clé's golden rule: blend blend blend

by clé tile | published: Feb 28, 2023

design: isa bird design / photo: spenser bruce

we’ve said it before and we’ll never stop: clé tiles require a taste for the irregular, the imperfect, and the hand-hewn in order to appreciate their beauty. variation in thickness and size from tile to tile is practically a given, thanks to their handcrafted nature, whether it’s heavy glaze — or thin glaze, uneven edges, chips, cracks, pits, and crazing…

no two tiles will be the same (and it should be said, sameness isn’t why people come to us in the first place). all that variation is meant to be a part of the texture and spirit of the tile — not something to be cherry-picked out.

if you’re looking for more (but never perfect) uniformity, you might want to consider a different tile (perhaps from our clé classics curation). alternatively — and this isn’t really the point of hand-crafted heritage tile — you could order more than our recommended overage to be able to pick through tiles to achieve that more “perfect” appearance.

but this rather defeats the purpose of heritage hand-crafted tile: if you say you’re seeking integrity and authenticity, you must be prepared for “imperfections” — it's those imperfections that make the tile authentic and give it integrity.

but, let’s say you are committed to authenticity and integrity: there are key factors to consider when making your selection, from how to shop to how to install — and arguably the most important of these is to think about the blend, or how all the tiles come together.

blending: the more you know

think of our tiles like wildflowers.

certain characteristics vary from blossom to blossom, but — when artfully arranged just so — serve to make the whole much more beautiful. and just as in arrangement making, one doesn’t throw some tile together and hope for the best. you look for color, for balance, for movement, and overall harmony. this is the art of the blend, and its importance can’t be stressed enough.

proper blending means careful planning for the specific type of tile you want, then plotting out precisely which tile goes where. the goal is to create richness and texture, and to do so requires intention. it’s not for the faint of heart.

but if you skip this step, you run the risk of having to look at a bad installation for the life of the tile — and both you and your tile deserve better.

5 tips for blissful blending

design: emily farnham architecture / photo: julia sherman

the relative permanence of a tile installation as compared to paint or wallpaper can be daunting, since mistakes can be quite expensive. luckily, we have a few tips to help you get it right.

AND BEWARE: tiles that are installed cannot be addressed post-installation. this is why it's very critical to follow the following guidelines to insure your installation is just as you planned BEFORE installation.

1. pick your tile carefully.

the level of variation you want in your installation will impact decisions about the kind of tile you get, as well as how much of it to order. do your research: each product on our site is given a grade for color and size variation, iron spotting, and texture variation (scroll down on each product’s page to find product specifications).

make sure to read and understand these grades, and be practical about your tolerance for variation and its effect on your design.

don’t forget to account for the lighting in your space too, since lighting plays such a pivotal role in the installation. for instance, if you install beautiful tile and then decide to opt for LED lighting for the kitchen, this will alter the color and appearance of the tile. or if there is lack of lighting, certain colors appear darker than they do in direct or natural light.

design/photo: sweetgreen

design: imkm architecture / photo: anita calero arboleda

should you want to use a highly variegated tile like zellige but want to aim for a more uniform look, one option is to increase the amount of tile you purchase so you can hand-pick each tile. when you cast a wider net, you get more tiles in similar color ranges, which means more uniformity. more on overage below.

2. order enough overage.

add-on orders are no fun for anyone. they’ll invariably be from a different batch than your previous order and matching batches is near impossible, which will make the all-important task of blending even more challenging.

save yourself the headache and order a minimum of 15% overage to cover tile cuts, breakage, future repairs — or 20-30% more if you’re working with zellige (particularly if you’re looking for less variation). or if you are a client that prefers more perfect tiles and less variations. remember — the tiles come in their traditional form (ready to install). should you prefer less imperfections — it is on you to order more in order to cherry-pick your tiles.

design: nomad design / photo: eric kruk photo

oslo design co. / photo: Kate Longley

3. hire an installer experienced with artisanal tile.

and preferably with the tile you have, while you’re at it. our zellige tile is unmounted, so the expertise of someone familiar with authentic zellige and all of its caveats is integral to installation success. a seasoned pro will also know the importance of our next tip, which is to…

design: sarah ruth interiors / photo: theresa wooner photography

sophie goineau design / photo: michael clifford photography

4. blend, blend, then blend some more.

install our tile straight out of the box and we can practically guarantee your dissatisfaction.

there’s only one good way to go about blending, no shortcuts allowed: this is referred to in the tile industry as a "DRY RUN". a good installer would never install a tile project without a dry run. instead, they will take every piece of tile out of every (yes, every) boxes and lay them out, rearranging until you’re happy with them.

a tile installer that skips these two steps will most likely ALWAYS have a troubled finished installation. and this installation will not be able to be addressed further — because all the tiles will have already been installed.

then, and only then, should your installer start to put them up.

design/photo: celine ord

when blending, as a general matter, avoid placing high-contrast tiles next to each other, which will create a choppy effect. instead, aim for gradating hues and textures, which will create a sense of movement and flow.

because the final blend is so important — not to mention deeply personal to a client’s taste — we always recommend clients be present when installers start mapping out the tile. this is not the time to delegate ownership of your creative vision. whether you want a more harmonious blend or a wildly variated install, it’s best not to leave anything open to interpretation.

unblended installation

corrected installation with perfect blending

here’s a clé client’s take on the art and craft of the blend: it’s one of the best descriptions of the process we’ve seen. and the results speak for themselves.

5. create mock-up boards.

once your installer has completed a dry run, an experienced installer NEVER installs anything until they have created several MOCK-UP boards to show you grout size and color options and gives you a chance to see the tiles in the area in which you want to install them, and under different types of lighting conditions. the DRY RUN and the MOCK-UP boards will tell you what you need to know about your tiles prior to installation — thus assuring your tiles are placed exactly as you would like them.

once your installer has sorted out the dry run and mock-up boards, and should any questions arise from the grouting and sealing process, it is the perfect opportunity to talk with the sealant and grout folks for some specific instructions on the application process before the full installation!

6. take your time. that’s it. that’s the tip.

design/photo: jordan brand

despite the myriad decisions that blending seems to require, we promise it’s a worthwhile undertaking, so have fun with it! and as always, we’re here if you need expert guidance.