Life Style

The Make-Do Joys of Terrazzo

Freed from the constraints of frames and flat surfaces, terrazzo can be as versatile as clay. In the London-based sound artist and designer Yuri Suzuki’s Totem collection of miniature linking toys, the compound forms stackable palm-size trinkets: pancake-like disks, conical towers, off-kilter spheres and wobbly calisson-shaped boats. Produced by the Majorcan cement and tile manufacturer Huguet as part of a collaboration with the design agency Pentagram, where Suzuki is a partner, the series invites both adults and children to “play and find a composition that they like,” says Suzuki, 42. The whimsically shaped objects recall one of the few pre-existing examples of fine-art terrazzo: the kaleidoscopic, glass-specked furniture by the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata, a member of the freewheeling ’80s-era Milan-based Memphis Group, which has long inspired Suzuki. “Growing up in Japan, everything was minimalist,” Suzuki recalls, but “the Italian movement was bright.”

Usually, “all we see of rocks is their dusty exterior,” says David Wiseman, 42, a Los Angeles-based artist known for his ornate light fixtures and furniture resembling flora and fauna. But he has similarly relied on terrazzo — which he makes using minerals such as emeralds, opals and jasper — for over a decade as a source of color in his otherwise restrained palette of bronze and porcelain. At his studio in Frogtown, shaping the material into complex organic forms — for example, the negative space in an undulating biomorphic stool’s bronze latticework seat — is one of his most labor-intensive tasks. “I can only do one little angle at a time,” Wiseman says. His precise compositions reveal each gem’s deep jewel tones and delicate veining, offering a glimpse into what he calls the “interior world of rocks.”

Other makers, however, are forgoing rocks altogether. The 38-year-old British Chinese designer Elaine Yan Ling Ng’s dappled, terrazzoesque rectangular Carrelé tiles, which come in zellige-like shades such as blush and jade green, are made from crushed eggshells discarded by bakeries and restaurant kitchens. And the French designer Anna Saint Pierre, 32, creates her speckled Granito flooring surface by setting chunks of construction debris in limestone, terra cotta and black-tinted concrete, working on site during renovation projects to repurpose scraps in situ. It’s a method that recalls the make-do spirit from which terrazzo arose — but also one that underscores its potential in an era that calls for more sustainable materials and less expected quarries. “Stones,” and possible stand-ins, says Saint Pierre, “are lying all over the place.”

Photo assistant: Timothy Mulcare

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