One must engage in some sort of some design fortune-telling in order to even try to predict what will still be “in” in 30 years when you are renovating. And it’s worth the time/thoughts because searching for timelessness is a valid goal that we should all be after. Luckily for you, predicting what design elements will look dated is an obsessive pastime of mine and it’s especially important when something reaches a certain almost peak level of popularity. It is my assertion that there are some things that just don’t date. That doesn’t mean that they are always as “in” or fresh as they might be at other times, but they are as timeless as possible. Is the Zellige tile one of them???
What Is Zellige Tile?
Today’s subject is the Zellige tile. The beautiful glossy, striking Morrocan tile that has been spread throughout the world (and internet). While it certainly feels fresh and “now”, it is not new and has in fact been around for over a thousand years – getting better every day. Why do we love it so much? It’s just so perfectly imperfect. They are traditionally hand-glazed in Morocco on roughly made special clay, fired in a particular way. This process from those materials come together to bring SO much movement and organic texture to a simple solid color. Every single one is different in both texture and color, even within the same color choice. They create a statement without any busyness – just movement. Additionally, these glossy tiles reflect so much light without feeling “glam”. They are easy to clean, can be configured many different ways, and are super versatile in their application – herringbone, parquet, horizontal or vertical, stack or stagger. In short, the Zellige tile is the far more exotic and beautiful older sister to the basic white subway tile. But as they are everywhere right now, are they truly for every house?? Let’s explore…
Is Zellige Tile Too Trendy?
FIRST OFF, I have a universal belief that most things that are well crafted out of high quality materials, and in relatively neutral palette/finish do not date (easily). I can give you a million examples of things that I don’t think are ever dated (should this be a blog post?) and this is one of them. Just because one thing is popular, it does not mean we should be over it – in fact, it’s popular for a reason. Terrazzo didn’t hit like this. Even the popular patterned cement tile hasn’t quite “hit” like this. The Zellige does have more of a universal appeal, in my opinion. When it comes to things that are super “trendy”, it’s only the cheap versions or knock-offs that don’t have the longevity and therefore can be avoided. But thus far I haven’t seen very many knockoffs of the Zellige because by nature it’s handmade in Morocco and hard to replicate on the cheap. Don’t believe me? Take the live edge dining table for instance – Sure you can find cheap and faux versions at major retailers, but that still hasn’t cheapened the BBDW table that launched the movement 15 years ago (and the use of live edge has been around forever). In short: Beautiful high quality materials and craftsmanship in simple materials have serious longevity. Period.
Can I Put Zellige Tile In Every Style Of Home?
YES, with some caveats. I had Zellige tiles in our English country house in LA in both our bathroom and the kitchen. Chosen in 2016 I’d say these tiles weren’t a secret then, but we were at the beginning of the Zellige tile dominance, at least on the internet. I still love them.
In fact, I have the same tile in the kid’s bathroom of our modern cabin in Lake Arrowhead – a totally different style, installed in 2018 (we actually had overage from the first time and then just ordered floor tile to match in a smaller scale).
One of my best friends has the same ones in her bathroom in her Uber contemporary home – square stacked in the bathroom. And another of my best friends just put them in her midcentury California-style home, stacked in the kitchen. (We shot both for the book so I can’t show you that yet :))
I think we all chose Clé tile in weathered white (which they literally can’t keep in stock right now) and all of us still LOVE it. Sure I see it a lot, but it’s just so good.
How I Would Install Zellige Tile In Different Styles Of Homes
Listen, you can do ANYTHING and if you do it right you can pull it off and it can look stunning. But if you want some guidance, here are my opinions on where and how to install Zellige tile based on your style of home.
If your house is traditional, colonial, farmhouse, craftsman, country/cottage I personally would lean on the more traditional brick shape (think subway, 2×4 or even better 2×6) and stagger it horizontally in a more traditional way. That’s what I did in our kitchen and it absolutely worked with the English cottage vibe we wanted. Again, you can totally stack it but for older (or older style) homes I’m still a fan of the stagger (we debated the whole stack versus stagger here).
If your house is Mediterranean, Spanish, Moroccan, more bungalow-y, etc – you have far more leeway to take risks in shapes, orientation, and even colors (and adding borders and decorative details). Go for a hex, scallop, a mosaic, in addition to the traditional brick shape. This tile was crafted and designed to go in this style of home so it won’t feel out of place to have more fun with it. You can do a checkerboard or different colors and again I LOVE adding a border around the edge of a room in a contrasting shape/color to add an old world design element.
