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Revolutionizing American Design with Terrazzo in the Eastern United States and Beyond

George Washington selected terrazzo as his flooring of choice at his mansion on his Mount Vernon Estate
Mount Vernon Estate Mansion

Invented in Italy, and then finding fame in the United States, it’s only fitting that one of the earliest examples of terrazzo flooring in America rests inside George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

As a military general, statesman and founding father who served as the first president of the United States, George Washington was a man of action who presided over the transformation of the small farmhouse built by his father into a 21-room mansion over the course of 45 years. A unique flooring material from Italy caught Washington’s discerning eye and upon further inspection, he chose terrazzo to provide “beauty underfoot” at Mount Vernon. Over 250 years later, Mount Vernon remains in stellar condition due, in large part, to the durability and longevity of terrazzo. Just a short drive from Washington D.C., if you ever have a chance to tour this historic American site, you will walk away impressed by its beauty.

Another prime example of the early use of terrazzo in the United States, sadly, has been lost. Adorned with terrazzo floors in 1890, the Cornelius Vanderbilt residence on Fifth Avenue in New York City was eventually torn down to make way for the Bergdorf Goodman Department Store. Even so, the choice of terrazzo for the home of one of America’s most prominent and wealthy families cemented terrazzo’s reputation as an exceptional material that shortly thereafter began showing up in residences in the Eastern United States and beyond.

Once confined to the homes of America’s rich and famous, terrazzo became the flooring of choice for government & commercial projects during the 1920s and 1930s for two key reasons. Architects, embracing the curves of art deco and other modern styles, found terrazzo the ideal medium to express their designs, while the invention of the electric grinder in 1924 pushed the use of terrazzo to new heights, thanks to faster installation and lowered costs.

The Cornelius Vanderbilt II House, 1 West 57th Street, New York City

Soon, many illustrious buildings boasting innovative craftsmanship and longevity showcased terrazzo as an important design element. A few examples include New York City’s Empire State Building and Radio City Music Hall, the John Adams Building in Washington D.C., the massive Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Union Terminal in Cincinnati, as well as many iconic hotels and theaters in the art deco saturated cities of Miami and Miami Beach.

Embraced as a natural medium to convey curvature and intricate designs, terrazzo was also pegged as “ideal” for sub-tropical to tropical climates due to its ability to remain cool on hot days. That is why you will find so many examples of terrazzo in Miami and surrounding communities. The Carlyle Hotel on Ocean Drive and the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road in South Beach are just two buildings that feature the miles of terrazzo framing South Florida architecture in elegant style and vibrant colors.

Terrazzo also added modern flair to residential homes throughout Florida (as well as California) during the post- World War II building boom. However, during the carpeting, tile and engineered flooring eras that followed, many terrazzo floors were covered with these materials and destined to go unnoticed for years.

Fortunately, today’s homeowners are enjoying a renewed interest in terrazzo, hoping to restore the “hidden gem” concealed under more pedestrian flooring to its former glory. It’s not uncommon to see house hunters touring mid-century homes these days and peeking under the carpet to see if terrazzo is there. If it is, it’s met with extreme delight!

As one of the oldest flooring options dating back to sixteenth-century Italy, terrazzo continues to evolve into an exceptional twenty-first-century flooring material that is versatile and consistently kind to the environment. Consisting of durable materials such as marble, quartz, granite or recycled glass mixed with cement or low VOC epoxy, it is a sustainable, smooth and uniformly textured surface that offer designers, architects, and builders unlimited flexibility to create stunning floors. Durable and easy to maintain, terrazzo has not only enjoyed a resurgence in the residential building market, but also in institutional and commercial sectors. It is being used in the expansion and renovation of many public buildings including (in South Florida alone) the Miami Beach Convention Center, Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport and Cruise Terminal 18 in Port Everglades.

Port Everglades Cruise Terminal 18

With terrazzo, the possibilities for design are endless. Consider the “Great Texaco Road Map” intricately created in terrazzo at the New York State Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair, or the lifelike elephants, giraffes and other exotic animals gracing the floors of the Kalahari Casino in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, not to mention the “Green City on a Blue Lake” artistic creations at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Without a doubt, there is no other flooring surface that lends itself to awe-inspiring and unforgettable depictions. An investment in terrazzo is an investment in timeless beauty.

Are you interested in incorporating terrazzo into your design-build project? With an incredible color palette and content made from up to 72% post-consumer recycled materials, TREND Terrazzo is an ideal option for both commercial and residential floors, walls and countertops. For some hues, fragments of mirror or mother-of-pearl are incorporated to enhance the surface and give it a special reflective effect. Some glass-based colors can be backlit and used for various purposes such as countertop and wall applications, reception desks, tub surrounds and more. At TREND Group, we’ve gone above and beyond to produce terrazzo options that spark the imagination and provide a lifetime of enjoyment. Click on “terrazzo” on the home page of our website to view our diverse array of cutting-edge products replete with twenty-first-century style!

If you’d like to reach us, click on “contact” to send us an email, or call toll-free (866) 655-0164. Born with Style, we are TREND Group.

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