Preserving a Retro Gem

Original terrazzo flooring can be easily restored to its glistening luster and chic style.

For lovers of mid-century Orlando homes, what’s old is new again—especially when it comes to terrazzo flooring. 

Terrazzo, from the Italian for “terrace,” is a mosaic material that until the 1970s was made from marble chips embedded in cement, poured in place and polished. The result was a seamless, cool, high-gloss floor that was well-suited to Florida’s steamy climate.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, not everybody had air conditioning, so terrazzo was a way to keep homes a lot cooler without having a plain concrete floor,” says Geoffrey Woods, CEO of GreenWise Flooring in Orlando.

Today’s terrazzo—most commonly found in office buildings, malls and airports—comprises chips of glass, mirror, quartz, granite, mother of pearl or marble mixed with epoxy.

“Architects love epoxy because you can achieve fire engine red, deep purple—colors you can’t achieve with cement terrazzo,” says Ronnie Roman, owner of Alpine Terrazzo in Maitland. “They can incorporate whatever different exotic aggregates” they want and design anything from swirls to geometric shapes.

But terrazzo fell out of favor for residential use in the 1970s because of its escalating cost.

“You’re not going to spend $25,000 [to install terrazzo] if you have a 1,000- square-foot home,” Roman says. 

That’s one reason today’s owners of homes from the golden age of terrazzo want to preserve their flooring, says Woods, who specializes in terrazzo restoration. About a quarter of his customers tell him they specifically sought a home with terrazzo, he says, while the rest unearth it beneath damaged hardwood or threadbare carpeting and are savvy enough to cherish their find. “My terrazzo business has at least tripled since I started in 2004,” Woods says.

Restoration starts with removal of any other flooring that was put down over the original terrazzo throughout the years. Then Woods brings in his 450-pound grinding machine, which uses diamond abrasives to restore the surface to either a glass-like reflective look or a more burnished look, depending on customers’ preferences. Patch work, stain removal and application of a stain guard take place as the grinding proceeds. The entire process usually takes five or six days for 1,000 square feet of terrazzo.

Durability, ease of maintenance and sustainability are the hallmarks of terrazzo. Because of its hardness, terrazzo is impact- and scratch-resistant. It’s also waterproof, fireproof and easy to clean.  

“Dust mopping is probably the most important thing,” Woods says, or an eco-friendly steam mop to “melt” away spills. Additional buffing every three to five years will rejuvenate any dulled areas, he says.

Terrazzo will last the lifetime of a building with little maintenance, so its “green” credentials are outstanding—and a big plus for homeowners.

Woods says he hears from a lot of customers that restoring their terrazzo “is an environmentally responsible thing to do.”

With all that it has going for it, terrazzo remains popular among designers of big facilities with a lot of foot traffic—and, of course, the ultra-wealthy.

“The only residential jobs I’ve done are for multimillionaires,” Roman says, “and they put it in the garage where they have their million-dollar cars sitting on it.”

FYI: Know the Costs 

Installation: cost per square foot is $17-25 and up, depending on the aggregate used.
Restoration: cost per square foot starts at about $4.  

Categories: Advice, Home Improvement