If your house is midcentury, postmodern (70s, 80s, 90s style), or contemporary then this can absolutely work for you, too. You can take the “old world” vibe out of it by stacking it horizontally or vertically, even switch those orientations (like 1/2 way up a wall for instance), play with color blocking them, and absolutely play with squares both big and small. I’d just keep it simple within there – don’t get too decorative with the details or mix too many different styles or shapes together. Mix it with wood and simple metals, for a warm but modern look (think mountain house).
Be Wary Of Tiles In “Risky” Colors…IMHO
Another one of my overall assertions is that certain bright colors have less longevity and universal appeal than neutrals, thus making them riskier to “date” and challenges their “timelessness”. In my experience with people, readers, and clients, 99% of people love neutrals (whites, grays, creams, and blacks) and most people really like muted blues and greens. A lot of people can handle certain tones of bright colors for sure but there are some colors (oranges, yellows, purples, reds, or any sort of crazy bright neon) that are riskier. I’m not saying not to do them, but I am saying that make sure you REALLY, REALLY love them and can see them and you in your house for decades. They are simply less guaranteed to be loved for as long, and by as many. Take risks in art, textiles, even wallpaper. But tile isn’t something you want or should “switch out” easily.
That being said, there is a good chance I might use a rose-colored tile in our powder room, but that’s because I know that it’s a color that I’ve loved and will love for a long time and it feels appropriate to the mood of the house (not in Zellige, by the way). But if you want to be super safe, stick to whites, grays, warm neutrals, blacks, and tones of blues and greens to ensure longevity and resale. Again, I’m NOT saying to not use that rust color, mustard, or aubergine Zellige tile – I’ve seen them done and they can be STUNNING, but if timelessness is your goal then just know you are taking more of a risk (check out this bright yellow – SO AMAZING I WANT TO TAKE A SHOWER IN AN ALL YELLOW SHOWER SO BAD).
Like with most things that are “classics” it’s not “if” you should use them because they are so popular, it’s how you put your spin on the room. How you design with that classic yet popular element to represent your personality and home. Often with something so simple like a weathered white brick tile, it’s all the other less permanent accessories and textiles that can make it look totally unique while still being timeless.
A Few Warnings About Installing Zellige Tile…
- Check the thickness of the tile because it is thicker than most. This is fine if you know early on, but we’ve run into problems with this where the plumbing didn’t stick out far enough past the tile, or the door to the bathroom had to be shaved up because the thickness of the tile made the floor higher.
- Mix your boxes. One of the things we love about this tile is its unpredictable colors and textures but you want to make sure you open up all your boxes and mix them together. You want it to feel random, not 3 quarters up the wall to all of a sudden turn into a different color, looking like a total accident or like a different “dye lot”. Open all boxes and insist that your tile installer pull from them equally while installing.
- Zellige can be slippery so go for smaller scale on the floor so the grout lines provide traction. We have them on our floor in the 2×2 and it’s totally fine.
I feel like I just wrote a love letter to Zellige and yet there is an 80% chance that we aren’t even using it in our farmhouse (mostly because I’m leaning into a different handmade vibe). But no love letter to a design element is complete without a roundup of where to get your hands on these tiles. We’ve historically loved and used Clé tile so I want to give them an extra shout-out. We love Clé tiles. But we also want to provide other places that might for you in color, size, style, and budgets (but be warned, Zellige is not a budget tile, nor should it be). Here you go…
1. Idris by Ait Manos Mosaics | 2. Iron Grey – Zellige | 3. Authentic Zellige Tile | 4. Steel Hex | 5. La Riviera Rose | 6. Battled Armor Square | 7. Black – Zellige | 8. Idris by Ait Manos Mosaics | 9. Moroccan Mosaic Solid Color Off-White | 10. Cloe 5″ x 5″ Ceramic Tile in Green | 11. Natural Bejmat | 12. Square La Riviera Rose | 13. Natural White – Zellige | 14. Vintage Rose Square | 15. Sea Green – Zellige | 16. Montauk Sky 4×4 Ceramic Wall Tile | 17. Snow – Zellige Hex | 18. Weathered White Square
Opener Image Credit: Design by Amber Lewis | Photo by Jess Issac | via All Sorts Of
Thank you for the lovely ideas. I’m definitely using these.
I also love the way Studio DIY used these tiles in the bathroom, she just wrote about it again on her blog!
i love the zellige tile! also, that lake arrowhead bathroom forever!
To answer your question, yes. “Things that I don’t think are ever dated” should definitely be a blog post.
YES please! 😃
it could honestly be a whole series – stone/tile/installed stuff, furniture, decor/accessories, clothes(!!!) (but i am a huge biased fan of very classic clothing – i’d love to see EHD do a post on natural fiber shirt dresses). Help us make beautiful, sustainable decisions that are durable and long lasting!
