TERRAZZO FLOORS ARE BACK IN STYLE
By: Bill Thornton,
Why is Terrazzo so popular again? It is beautiful and seamless. And, nowadays, it is very easy to maintain. Many Floridians are lucky because there is a treasure trove of original 50’s/60’s terrazzo buried in their homes, under the carpet, under the tile, even under the linoleum. In the 1950’s to early 1970’s terrazzo became the floor of choice for most Florida homes. It is now referred to as Mid Century Modern. Formerly, when building a home the contractor would put up the exterior foundation walls, then pour the 5/8-inch thick terrazzo floor in place. The floor would be ground smooth before installing the interior walls on top of the terrazzo.
What caused the popularity of these Mid Century Modern Floors to decline? There was no easy home maintenance; and, professional maintenance workers were lacking. So many floors became scratched, stained and damaged. When the mid 70’s arrived, carpeting became popular, especially shag carpeting. Shag carpeting lead to the great Florida ‘cover-up’.
Let’s understand terrazzo better. The word terrazzo is from the Italian word for terraces. In the 15th Century, Venetian stone workers began utilizing their waste chips, left over from marble slab processing. They mixed the chips with cement, and laid the floors of the terraces around their living quarters. The surfaces were durable but uncomfortable to walk on. So they began hand sanding the surface to make it flat and more comfortable. It was considered a good-looking durable floor. They even began to make designs in the floor that couldn’t be achieved by traditional marble laying.
In the late 18th Century, European craftsmen brought an advanced, smoother, more polished terrazzo to America. It was used mainly in Historic and Monumental architecture. It was durable, seamless, good looking but required continued maintenance.
Today, contemporary architects often choose new terrazzo for floors both for interior and exterior use. However, the Mid Century Modern Terrazzo floors are making a comeback too. In most cases, old terrazzo can be refurbished for a fraction of a new floor’s cost.
Old floors will need regrinding, chip repair, and attention to stains. Nail holes from old carpet tack strips, and gouges, discovered from the past, can be chiseled out. Then new marble chips are matched to the old chips. Also, the new cement is matched to the color of the old cement.
Most restoration repairs are virtually invisible. When the repairs are complete, each is inspected for color blend and match. Very old stains can be the most difficult. Some have gone so deep, that even a stain-removing poultice cannot completely remove it. However, much of the residual stain can be removed in the grinding process. Now for the final refinishing process. The first step is grinding the floor with a diamond-bonded disk. There are a series of finer and finer sanding disks to remove all scratches and complete the smoothing process. The last step is to “final polish” the terrazzo. There is a special powder and polisher that gives the floor a hard glass like finish over a bright clean floor. This polishing restores luster to the chips and produces a very hard durable lasting high-shine. If any stains remain they will be lighter cleaner stains that can proudly proclaim the authenticity of the Mid Century floor.
Advancement in floor care restoration and maintenance allows us to bring back these floors to their original beauty. More and more homeowners, lucky enough to have homes with these original floors, are choosing to restore them. A reward for this effort is that Terrazzo floors are easy to maintain. Since they are seamless, it is easier to keep a very clean home. Just mop, as necessary, using warm water and occasionally with a ‘neutral’ floor cleaner. That is all there is to it.