A Brief History of Terrazzo

While the Vanderbilts of the Gilded Age are best known for expertise in railroads and social climbing, they aren’t often credited for their contributions to design. Terrazzo flooring—a Venetian technique of tossing chipped marble, granite, glass, or quartz in a cement binder that is later ground and polished—became fashionable in the United States after the family installed it in their Fifth Avenue mansion. Unbeknownst to them, this would fuel botha wave of Italian artisan immigration and an aesthetic movement. After the Vanderbilts, terrazzo flooring went on an American tour during the 1900s and was used in projects ranging from the floors of Hoover Dam to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. The technique was a favorite of the architect Richard Neutra, who used the flooring for his Midcentury Modern Southern California homes.

A Tiled Tradition Terrazzo Flooring got its name from the 15th-century artisans who used the technique for their terraces (or terrazzos).

Nearly 150 years after terrazzo’s American debut, the Maestrelli family, from Florence, continues to celebrate its charm in Venice. At their new hotel, Violino d’Oro (opening this fall), Sara Maestrelli and her aunt Elena enlisted the Asin family, one of the oldest floormaking clans in Italy, to help bring the property alive. “Every renovation that we have ever done has been with the Asins,” says Sara, whose family also owns the Grand Hotel Minerva in Florence and Villa Roma Imperiale in Forte dei Marmi.

The Main Attraction Chips of marble, granite, quartz, and glass are blended in cement and resin to create this blooming botanic.

The Violino d’Oro resides in a 17th-century building near Rio S. Moisé, and while it has a Renaissance façade, architects Piera Tempesti Benelli, Riccardo Burigana, and Tiziana Folin have given the interiors a modern face-lift. There are decorative elements that signal tradition and others that nod to the contemporary. But perhaps the mosaics laid on thehotel’s floor are the best metaphor for the spirit of Venice. “Venice is usually seen by tourists as only one thing,” Sara says. “But the city is truly a conglomerate of many precious pieces. It’s a ton of colors, shades, historical moments…and that is what terrazzo is.”

Slow & Steady The process of creating the floors used in the hotel is a patient one. Each piece is laid by hand; it takes two hours of work per flower.

Asin Ermino (the company’s official name) has a portfolio that includes elaborate mosaics in private homes, modern patterns in museums, andeven work in a Belgian theater. Today, 90-year-old Eraldo Asin is at the helm of his family’s company,in the third generation of craftsmen to do so. His son Luca is in the fourth.

The Asins created mosaics of floral motifs for the Violino d’Oro. Each detail, from vibrant petals to stigmas, requires the team to sit down, cut marble cubes, and layer each one precisely. The flowers can be created only by hand, no matter how long it takes. But the Maestrellis are not in a rush. “It’s very difficult to work this way when you live in a world that works at a different pace,” Sara says. “This process is slower, but the flooring will stand the test of time. Things that are created quickly die quickly.”

This story appears in the September 2023 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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