What Kat said! 👍
Yes, I’d live to read and exchange ideas about this too. I also wonder about the modern farmhouse style (style, being the key word) and bleached wooden furniture and floors. Will it look timeless in 10 to 15 years? Are we going to be over it, ans into something else?
Can you talk about how to mix other tile materials/finishes with zellige? I just did a bathroom and I’m hoping I didn’t do it wrong—ha!
If you love it it’s not wrong
I love zellige and so appreciate this post, as I was just trying to answer this very question for our kitchen Reno! Important question on edges with this tile…I have one section of my new kitchen where the tile will finish without an edge to butt up against. How do you finish the edges of zellige in this scenario? I really don’t want a metal schluter messing with the rusticity of the zellige, but no one seems to sell trim pieces, and it’s SO thick and rough on the edge. Help!
Would love to know this too since Schluter strips don’t always fit in a decor scheme!
Hi Hilary, I had this same issue when renovating my kitchen a few years ago. (Not with zellihe tile but with callacata marble tiles.) I also didn’t want a Schluter situation and didn’t use a trim piece. (There actually was pencil trim in the marble available which we used around windows but didn’t want to use in this application.) Our contractor actually just did some sort of sanding technique to soften the edges where the tile terminates and I was super happy with that approach. So that might be something to check out!
I have this same issue with my current kitchen renovation. (I have the square Cle Zellige in Weathered White but it has not been installed yet). The edges will be very visible around my range niche area. Cle’s website suggests using no finishing edge. Instead of schluter, we decided to do a white glaze on the ends to embrace the rusticity but make it look a bit more finished. I may ask them to sand the edges a bit, based on Julie’s comment below. I’d love to hear any other ideas!
Another factor I’ve been considering is how closely and evenly to ask the tiler to install the tile. For example, Emily’s kitchen has the tile very even with visible grout lines, while other photos have it closer and rougher. I’m leaning toward a smoother install like Emily’s to make wiping it down and keeping it clean easy.
Bedrosians offers a pencil tile to match for their Cloe, im sure others might also.
Hi! I actually sell tile and handle installs. Schluter does offer a painted color so it won’t be a bright metal color. They also offer some Trendline options which are a texture coated aluminum. If you don’t want to go that route, look up some natural stone jollys or pencils. You could find one that could coordinate well with the tile. I like to use Daltile’s trim pieces. Hope this helps!
I just ran into this in my kitchen with a section of wall. We went with the Cle Weathered White and randomly about 25% of the tiles had glazing on the edge enough to be considered finished and my contractor just picked those out to use for that section and it looks great. He mentioned if that had not been the case, he would have cut the tile with a mitered edge and brought two pieces together at a 45 degree angle to create a finished look (not sure if that makes sense). In the end I think with Zellige, you have to just embrace the rustic look.
Kelsey and her contractor are right — the most classic way to finish Zellige is the mitered edge for a crisp finish with no clay showing or you can fish around in your lot for ones that have some edge glazing and use those.
Great – I’m going to do this!
Sometimes you can order a certain percentage of tile with a finished glazed edge at some tile companies that will act like a trim piece instead or like someone else mentioned because of the 5/8” thickness there is the possibility to mitre the edges. Be sure to hire a very skilled tile installer if you go this route!
Dumb question: how do you pronounce zellige? Zel-ig?
Kathy, this was part of the blog post yesterday
-How to Actually Pronounce It: Zil-eehj, with the second syllable pronounced like “legion.”
I love love love zellige tile and don’t see myself ever tiring of it. I love anything that is beautifully handcrafted. Just like a beautiful carved piece of antique furniture, I truly believe it stands the test of time.
I would also like to vote for a post all about finishes and furnishings that are timeless!
I redid my kitchen almost 6 years ago and this talented woman showed me gorgeous Zellige tile (weathered white, smaller square) which I used and LOVE. Then my mom used it in her kitchen but the skinnier subway they had recently started to make. After that, I’ve seen Emily and other prominent design people I admire use it in their own and in clients’ homes. I used it before them and I’m still living off that high! 🙂 🙂 🙂
These are beautiful tiles! How is it for cleaning? Or keeping clean? Are there lots of books and crannies where dirt hides?
Emily said they’re easy to clean, but I wonder about that, because of all those uneven thicknesses.
I don’t have a cleaner, I do it all myself, and the grout where the tiles over- or under-hang would surely end up grotty??
