“You’re doing what with chorizo?” “No, no. Nothing about chorizo. Terrazzo.” I’m trying to tell a friend about my latest workshop booking, but we’re on a hen do and have had somewhere between 3 and 7 glasses of Prosecco, so it’s tough. Understandably, though, she wasnt expecting “I’m casting terrazzo” as the answer to “what are you up to next weekend?”
Bought as a birthday gift for a (different) friend, we were going to be making jesmonite terrazzo coasters, because what else do you buy your extremely talented and creative designer friend when she turns 30?
What is Terrazzo?
Terrazzo is a composite material made up of chips of (usually) marble, glass or other minerals, suspended in a binding material. It’s been around since the 18th century in Italy and is most commonly used in flooring, tiles and worktops.
The Terrazzo Trend
For a while, terrazzo was a little passe and it faded from the style books, consigned to cheap plastic floor tiles in airports (which of course aren’t real terrazzo, but printed to look that way).
But more recently, it’s re-emerged with a contemporary colourful look. You’ll find it on wallpaper, accessories and back in stylish kitchens and bathrooms. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to its pleasingly abstract, spotty brilliance.
What’s Jesmonite Terrazzo?
Surface artists will often use jesmonite for a modern take on terrazzo. It’s a composite material itself (which just means it’s made of lots of different things), comprising plaster, cement and water-based resin. It’s solvent-free, non-toxic and much better for the environment than plastic-based materials. It’s also super light, quick-drying and easy to colour.
And that’s why we found ourselves in the airy, light-filled studios of Olivia Aspinall. Olivia’s a surface designer based in Nottingham who creates stunning, bespoke surface projects for private and commercial clients.
Happily for us, she also runs fantastic interactive workshops where you can learn a tiny fraction of her craft, get creative and make your own coasters.
Making Terrazzo Coasters
With coffee drunk and aprons on, we gathered round the worktable for Olivia’s introduction to terrazzo, jesmonite and our recipe for the day. The process looks a bit like this: create some thin ‘chips’ of jesmonite in a variety of colours, then stir these into a second jesmonite mix (which will be the ‘background colour’). Pour the whole lot into a mould and, once set, pop out to sand and seal.
But before we can do anything, we need to decide on a colour scheme. To match the living room I’m currently redecorating, I chose a warm colour scheme of dusty pink, coral, mustard and sage green – at the last minute, I threw in some extra white chips for contrast.
Colours sorted, we mixed a measured amount of jesmonite powder with our chosen liquid pigments. Then we thinly spread the mixture over a sheet of clear plastic, where it set in just a few minutes, becoming brittle enough to break up into shards.
After making up our ‘background’ batch, we stirred in the shards like chocolate chips into cookie batter. The size and density of the shards would affect the finished look, so I’ll leave you to imagine how annoyingly I agonised over every decision…
We poured the combined mixture into square silicone moulds and left them to set. It takes around 24 hours for these jesmonite coasters to fully cure, but after just 20 minutes they’re firm enough to pop out, sand and seal with a little wax.
I love my finished coasters. How much is it appropriate to love coasters? I love these more. I went straight from the workshop to a friend’s leaving drinks, and insisted on unwrapping them to show everyone there. The colour scheme worked out exactly as I’d hoped, and making something yourself is always hugely satisfying.
Try It Yourself
Working with jesmonite terrazzo isn’t super widespread, but I’ve collated every workshop I can find below. Olivia is a wonderful teacher and I highly recommend her workshops if you can make one!