what is terrazzo?

by clé tile | published: Jan 19, 2024

Closeup of charcoal terrazzo surface with 3 rectangular terrazzo tiles in different light brown shades on top.

a selection of forage terrazzo

terrazzo has been rising in popularity in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. it appeals to a vast array of design styles, combining the versatility of solid color with the visual interest of a pattern or texture. foyer, living room, bathroom — there’s not a space it can’t bring warmth to. below, we’re diving into everything you need to know about terrazzo tile, from how it’s made to general maintenance and care tips.

what are terrazzo tiles?

head to the intersection of cement and stone, and that’s where you’ll find terrazzo. terrazzo is a composite material made by combining bits of glass, marble, granite, or other types of stone with a cement base. the dolci terrazzo tiles found in our cinema collection are stunning (and colorful) examples.

if you love natural stones like marble and travertine but also appreciate the versatility that comes with cement, terrazzo tile could be your perfect match. it’s a great choice for floors, walls, and backsplashes alike, with options ranging from quiet and subdued to bright and bold. it’s also highly durable and stain-resistant, making it relatively easy to maintain.

history of terrazzo tile

while it’s possible to trace the history of terrazzo all the way back to the mosaics of ancient egypt, terrazzo’s most recent ancestors come from italy. rumor has it venetian artisans created terrazzo using reclaimed remnants of marble that were left over from creating mosaics. they first experimented with the material on their own terraces, or terrazzos, hence the name.

fast forward to the late 1800s, and italian craftspeople (newcomers themselves) began to introduce terrazzo to the united states. these terrazzo artisans, or terazzeri, installed a terrazzo floor in the vanderbilt family’s fifth avenue mansion in new york city in the 1890s. it wasn’t long before the material gained a reputation for its beauty, versatility, and durability.

by the mid 1920s, electric machines had replaced many aspects of terrazzo’s labor-intensive manufacturing process, so it became much less expensive to create. newfangled metal divider strips also reduced terrazzo’s likelihood of cracking, making it possible to create the intricate, swirling designs of the art deco age.

historically, terrazzo has been poured in place: a time-consuming process that involves laying a thick cement slab to support a poured floor. this, of course, is not always feasible in renovation projects. that’s where terrazzo tile comes in. terrazzo tile can go places that poured terrazzo has never gone before, opening up a whole world of options.

Bar area with charcoal colored terrazzo tile on lower wall and blue patterned cement tile on upper wall.

upper wall: radar cement hex in federal blue + white; lower wall: forage terrazzo in charcoal design: radar brewing company / photo: william aaron sizemore

types of terrazzo tile

there are many ways to talk about terrazzo tile, depending on its particular style.

classic terrazzo, for example, usually refers to tile made with white or grey cement and natural stones like marble or granite. monochromatic terrazzo, on the other hand, refers to tile that uses a single color scheme for both the cement base and the aggregate.

then you have venetian terrazzo, also known as palladiana, which is characterized by larger, irregularly shaped stone pieces. the result is something punchy and bold that’s often associated with (you guessed it) venetian architecture. It has a more modern, more maximalist feel.

terrazzo comes in a whole spectrum of looks, and you’ll find that many tile options defy hard-and-fast categories.

how terrazzo tile is made

terrazzo tile is made by combining a cement base with chips of marble, granite, quartz, stone, or even glass, also known as aggregate. the mixture is then pressed into a mold, removed, and cured for several hours. once cured, the surface of the tile is ground and polished to reveal flecks of color that resemble confetti.

our forage collection is a beautiful example of this process. it combines a cement base with stone worn smooth from the forests and river beds of the great northeast. the result: a tile that’s rich in natural and neutral shades, blending earthy warmth with a modern twist.

what makes terrazzo unique

we can think of many reasons to opt for terrazzo when choosing your tile — versatility, durability, and sustainability, to name a few.

a world of possibilities

terrazzo is extremely customizable, thanks to how it’s made. cement color, chip size, materials used—they all come together to determine how the final tile will look. where some terrazzo tiles lean white or neutral, others go bold with playful colors and larger stone sizes.

truly timeless

people have admired terrazzo for its unique beauty for centuries. whether it’s gracing terraces in venice, lining the hollywood walk of fame, or welcoming visitors to the guggenheim in new york, terrazzo lends a timeless look to any space.

at long last

terrazzo tile is known for its durability, too. when properly installed and maintained, it can last for decades without showing major signs of wear and tear. it just so happens to resist stains and water, too, making it a great option for high-traffic areas.

thinking sustainably

because terrazzo is made using stone scraps, glass aggregate, and other waste materials, it also has an eco-conscious component. fun fact: the use of terrazzo even earns points under the leed green building rating system, making it a popular choice among architects and contractors in the commercial space.

White sink in a dark blue painted modern bathroom with a tan terrazzo tile backsplash.

forage terrazzo in shell. design: js dwellings interior design / photo: lauren logan photography

applications of terrazzo tile

terrazzo tile can be installed in virtually any room; it’s just that versatile. it’s especially durable in areas that see heavy foot traffic, such as foyer, mudroom, and kitchen floors. considering terrazzo for a fireplace surround, bathroom floor, or accent wall? it plays well in those areas too.

terrazzo is also a great option for small spaces like bathroom backsplashes. its large tile size requires fewer grout lines, making the space appear more open and streamlined.

wherever you choose to install terrazzo tile, you can delight in knowing that terrazzo’s patterned nature disguises normal wear and tear remarkably well.

Modern bathroom with tan terrazzo tile backsplash, grey countertop, and large circular mirror.

24x24” forage terrazzo in shell. design / photo: brianna hughes interiors

maintenance and care

as with cement and stone, a little maintenance goes a long way with terrazzo tile.

first, a note on sealing: you should plan to seal your tile regularly — and how often depends on where it is installed. generally, tiles in high-traffic areas should be resealed once or twice a year with a penetrating sealer. (if it’s a wet area, be sure that sealer offers waterproofing too.) tiles in low-traffic and dry areas can be resealed less often. your contractor and sealer manufacturer are your best resources here.

terrazzo flooring can also benefit from regular burnishing, which restores the tile’s slightly polished finish and minimizes the appearance of scratches. burnishing also offers extra protection against future wear and staining. talk to your contractor for a suggested burnishing schedule.

terrazzo tiles can be chemically sensitive, so look to mild ph neutral cleaners and soft scrubbers for everyday cleaning. soapless cleaners are especially great because they minimize streaks and film. also be sure to wipe up spills immediately, which will help prevent staining.

you can expect your tile to develop a natural patina over time, which is always a plus in our book.

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