Same question! They’re lovely, but all I think about when I see them is my cleaning cloth getting caught on the jagged edges, and dirt settling into the nooks and crannies. Traditional grout lines also have to be cleaned, but at least you can see and reach them easily. For folks who have had this time for a while, particularly in a shower, how is the cleaning?
I just posted a very similar question above, I desperately want the answer to this question! I have it on my fireplace surround and at least from a vacuuming perspective it’s very hard to vacuum.
I have zellige on an art studio wall (with a large utility sink attached). It wipes up very easily, but where I have it is not as wet as a bathroom environment would be. I think for a shower, the key is to clean often (which is the case with any tile really) so grout grossness never becomes a problem. Zellige has been used for thousands of years and even old applications look like a million bucks. If the unevenness in thickness is not your jam due to cleaning issues, you can get the look by using a more manufactured tile that still bounces the light, but has a uniform thickness and shape.
How timely! I’m just starting a kitchen reno and am using that exact Riad tile white hex as my backsplash. My kitchen will be very midcentury (NYC apartment, tiny kitchen), so i was tempted to go with a blush, but figured in such a small space, white would keep it classic. I had a moment of hesitation before i ordered for all these reasons set out so well here, but in the end, i’ve loved these tiles ever since i saw them all over Morocco, and knew they’d make me happy to have a bit of them in my home!
I’ve loved zellige tile, since I was first introduced to it in your kitchen. I agree handmade, craftsman quality elements are timeless. Color is always tricky, but I think that’s more for resale. I used Fireclay handmade tiles in all my remodels (over 10 years ago), not only because they’re beautiful, but they used to be a mile from my house before they moved to San Francisco. Clé and Fireclay both are used frequently, and would fight for my business if I had another tile application in the future. I’m onboard for seeing other timeless elements. I’d really love to see examples of the elements used throughout the decades. I love looking through old designs to see if something from 10, 15, 20, or more years ago would still appeal to me.
Is Zellige tile trendy or classic? Yes!
Tiles of Ezra also has zellige and they make a “thin” tile so you don’t have to worry about their unusual thickness! They are made in Morocco as well and have all the standard colors. Absolutely beautiful!
Oooh, these tiles! The tips about using handmade tiles are fabulous, especially the one about mixing tge boxes before tiking to avoid colour lots bring different due to glaze differences.
I love these tiles and if I ever retile, they’re up there as the main contender!
I’d love a blog post about the top thjngs that don’t date or go out of so-called style.
I really enjoyed this post, tgank you! 🤗
I’m so glad you wrote this post at this moment in time! I have zellige on my fireplace surround and it’s beautiful. However, on the part that extends onto the floor it’s very unpleasant to walk on and impossible to vacuum. Not a huge deal since it only extends a foot or so. I’ve been thinking about installing zellige in my shower for our bathroom remodel, but wouldn’t it be a nightmare? For example, I feel like it would scratch your skin if you accidentally bumped into the wall. Has anyone does this in their shower? Am I imagining things?
Can these be used outside? I’m thinking specifically about as a backsplash on a roofdeck kitchenette. Thanks!
I love these deep dives, and hearing all that you are learning. I’ve been deep diving into what is *really* classic for a couple of years now too, and the “neutral” thing was a total hangup for me for a while until I stumbled across this site by a blogger named Maria Killam. I’ve found her thoughts on what is actually timeless immeasurably helpful, so I thought I’d share. This post that she wrote outlining the evolution of kitchen “neutrals” over the past few decades is probably the best place to start. She is coming from the position of advising people who own dated kitchens/bathrooms on paint colours… and learning through that, over the years, what paint can update, and what it can’t. In other words, learning over the years, what fixed elements in a house will be able to adjust to future trends, and which will have to be ripped out once they become dated. I don’t know, I find it incredibly fascinating and I feel like I *understand* now… Hope you enjoy too! 🙂
This is great, Summer! Thanks🤗
Please can you give a million examples of things that you don’t think are ever dated
Zellige is lovely! Thanks for all the inspo pictures. But don’t you think that material is only one part of the timelessness equation? For example, in ten or twenty years time, the material I choose might be timeless but the tile shape will look wrong. Or the shape will be fine but the backsplash height will look hilarious. Or the counter I have toned them with will look extremely dated because of the thickness /edge profile / whatever. And what I think is ‘neutral’ now will be the wrong depth / tone /shade.
I think timeless is the kind of thing we can only really read in hindsight. Beauty, on the other hand…. Some beautiful things aren’t timeless (remember how dated houseplants looked for a few decades there?) but I think that’s the wrong question. They were always beautiful, if we’d had the sense to see. Even the loveliest things will swing out of fashion, because fashion is stupid. They aren’t timeless. But they don’t stop being beautiful. Find the beauty that speaks to your heart, and timeless doesn’t matter so much.
