a very clé introduction to choosing outdoor materials

by clé tile | published: Mar 14, 2024


indoors or out, it's difficult to imagine materials that contribute more to the visual and textural weight of a design project than tile and other hard surfaces. They are powerful tools for expressing our design sensibilities because they represent a foundational touchstone and an homage to history and culture.

and because of the visual (and often physical) weight of these materials, every selection needs to deliver. this is true for interior applications and even truer when it comes to OUTER materials for your gardens and landscapes. in other words, your tile and hard surfaces must carry their own design truths through their connections to quality and authenticity.

A new world calls for a new map

over ten years ago, the creators of clé asked the world to consider tiles and surfaces in a whole new way. we wanted tiles to be a connection to other worlds, cultures, times and places... for your interior spaces.

OUTERclé starts with the same call to deliver magical and harmonious realms in external landscapes. even at the inception of clé, we longed to introduce the idea that your treasured (and even forgotten plots of land), big or small, front or back, could be your own visual passageways into other dimensions. we wanted you to become like-minded dreamers, connecting your “interior” life and your OUTER one, expanding the idea of sanctuary, bringing you more joy and connection.

it is an honor to be changing the way we all view OUTER design and we're excited to be starting this journey with you. along with our new world of tile and materials specifically selected for the great outdoors, we will be continuing to offer information that will support you, your designers and landscape professionals to make the best selections for all your outdoor projects. the key, of course, is to find the right materials for your areas and your climate region while enjoying (not resisting) the long-term expectations of weathering and yes... their time-worn patina.

here’s how to start on your OUTER adventure.

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where to start: it’s all about the Scape

the soul of OUTERclé isn’t a collection or a material but a “Scape”: vibe, mood, or story. and in digging into the landscapes of our imaginations we realized that it came down to places and spaces defined by the great outdoor traditions in the world… and to particular moments and eras. while our first ten are just that — an initiation into the idea — there will be so many more, many inspired by what we see our clients creating.

the curtain goes up on OUTERclé and its world of Scapes with nods to traditions ranging from the romance of England with Manor, the enduring magic of Moroccan design with Maroc, mid-century modern ‘58 to the otherworldly minimalism of Nordik.

Booklet page with inspiration imagery.

once you’ve explored our world through Scapes, a good place to start your quest for a particular installation location is in the Areas section, which covers everything from fountains to facades to pools and driveways. that being said, you won’t know whether a tile or material is right for your intended use until you review the product details.

alternatively, you also can put yourself on the fast track to find tile and surfaces for your project: a quiz we call the OUTERclé Pathfinder. answer a few questions: and you’ll have your curated starting point for your journey.

Quiz results with a variety of tiles.

A guide to outdoor tile properties

but we encourage you to go deep and understand what to look for… and why. here’s what to keep in mind when selecting the right tile for your specific OUTER usage and climate region. and we can’t say this enough… your landscape design team and well-informed installer have years (or decades) of experience in all the requirements and minutiae of outdoor tile; they should be your ultimate guide to selecting tile.

freezing and thawing

This is one of the most important determinants of what materials you can use — and the best place to start the decision process. if the installation will be in an area where it could regularly freeze and thaw (and yes, climate change has made this far trickier to ascertain) you should only use tile and materials that are freeze-thaw rated. Even if you’re installing in a covered area, freeze-thaw could be an issue. When in doubt as to whether you need freeze-thaw rated materials, ask your landscape contractor.

Texture and slip resistance

Are you looking for materials for walls or floors and walkways?

if the latter, slip resistance is critical. look for the DCOF (dynamic coefficient of friction): the higher the rating, the higher the slip resistance (you’ll find details on every product page). in addition to choosing a material with a high DCOF rating, you can also seal tiles with a sealant that offers waterproofing and also improves the slip resistance.

We generally strongly recommend against glazed and glossy tiles for surfaces you walk on, but if you are set on using a glazed tile, opt for one that is two inches or less in size so you have enough grout to create slip resistance — or have your tiles cut down to a smaller size. Then, be sure your grout joints are sealed accordingly. (This is especially important for outdoor shower floors.) Keep in mind that any surface will be slippery when wet: even more so when exposed to soaps, shampoo, lotions, or when traipsing around in the wrong footwear.

Sunlight will be tough on any surface — but some more than others. We embrace natural wear and tear and we, especially, relish patina. We love the soft, soulful beauty of worn cobblestone streets, or the faded and sun-bleached terracotta and stone tiles of Renaissance-era courtyards in Europe. But this might not be for everyone. If so (and we still hope to convert you), choose UV-resistant materials and lighter colors. Save brighter colors for covered areas.

Material matters here too. Cement will experience the most fading (though just take a look at historical cement tiles to see that this isn’t always a bad thing), while ceramic will change the least.

Our filters can come in really handy here. You can select the UV Resistant filter on any shop page to help narrow it down.

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Stain resistance

Like death and taxes, staining is inevitable… particularly on outdoor flooring. Whether it’s falling leaves and vegetation, insects and animals, or suntan lotions and BBQ fixings from your gathering by the firepit — your surfaces will be marked with these memories. While a certain amount of acceptance is in order, you can lessen the impact of staining by choosing a less porous material like glazed ceramics or by having your outdoor tile sealed regularly. Additionally, simply being more vigilant about responding to mishaps or removing anything such as lingering vegetation. That said, many people (including us) choose to embrace the natural patina that all surfaces acquire with time. Ask yourself (honestly) what your tolerance for staining is and choose accordingly.

Staying cool or heating up

If you’ll be walking barefoot on, sitting on or touching tile that’s in direct sunlight, you’ll want to be sure to find tile that will stay cool. (We’ve all made the mistake of stepping barefoot on the wrong path in the summer!)

Color plays the biggest role here; lighter colors will stay cooler and darker colors will heat up considerably. Material is also a big consideration; avoid brick and concrete when this is a concern.

Like everything else, this isn’t always a bad thing. You can employ materials that reflect heat to warm up a seating area in a cool climate (hello, san francisco summers.)

Strength and durability

again, weather should be your top consideration (particularly when it comes to flooring) but so should the amount of use and footfall. each OUTERclé tile has ratings based on the level of use. (tiles rated as freeze/thaw and uv resistant frequently have the strength and durability needed for outdoor applications with more traffic.)

A mood photo of a pool and a forest.
A pool with bright turquoise small square tiles.


Pools present their own universe of issues, ranging from full water submersion to the added extremes of salts, chlorine, chemicals and (most importantly) safety. The key question here: will the materials be submerged, or just at the waterline and above it? If you’re looking for pool deck material (what goes around the pool area) there is yet another set of considerations like slip resistance.

first and foremost, though, start with your local regulations, particularly when it comes to pools: your installer should have a thorough understanding of what’s required. commercial, public, and hospitality have a distinctly different set of restrictions than single family residential, for example. as always (we can’t say it enough) consult with your landscape design team about what you need to address for safety. and look to our Swim and Poolside areas to find the right tile and materials. (there may be a limited universe of materials you can use, but it’s hardly a limited set of options: we’re at 1,400 options. and counting.)

the point is, take your time to explore — and to think big, boldly and out-of-the-box. then use the tools — along with design and installation guidance from the professionals — to find exactly the right materials to make your own “Scape” come to life.