New slab of appreciation for terrazzo tiling

New slab of appreciation for terrazzo tiling

Kya deLongchamps sees a shining future in 2020 for a rock star of flooring - terrazzo.

If you have ever spent time lolling around outside a bank manager’s office to “explain yourself” you had time to slide your nervously twitching shoes over the terrazzo flooring.

Buffed and belted in brass stop-seams, terrazzo interior paving gifted schools, airport terminals, train stations, public buildings, commercial palaces and hospitals not only tough, impermeable going under-foot, but serious mid-century architectural edge.

Suited to inside or out, running over steps, up walls and poured into counters, it provides a stunning, honest finish, and continues to strongly trend as a top-flight choice for new-builds and renovations for 2020.

Terrazzo was first used on a grand scale in the 15th century as economic composite flooring using waste marble from the paving of the Venetian palazzi of the Renaissance. The first terrazzo was made with clay and sealed with goat’s milk.

As we know it, it’s a versatile, porridge of crushed stone and marble chips, folded into cement, poured into shuttering for slabs, or directly into place. Once left to cure, the terrazzo is ground and polished to resemble a more expensive monolithic, marble slab.

Featuring the exposed crystalline cross-section of stone chip suspended in a tinted cement base, terrazzo offers vast, compositional variety.

Every slab is unique. It can include large flakes of stone, thick glass bits and gritty fines according to the client’s taste. With semi-opaque inclusions, we can look into the randomly patterned surface, and with a high quartz content, it carries a mesmerising glassy finish.

Tom Dixon’s cement Grit tiles by Bisazza, €142.50 per square metre.
Tom Dixon’s cement Grit tiles by Bisazza, €142.50 per square metre.

There have been peaks in demand for terrazzo in home situations — the Art Deco era, during the 1950s and again in the 1980s before it returned to largely commercial use.

Reflective and luxurious, hiding everyday dirt in its freckled face, it could be warmed up with rugs and was ideal for high-traffic areas and 1920s modernist mansions.

It’s largely seamless flow can slip under the threshold and (once properly sealed against staining), can continue to an outdoor terrace where the whole terrazzo story began.

Recently, generous, unusually coloured inclusions have rocked the market in engineered marble. Dzek of London, in a design project with British designer, Max Lamb, created a vivid, maxi spotted “palladiano” precast terrazzo panel, Marmoreal.

It combined chunks and grains of Italian marblesRosso Verona (red), Giallo Mori (ochre), and Verde Alpi (mustard). Marmoreal was dubbed by Dzek “the rebellious, artistic child of the terrazzo family”.

Launched at Salone del Mobile in 2014 in a playful, black colour-way of poly-resin binders it caused a sensation.

An engineered marble with designer Max Lamb, Marmoreal from Dzek of London. Award winning utterly gorgeous conglomerates, POA. dzekdzekdzek.com.
An engineered marble with designer Max Lamb, Marmoreal from Dzek of London. Award winning utterly gorgeous conglomerates, POA. dzekdzekdzek.com.

In the coming years Marmoreal has been limited largely to small feature panels and splash-backs in domestic builds as every metre demands a four figure spend.

Makers & Brothers in Dublin offered some lovely cheese boards in dark Marmoreal before their on-line shop slipped from sight. Even everyday quality terrazzo is bespoke, demanding a highly skilled install, and is priced as such.

A new appreciation of terrazzo has been encouraged by high-profile commercial renovations including the Michelberger Hotel in Berlin, and the Hotel National des Arts & Métiers in Paris (reopened 2018) — a fabulous reinvention in flamed black marble and acres of pale terrazzo.

Off the floor, the terrazzo look is channelled as flecked wallpapers, cast as candle-holders, realised in porcelain rectified tiling, linoleum, and poured in situ or made by the metre for countertops and water-fall ends in kitchens and bathrooms.

Diespeker cement tile in new Terrazzo imaginings, earthy and elegant; diespeker.co.uk.
Diespeker cement tile in new Terrazzo imaginings, earthy and elegant; diespeker.co.uk.

One of the celebrated tile pretenders, Bisazza’s Grit floor tiles by Tom Dixon offered a terrazzo note without the expense of a fully poured, polished, sealed floor.

With the real stuff, you may have trouble finding someone local to make up a proper poured and polished terrazzo floor.

This is a highly specialised work requiring skills in “wet” polishing and an experienced eye to ensure additional inclusions are added to the poured surface as required.

Voids and air holes must be filled along the way for a perfect floor. Many suppliers I spoke to were not involved in residential work, preferring commissions of 250sq m or more for this labour intensive material.

Together with a range of iconic, honest, stone flooring, Marc Barrett creates, repairs and restores composite terrazzo surfaces throughout Ireland, working largely in period homes and commercial buildings.

His portfolio is extensive, serving architects and building firms about 50/50.

Pale grey terrazzo deployed in the home of Cork architect Loic Dehaye as counter-top and flooring. Courtesy of  ldarchitects.ie.
Pale grey terrazzo deployed in the home of Cork architect Loic Dehaye as counter-top and flooring. Courtesy of ldarchitects.ie.

Having seen terrazzo surviving in 400-year-old buildings otherwise in ruins, I wondered, is it as tough as pure concrete and does it improves with age?

“Terrazzo is timeless and develops a patina over time under foot traffic, whereas ceramic and porcelain tile just date in the same 10-year period,” Marc explains.

“It gives you a very good consistency of aggregate compared to polished concrete as the terrazzo is mixed and placed under very controlled conditions. Polished concrete could be called ‘the poor man’s terrazzo’ and terrazzo will generally outlive the building.”

Can we use it outdoors without worry and what about walling? I presume there are expansion joints designed into the floor? Are these made in an epoxy or metal or is there a choice? “Terrazzo outdoors would be just polished to a lower level to guard against slipping,” Marc explains.

“Terrazzo walling is plastered on and counters can be installed in panels or poured in-situ on site.

Dividing strips are used to separate different colours and create a stop-joint. These are usually brass or aluminium. Expansion joints will be made of rubber and either aluminium or brass.

What sort of choices are there in terms of colour, density of speckling, and stone sizes? What’s the process?

“You can have any colour you can imagine,” Marc continues.

“The base product is always white, and the dye is added to achieve the client’s chosen colour.

Terrazzo has marched out of public spaces and 1970s architecture and can be delivered in an authentic polished aggregate or as porcelain and wallpaper pretenders. Picture: iStock.
Terrazzo has marched out of public spaces and 1970s architecture and can be delivered in an authentic polished aggregate or as porcelain and wallpaper pretenders. Picture: iStock.

"Marble or limestone aggregate is then added. There are thousands of different types of aggregate from all over the world.

"White cement and white Carrara Italian marble is a classic.

Still, these days we try and use local stone for environmental reasons. Why import stone, when we have some of the best quarries in the world?

Will it perform as well as concrete for my under-floor-heating? “Absolutely,” Marc emphasises, “At 18-20mm thick, it is perfectly suited to UFH".

Terrazzo has really excellent thermal properties. In terms of price, there are so many variants. In short, the more square metres you cover, the greater the economy.”

With thanks to my expert advisor this week, Marc Barrett of Solido, Millstreet, Cork, Solido.ie.

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