Planning a mosaic floor 1


Planning a Roman mosaic floor

w1 full shot with fountain

This is a basic outline of how to plan out a small marble mosaic floor for your home. There is a lot more in the individual sections and via the links, but this should give you an idea of what is involved. It will cover the technical side plus how to look at the costs. I will be imagining a mosaic floor of 2 m x 2m (6' x 6') using marble 10 mm thick and roughly 10 mm along each side.

What you need;

Knowledge of how to set a Roman mosaic


You need to know about The Rules so you can show your mosaic to be 'Roman' and not just modern.  I teach here in the UK and have the workshop manual, As well as teaching you The Rules the manual will also teach you how to work on larger mosaics in the most effective way. A two metre square mosaic using 10 mm tesserae and you are looking at 140,000 - 180,000 tesserae. See here for more information on The Rules.

To learn these elsewhere you have to go to Ravenna (Luciana Notturni, or one of the Italian schools, Spilimbergo, Rome) where they teach it or find someone in your own country. Look around, though you will find very few teachers specialising in ancient mosaics. In the USA look up Michael Kruzich (MK Mosaics) a very experienced teacher. 

Patterns and how to scale them up

If you're happy drawing out your mosaic then fine but there are certain things to learn about scaling up etc that will help. Also with geometric patterns being able to draw a nice, geometrically accurate pattern is ok but it can be very different if you try to set a mosaic from it. Guess what, I've got a manual for that! If there were others I'd tell you, it's not rocket science but you can save yourself a lot of wasted time by getting this right from the start. Geometric manual details  here


A level floor area suitable to lay the mosaic on, this might be a patio area or part of your kitchen. You might be lifting tiles/slabs and laying the mosaic in the recess or having the floor tiled and then having a space left for the mosaic. Either way you must be sure that the base is suitable for your mosaic to be set on. If you are in any doubt whatsoever I would advise you pay a tiler to come in and check it for you. Your base needs to be level and low enough to take the tesserae and the adhesive (usually a 3mm thick layer). Does the floor move? Is it over wooden floorboards? Are you tiling over existing tiles or taking them up? These are all things you need to consider.

What method will you use?

What method will you use, and do you feel confident with it? Basically I would go for either the Direct or the Reverse method. Direct is great as you either do your mosaic on mesh of put the adhesive down and place the tesserae directly into it. The Reverse, sticking the tesserae face down onto brown paper, is good as the backs of the tesserae are free of anything that could interfere with the adhesive bonding but you need to be careful when you flip the panels over. 

Whatever method you use you need to practice with it if you're unfamiliar before doing your main mosaic.

Tesserae (tiles) 

If you choose to use a material other than marble then you can skip this bit.

Using 10mm thick tesserae you need 24 kgs per square metre (53lbs per 3' x 3'). 

What colours? You need the primary earth colours first, black, off white, light red and yellow. Then go for a couple of greens and shades of red, (there is a video here on choosing stone).

Getting the correct marble and preparing and working with it can be broken down in several choices. For all though as you are using marble over 6 - 7mm thick you will need a hammer and hardie. Prices vary from about £65.00 up for the tools plus you will then need to source a block. Click here for information on these tools. The options for getting your marble are;

  1. Buy it all cut and then just cut individual shapes, triangles etc, with a hammer and hardie. The most expensive option plus suppliers will have machine cut tesserae meaning they are all exact squares which gives the mosaic a modern look.
  2. Buy rods and cut them into tesserae - This means you end up with tesserae that are slightly irregular which gives a much better look. The drawback though is not many companies outside of Italy produce rods. Rods can vary in price from £5.00 - £12.00 per kilo (24 kgs needed per one square metre).
  3. Buy tiles and cut them into rods using a wet saw. Wet saws are noisy and messy and you need the right type but this is the cheapest option. Here is an article on using them. You will need to do a bit of searching though to get the right marble tiles and sometimes companies don't like selling small amounts. For one square metre though marble tiles (i.e. from 10cm - 30cm along each edge) can be from £25.00 up which makes it much cheaper than buying rods but don't forget the shipping charge!

Adhesive - grout - sealants

Put simply it's a bit like a four layer sandwich, you have the adhesive/cement on the base, then the tesserae surrounded by the grout, then the sealant. Those are the elements you need. I don't tend to specify particular brands for these as there are so many and with so much changing you really need to talk to experts about these. It's all about asking the right questions. See what is available in your local tile store, see what they recommend then go home and call the technical helplines, if you've had a tiler in to asses your base see what they recommend. If you get differing opinions then I would go with what the manufacturers suggest as they are the ones to have to guarantee their stuff. Below is a very basic outline of the layers;

  1. Adhesive/cement - suitable for the tesserae and the base it's going on. Doesn't need to be white unless you are using Carrara or Thassos white marble.
  2. Grout - needs to be fine enough to get in the gaps (sometimes referred to as the 'interstices') between the tesserae. I always go for a light/mid grey colour.
  3. Sealants - Lithofin, LTP, Universal, Fila are some of the companies in the UK. Make sure you talk to them so you get the right one for your stone. Usually you apply one layer before grouting and then more after. After grouting you apply layers until when you put drops of water on the surface they just sit there and don't soak in, they all come with specific instructions.

I can't stress enough the need for you to get this part correct. Talk to the companies, to tilers who work in stone, that way you can be confident your mosaic will last.

As I said a brief outline but if you go through this and through the links then you will have a much better idea of what is needed.

You can always get in touch if you need more advise, I won't know all the answers but will tell you the best places to get them.