I am constantly challenging the technical limits of terrazzo and find the creative possibilities increase yearly.
I began exploring crushed glass and epoxy terrazzo in 1994 and found the material to be quite versatile and colorful. It behaves differently than your classical cementitious terrazzo in several ways. For one thing, it can be cast in very thin tolerances. Using a clear matrix with recycled glass, I was able to produce “translucent terrazzo”— a largely vitreous surface that lets light pass through it. This ground polished terrazzo surface is essentially a lense. The color of the lense is infinitely programmable, based on your glass mixes. The trick is to always use a strong percentage of clear glass as your base.
Translucent terrazzo as a countertop or bar top can be visually dazzling, particularly at night. Mount long fluorescent lights below the surface and a diffuser in between to evenly spread the light. The surface itself becomes a glowing lamp and depending on how you set it up, it can provide ambient light or function as a night light, to dramatic effect.
Excited about this new material, I created a variety of wall-mounted lamps with varied lenses that I named The Porthole Sconce Collection. Porthole because the circular lamp was housed in a round and decorative spun aluminum can that was produced by the now-defunct Gem Metal Spinning and Stamping Co. in Long Island City, NY (see The Story Behind the Vase Table to learn about the aluminum spinning process). Wiring the guts of the lamp and the switch was simple enough, but my first bulbs were incandescent. Although vented, heat built up in the can and discolored the prototype lense. Switching to cooler CFC bulbs solved this concern.
The pictured Tutti Frutti sconce is composed of clear glass in a clear matrix with color bits of “fruit” that was the detritus from a friend’s stained glass workshop. (Crush colored glass is commercially available of course. Red is the most expensive, followed by orange, and then yellow glass.)
I had located a local source for crushed glass at the time I was making the translucent terrazzo lamps – National Display Materials on North Sixth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Run by the genial Adolph Brenner, their business was largely supplying aquarium glass to pet supply stores on the East Coast. They had their own onsite crusher. They bought waste glass from bottle manufacturers. I watched the nascent Williamsburg hipster phenomenon pick up steam and saw how small manufacturers were being steadily displaced. In 1996, National Display Materials closed their business. I did the usual, which was to buy a couple of tons of crushed glass at close-out prices. The cost of shipping aggregates can be as much as the cost of the aggregates themselves, so one does not hesitate to buy in this situation and do the shipping yourself.
I showed The Porthole Sconce Collection of translucent terrazzo lamps at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair — and they were a big hit. They received coverage in Residential Lighting and Home Lighting and Accessories, two trade magazines. I sold some lamps, and despite strong interest from lighting retailers, I discovered that I had little interest in becoming a lighting manufacturer. This experience helped me understand my true passion for doing precast terrazzo. I am attracted to furniture, surfacing and custom work. This is still the case. If you need a translucent terrazzo surface, give me a call.