Preserving the Tile and Terrazzo Entry in Your Historic Building | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Preserving the Tile and Terrazzo Entry in Your Historic Building

Preserving the Tile and Terrazzo Entry in Your Historic Building | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeTile floor entrance

Madison, Wisconsin. Building owners would use all available spaces to proudly advertise their business and/or their own name. Source: Photographer Mark Fay.

EnlargeTile floor

WHS Headquarters Building, 1896

Madison, Wisconsin. Decorative tile floors as seen at the Wisconsin Historical Society are durable when maintained properly. This floor is 118 years old. Source: Photographer Mark Fay. View the property record: AHI 16108

The storefront entrance of your historic commercial building may have a tile or terrazzo floor surface. Tile and terrazzo were widely used to create an attractive and inviting entryway into a building. These surfaces were typically used in recessed store entryways with display windows on either side. Entrances with tile floors became popular by the 1870s and continued to be popular well into the 20th century. Terrazzo became widely used by the early 1900s. If your building has one of these floor surfaces, it is an important character-defining feature of your building and should be preserved.

Tile Flooring

Tile flooring typically consists of small pieces of glazed tile that are square or hexagonal in shape. The tiles are laid in an interlocking pattern, sometimes with contrasting colors and borders. Tile floors have proven to be quite durable. If you maintain your tile entrance, it could last indefinitely. If your tile floor is damaged or is missing some pieces, you can still get replacement tiles from many tile suppliers.

Terrazzo Flooring

EnlargeTerrazzo floor

Masonic Temple Terrazzo Floor

Monroe, Wisconsin. Similar to tile floors, terrazzo is limitless in regards to color and design. The floor at the Masonic Temple in Monroe used three different terrazzo mixes. Source: Photographer Jen Davel. View the property record: AHI 92084

If your building was constructed in the early 20th century and the storefront entrance has a smooth, polished appearance, then the floor may be made of terrazzo. The use of terrazzo dates back to Roman times, but it was not until the early 20th century that advances in manufacturing techniques made terrazzo affordable for many commercial building owners. Terrazzo was widely used for storefront entrances from the 1920s to the 1950s. Terrazzo floors blended well with buildings constructed during this time period in the Art Deco and Moderne styles, as well as for storefronts remodeled with structural glass.

Terrazzo is a manufactured composite of natural marble chippings or other durable aggregates set in a cement matrix with added color pigments. The marble chippings are made from a wide range of colors and sizes and set in nearly any color of cement matrix to create various shades and patterns. The aggregate color and composition are exposed by grinding and polishing the surface after the matrix has set. Terrazzo was highly prized because of its durability and ability to be poured and molded into a wide range of colors and designs. Business owners frequently placed their name or the type of their business in letters within the terrazzo surface.

Tile and Terrazzo Best Practices

EnlargePoor terrazzo floor repair

UW Madison - Memorial Union, 1928

Madison, Wisconsin. While terrazzo floors are very durable surfaces, cracks can appear due to initial building settlement. It is recommended to hire a professional to make repairs - otherwise the repair could be more noticeable than the crack itself. Source: Photographer Ginny Way. View the property record: AHI 106834

When you are making maintenance and repair decisions about the tile or terrazzo flooring in your historic storefront, follow these best practices:

  • Preserve and maintain your tile and terrazzo floors through regular cleaning. When you clean tile or terrazzo, use a pH (hydrogen ion) balanced cleaner to avoid damaging or staining the surface.
  • Preserve the original historic identification features in your flooring. Any historic identification features in your tile or terrazzo, such as lettering and dates, are important character-defining features of your building and should not be removed or concealed.
  • Repair small chips or cracks using a terrazzo repair kit. Terrazzo floor repairs can range from discoloration and staining to chipping and cracking. If your terrazzo floor has small chips or cracks, use one of the terrazzo patching kits that are widely available to repair your floor. Kits are available with a polymer resin to repair chips, cracks, divots and similar types of terrazzo damage. You inject the resin into the floor with a syringe-like tool. Kits are also available for larger areas with missing marble chips to fill in the missing areas. Purchase a kit that most closely matches the color of your terrazzo floor.
  • EnlargeTerrazzo floor repairs

    UW Madison - Memorial Union, 1928

    Madison, Wisconsin. Repairing or installing new terrazzo floors require specific skills. It is recommended to hire a professional to complete such tasks. Source: Photographer Ginny Way. View the property record: AHI 106834

    Hire a professional for extensive terrazzo repairs. If areas of your terrazzo floor are badly stained or damaged, you will have to cut the damaged terrazzo out and patch in new terrazzo to that area. You should hire a professional for this this type of repair work, because the work requires skill in combining the concrete and chippings to match the original terrazzo.  More extensive repairs may also require an industrial terrazzo floor grinder to smooth over the rough edges of the repaired portion.
  • Polish your repaired floors with an electric floor buffer. Use a lambswool pad and run the buffer over your floor. Apply a clear polyurethane finish to protect your floor from absorbing dirt and stains.

The information presented here is not intended to provide comprehensive technical advice or instructions on solving historic preservation issues. Any information contained or referenced is meant to provide a basic understanding of historic preservation practices. Read full disclaimer.