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Terrazzo: The Beginning

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

This week, we’re going to talk about the history of terrazzo. Some of you may have seen this type of flooring but only a few actually know its name and what it’s made of. In the last few year Terrazzo has become very trendy and we want to share with you why. We hope this blog entry will make you appreciate its unique beauty.

History of Terrazzo

Terrazzo is Italian for “terrace”. Around 500 years ago,

Oldest Terrazzo Floor

terrazzo floors were invented in Friuli, Italy by resourceful mosaic workers who were trying to look for ways to reuse marble fragments. Fractured pieces of natural stone or river rock were hand laid, piece by piece,

Workers laying fractured pieces, piece by piece

set using a clay binder. Once the clay binder hardened, terrazzo workers used galera,

Workers with their galera

a long-handled, weighted grinding stone, as a tool to grind and polish the terrazzo.

Grinding and polishing terrazzo

Finally, terrazzo workers applied goats milk to give the floor a saturated and finished appearance. This original recycled floor was know as Palladiana terrazzo.

Palladiana Terrazzo

Modern versions of Palladiana terrazzo are still being installed today. Check out some modern examples here.

Terrazzo was known before as the “Floor Meant for Kings and Queens”. According to the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association, Inc., “today’s highly evolved terrazzo is an environmentally friendly material that combines extraordinary design potential, optimum durability, low maintenance. Terrazzo is the lowest cost flooring material available based on its life cycle”. Today, almost anyone could own a terrazzo floor.

Terrazeri: The True Artists

Between 1900 and 1915, three million Italians immigrated to the United States (US) to work as terrazzo and mosaic workers. They were called the terazzeri. The wonders of their craft were guarded with utmost secrecy. These were handed down from generation to generation. As the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association (NTMA) puts it, “These family businesses built a powerful network of firms that expanded the terrazzo trade and dominated the market across the US.”

The United States Meets Terrazzo

From the late 1870s to the 1920s, an American socialite named Cornelius Vanderbilt II built mansions in 5th Avenue, New York. He lived in those mansions with his brothers and sons. The majority of those mansions had been demolished. Although they turned into pieces, it is still noteworthy that Italian craftsmen laid the first US terrazzo in their mansions.

The 1920s: The Rise of Terrazzo

Thanks to the invention of the electric grinder,

Terrazzo workers with their Electric Grinders

the installation of terrazzo has become a lot quicker. This permitted for lowers costs as well as better floor quality. The electric grinder really helped grow the trade and spread terrazzo all over the US. Some of the noteworthy buildings that were built with terrazzo are: State Building, Radio City Music Hall, and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. As the growth of terrazzo continued the industry created its governing body, the National Terrazzo Mosaic Association (NTMA) and in 1924, the NTMA was founded.

NTMA Original Conference

Divider Strips

The invention of the divider strips opened endless possibilities of creating highly artistic, intricate patterns and designs on terrazzo floors.

Divider Strips (Aluminum, Zinc, Brass)

Divider strips are commonly used in terrazzo flooring to serve two basic needs: form and function. The divider strip is heart and soul – the centerpiece of what makes terrazzo work. Up until this point terrazzo contractors used mosaics as divider strips to help separate colors and create patterns.

Mosaic Terrazzo Divider

Terrazzo Today

Today, there are unlimited ways to experiment with colors. Epoxies, polyester, latex, and acrylics have made terrazzo more cost-effective, high functioning, and versatile. Today the market is dominated by thin-set epoxy terrazzo as the older cementitious system are phasing out. Epoxy terrazzo provides the most durable, crack resistant, color range and consistency, superior stain resistance and flexibility of aggregate material. With terrazzo, we are able to continue to be eco-friendly and sustainable as the trade initially started. Epoxy terrazzo contains no Volatile Organic Compounds and can contain up to 70% post consumer recycled content.

Terrazzo Cross Section Diagram

Some manufactures such as Terroxy Resin Systems by Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies offer HPDs and have Greenguard Gold Certified Epoxy Resins.

Truly, the advancements and possibilities with terrazzo have not yet ended. We are excited for what’s to come. We hope you are too. Thanks for reading. See you on our next blog!


NTMA- History of Terrazzo

The History of Terrazzo -

Terrazzo -

Divider Strips:

Terrazzo Divider Strips profile -

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