Looking for your newest interior design obsession? One trend that we can’t get enough of are the beautiful designs you can create with zellige tile! Although this stunning hand crafted ceramic tile has recently taken design lovers by storm, it is actually a timeless building material that has a historic past.
Zellige tiles refer to a Moroccan technique for creating tiles that dates back over 1,000 years! This beautiful interior design detail is experiencing a revival as home decor trends have started to prioritize unique elements and personalized style when it comes to turning a house into a home.
What are Zellige Tiles?
Zellige - pronounced zell-ee-guh - is quite literally the word for ‘tiles’ in Arabic. This Moroccan tile style refers to intricate ceramic tiles that were hand crafted from clay and dried in the sun before being baked in the kiln. As each tile was hand shaped by a craftsman, they take on a unique surface and texture unlike their descendant, subway tile. Instead of being uniform and smooth, the hallmark of zellige tile is the unique finish and glaze that gives each tile a distinct appearance.
Before they were kiln baked, a craftsman would apply color and glaze to the tiles. This process was also done by hand, resulting in subtle variations in color that set these tiles apart with another unique quality.
After glazing, the tiles would then be chipped into intricate shapes used to create colorful mosaics - these works of art were used as a status symbol and a statement of luxury as they represented hours of skilled work and craftsmanship that went into creating the detailed mosaics.
This stunning riyad wall exemplifies the traditional style of Moroccan tile and showcases the intricate patterns that craftsmen create by hand cutting square ceramic tiles to create mosaic patterns.
These days zellige tiles are largely used in homes in square or rectangular shapes. Their natural look has become a welcome trend for interiors that embrace an organic finish! As interior designers and homeowners started to turn to prize personality and distinct details to set houses apart, these tiles have started to come to the forefront of decorator’s must-have lists!
What are Zellige Tiles Made of?
Traditionally these tiles are made of clay mined from a specific area of Morocco. The standard clay composition includes a high percentage of kaolinite clay, which has a low shrink-swell capacity, making it ideal for tiles that are less likely to suffer cracks or damage when water is absorbed. They also must be free from lime or iron, other minerals that are likely to cause damage once tiles are installed.
Once the clay has been soaked in water and hand formed into tile shapes, then sun dried, they are hand painted with a glaze to provide color and shine before baking. The glazing process creates subtle color variations between each tile - between the hand crafted shape and glaze application, no two zellige tiles will look completely identical!
The glazing process gives these beautiful tiles a unique finish - it reflects the light with a pearlescent sheen that reflects the light. Use these tiles anywhere you want to catch natural light or as a stunning way to add an iridescent quality to a low light room!
Mallorca 4” x 4” white zellige-look tiles have a stunning ceramic finish to their appearance, showcasing the same organic texture and iridescent shine!
Zellige Tile Installation Tips
Mallorca Green 2.5” x 8” tiles have the same appeal as a classic subway tile but add a soft hand crafted appearance!
Installing these ceramic tiles does have some slight variations to installing standard tiles thanks to their non-uniform appearance. We recommend following these steps to ensure a clean installation and long life for your tiles!
One key difference - the tiles are highly porous, which can cause grout dye to leach into the tile and cause discoloration. There are two ways to work around this: to match your grout as closely as possible to your tile, like our beautiful La Riviera Lavanda Blue with white grout. If you prefer a contrasting grout to a rich color like Mallorca Black below or La Riviera Blue Reef, a great alternative is to use a specialty grout that creates a water resistant surface. MAPEI Flexcolor CQ is a quartz crystal aggregate that resists color leaching and can be easier to clean than sanded grout. As it is also water repellent, it’s a great option for tiling a zellige shower wall!
Recommended Materials to install:
- Square Ruler
- Carpenter’s square
- Notched trowel
- Buckets to mix thinset and grout
- Waterproofing primer
- Rigid rubber plate
- Rubber hammer
- Rubber trowel
- Rigid sponges
- Snap cutter
- Security glasses
- Clean and prep your surface. The surface should be completely clean and dry before you begin installing your zellige tiles. If you are installing on a water-sensitive substrate, install your waterproofing primer first.
- Create your tile layout. As the colors and surface texture of zellige tiles have a higher variance than standard ceramic tiles, it’s recommended to create your layout ahead of time to make sure you like the overall finish before you begin to set any tiles.
- Spread your thinset. Using a notched trowel, spread a thin layer on thinset for an area equivalent to 4-5 tiles at a time. The recommended combing method is straight lines perpendicular to one side of the tiles.
- ‘Butter’ your tiles. Using the smooth side of your trowel, apply adhesive to the back of your tile to ensure full coverage of the adhesive. Check coverage every few tiles by pulling them up to ensure the back is fully covered by adhesive.
- Space your tile. Use wedge spacers between each zellige tile to create at least a 1.5mm (1/16”) grout join.
- Eliminate bubbles - After placing your tile, slide it away from the neighboring tile - the equivalent of one adhesive groove - and then back to its original position. This will remove air bubbles and ensure the best grip.
- Check the position. Make sure edges are flush with the other tiles and use a rubber plate and rubber trowel to tap it into position if needed.
- Grout! Using your rubber trowel, distribute grout diagonally to the joints in your tile.
- Clean your joints. Follow the appropriate drying tile for your grout, then use a lightly damp sponge over your grout, rubbing the drained sponge in a circular pattern.
Where can I install Zellige TIle?
Thanks to its unique charm and durable ceramic material, you have a wide range of options to install zellige tile! The non-uniform surface and elegant shine makes it an ideal option for a wall covering!
One of our favorite examples of zellige-style tiles, our La Riviera Blue Reef 2.5” x 8”, adds a rich cobalt blue color and a softer appearance to this modern vertical stack subway tile layout! Pairing it with copper fixtures and blue cabinetry was a stunning way to finish off this zellige tile kitchen design!
Although the zellige tile method dates back over a thousand years, it’s easy to bring it up to date with current styles! This Mid Century modern inspired design uses a zellige bathroom tile in La Riviera Rose to add a dusty pink detail to natural wood and porcelain vessel sinks! Angling the 4” x 4” ceramic tiles to create a diamond pattern enhances the unique quality of these beautiful tiles and allows their natural shine to take center stage!
We love the look of zellige tiles for a kitchen or bathroom backsplash - these versatile tiles have even more installation options as well! Thanks to the kiln-baking process, they are also fire resistant and would add a glossy finish to a tiled fireplace surround as well!
Thanks to modern ceramic tile methods, it’s become easier than ever to bring the beautiful look of hand crafted tiles into your interior! If you’re wondering where to buy zellige tiles, we’ve made it easier than ever thanks to our Mallorca and La Riviera ceramic tile collections! Any other questions about how to design with the zellige tile trend? Let us know in the comments or contact our design team!