Terrazzo is used extensively as an attractive, hardwearing floor surface in places such as banks, hotels, railway stations, supermarkets, public buildings and private homes all across the world. While mostly used for floors, terrazzo is a versatile material often used in Indonesia for walls, kitchen benchtops, washbasins, shower cubicles, baths, planter boxes and tubs, tables, bench seats; the list goes on and on. Its application is limited only by our imagination.
The origins of terrazzo can be traced back to ancient Egypt though the form we use today was made famous by 15th century Venetian craftsmen.
The popularity of terrazzo wains from time to time as fashions change however it keeps coming back into popular usage simply because it is such a useful material being attractive, very hardwearing, easy to clean and requires low maintenance.
Around the world there are many famous terrazzo floors that display stunning creativity such as the floor in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. It is used extensively in American public buildings as a result of extensive migration of Italian craftsmen to America. A well known example of the use of terrazzo is for the paving of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in which terrazzo stars are deliniated by brass strips and inserts.
So what is Terrazzo?
Terrazzo is a decorative surface layer about 10 to 15 mms think which is applied to a durable, stable surface, usually concrete. It is formed by mixing small stone or crystal chips with a coloured cement or polymer-based binder which is cast onto the surface as a render. Once cured, it is ground smooth exposing the stone chips. The surface is then polished to a shiny finish and sealed to protect it from wear and stains.
By using stains to colour the binder material and, by selecting stone, crystal and sea shell chips of different colours and hues, terrazzo can be made in a wide range of shades and textures.
It is often cast as panels with dividing strips of brass, aluminium, wood or glass and, by careful design of these panels, decorative motifs can be incorporated into the surface. These dividing strips act as expansion/movement joints and reduce the likelihood of cracking in the terrazzo itself.
Is it expensive?
In Indonesia terrazzo is very reasonable in price. The materials are not expensive and, while installing terrazzo is very labour intensive, labour costs in Indonesia are far lower than in Western countries.
How long will Terrazzo last?
If correctly installed and regularly maintained terrazzo can last for decades and, in the case of St Peter’s Basilica, hundreds of years.
The lifetime and appearance of terrazzo depends upon three criteria:
- How well the surface the terrazzo will be applied to has been designed and constructed.
- How well the terrazzo has been made and finished.
- How well the floor is maintained, it should be kept clean and resealed now and again to protect it from staining and damage.
Laying terrazzo is a specialist skill and there are many small factors in the process that are critical to the final outcome. Once the terrazzo has been ground smooth there is a nine stage process required to turn the rough surface into a gleaming polished finish.
Sadly we often see terrazzo in Bali that is cracked, stained or worn and has to be replaced after only a few short years. You might note that it is rare that you will see a terrazzo bath that doesn’t have cracks in it, a direct result of poor manufacture.
Recently we have been replacing a beautiful terrazzo floor in a villa complex. The floors were one of the most appealing features of these villas but mistakes had been made during the original construction. A waterproof membrane had not been installed and rising damp had badly etched and stained the terrazzo, the floors had not been laid on a strong enough base so the floors had cracked in places and coconut wood had been used as dividers and this had rotted away from underneath.
The problems were caused in the subfloor underneath the terrazzo so it was necessary to completely remove the floor and start again. The floor has now been relaid to match the original but with properly constructed foundations and using brass dividing strips. A lot of care has been taken to duplicate the original floor design matching the original colours and duplicating the ornamental design motif.
Can Terrazzo be repaired?
Yes it can as long as floor cracking, staining and surface damage is not too serious. Cracks can be repaired and surfaces can be reground, polished and sealed.
But beware, this is highly skilled work requiring specialist techniques and attention to detail. It is not advisable to let anyone near your terrazzo floors unless you are sure that they know what they are doing.
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