited spectrum of colors. It can also accommodate a wider variety of richly colored aggregates, including chips of marble or granite, recycled glass, mother of pearl, and various synthetic materials. With the creative use of divider strips to separate areas of contrasting colors, it’s possible to produce borders, logos, geometrical designs, and other artistic compositions.
Terrazzo—chips of marble, glass or other aggregates embedded in tinted cement, ground smooth and polished to a silky sheen—may have been yet another of mankind’s accidental discoveries. In the 15th century, mosaic artisans in northen Italy swept waste marble chips out onto their terraces, terrazzi, and smoothed the surface simply by walking over it. When workers learned to press the chips into a more permanent clay base, then grind and polish them with heavy stones, terrazzo caught on. Michelangelo used it in St. Peter’s Basilica. George Washington strode over it in his cherished Mount Vernon. In the 1950s, Richard Neutra and other modernist architects specified terrazzo in their designs, and by the ’60s, it covered floors in developer houses across the Southeast and Southwest.