Yes please a post on all things you consider timeless ans how to execute on them! I think about this a lot even in non-renovation design decisions…the less waste the better, and I’m definitely someone who thinks I like something trendy and then gets sick of it. Something I’m definitely working on!
I love this from afar, but I don’t know how I feel about the chips. I love the shiny finish too, but I wonder if it is too iridescent and shiny to be timeless. The fact that it has become trendy doesn’t help. Although at this pricepoint it won’t be that overdone. I know this is a traditional tile, and I love how it looks like in a traditional application. I also like how it looks like in newer homes. However I do have some hesitstion about this. I want it in the kitchen, but I’d love something less photographed at this point
I’m not a fan–the uneven surface looks like a nightmare to clean.
I first spotted a green zellige tile board at a tile shop 8 years ago and immediately thought “one day”…. and then I saw everyone come to the same realization. At first it was fun to see it popping up and become more accessible but then it was EVERYWHERE. So I get weary of something that is everywhere, the same as subway tile. Although I don’t think zellige will ever go the way of subway, I like to be creative and use something when it is right and there is no other option and I MUST have it. Like floor to ceiling in a Spanish style bathroom or a minimalist kitchen with not much else going on except for a zellige backsplash. If it can’t be the star I wouldn’t use it. I would love to use it one day but it has to be unexpected. And if I use it now it will be EXPECTED. I’m designing a 70s inspired art forward house and taking that into the bathrooms. I opted for glazed brick instead of zellige since it felt more grounded and still had that movement but isn’t toooooooooo ostentatious. It’s like Julia Roberts compared to Catherine Zeta… Read more »
Thank you, Emily, for your very wise advice. I definitely agree with you, neutral tones never go out of style. Nevertheless, I feel grey can be perceived as a sad color in some years, perhaps not the bright zellige one though. But neutral colors can be tricky, there are many shades of white, ivory, cream and grey. Some neutrals are boring office like colors. I see in your choices that you have a very good eye for neutral colors. Maybe you could also share some tips with us. It would be very helpful. As a 60 years old lady, if memories are useful for you, young people, I remember that I have always also loved hand made style, i.e mexican tile, in, not so dark, blue or sea like green. Also ivory or very pale cream, not yellowish, have always been right for me. I recall I did not like grey when I was young, neither do now. White good quality ( not mate) tile have always been right. My grand mother had a bathroom tiled with white metro style tiles with a top border at the middle of the wall of belgian hand painted tiles with seaside scenes. It… Read more »
Hi Emily! Can you please reference the kitchen in the first photo? It is the only one that doesn’t mention where it is from? Would love to see more views of the kitchen and anything written up about it. Is it one you designed?
it’s amber lewis, same as the final photo, of the bathroom. 🙂
This style of tile is gorgeous. The part where you suggest the type of tile to use based on the style of your home brings me to a question I struggle with in deciding how to decorate–for those of us who live in “typical” suburban neighborhoods in builder grade houses built in the 2000’s, what style is this? Besides boring 🙂
This is a really good question. Sometimes the builders use Craftsman details (popular out west), or Mediterranean stucco with tile roofs. But there are lots of new builds that are kind of a mix of styles. This could be a great blog series here.
I really love the look, particularly in the soft blues. However after chiseling out miles of tumbled neutral marble in a recent renovation, I reverted to simple marble subway throughout our recent renovation. I remember how classic, how timeless and how simple the rustic tumbled marble was hailed as being- only to morph into another cliché of 90/ early 2000s trend. If things look to be a throwback, I’d rather it be more 1930s classicism- at least in suburban architecture. In a rural Italian country house (in my dreams!) or a rustic lake house, I think there is more leeway. Bottom line do what you love and can afford. In our case, the house is not our forever home and I don’t want buyers in a few years to mark down their offer because they feel zellige is just too 2021- it is an expensive permanent design feature to alter. I love our Carrera as much and it worked out to actually be less expensive as well as easier to work around edging.
Ah, finally, I’m in the 1%… for something, at least. 🙂 Pastels are my jam, but I think muted blue is quite possibly the worst color to have ever been discovered. It’s just utterly depressing to me, if I have to be in a room with it, it better come with Prozac. I love aqua and mint, but any other blues and greens I hate… and I don’t use “hate” lightly for colors. White and wood are only neutrals I like.
I LOVE THESE TILES. I THINK THEY ARE CLASSIC. THANK YOU FOR THESE GREAT IDEAS.