top six tile myths, debunked

by clé tile | published: Feb 01, 2023

zellige weathered white in 4x4. design: zio and son / photo: martyn thompson

tile is a funny thing. people have strong opinions about it, some grounded in truth—and a good many not." in our 30+ years in the tile business, we’ve heard our fair share of myths. we’re here to debunk the ones we hear most.

myth no. 6: artisan tile is for everyone.

weathered white zellige 2x2. design: aker interiors / photo: michael clifford photography

as champions of artisan tile, we’d love to say “yes” to this one, but it’s just not the case.

some people think they want artisan tile, but then realize that they’re looking for something a little (or a lot) more “perfect” looking. the hallmarks of artisan tile made according to heritage tradition—the look of the hand, variation and variegation, chips and cracks and spots—are a little too imperfect for some tastes. other clients are put off by the need to bring in a professional installer with experience handling this type of tile (and taking the time to carefully blend them before they’re installed). and then there are those put off by patina and the need to care for handcrafted tile. (for more on this, see below.) 

fornace brioni terracotta tivoli bundle. design: aker interiors / photo: michael clifford photography.

golden henna zellige 2x2. design: mike moser studio / photo: michael clifford photography

but for us—and so many clients and designers—these aspects are precisely what we treasure about artisan tile: the beauty marks, the imperfections, the sheer character in each piece. so no, artisan tile isn’t for everyone. what matters is knowing what you want, being realistic, and choosing wisely.

(while we’re on this topic: we do offer options for those who might not embrace the perfection of imperfection: our clé classics collection, featuring a wide assortment from subway to stone to thin brick—including an eye-catching bronze glazed brick.)

myth no. 5: any tile can go anywhere.

cindered olive zellige 4x4. design: desert wild / photo: swiley interiors

while generally a durable material, tile can be affected by all kinds of things, like excess moisture, lemon juice, or freezing temperatures. that’s why we offer detailed technical specifications and materials guidelines to walk you through the ins and outs on every single tile we carry. and if you’re ever in doubt, our customer service team is always available to answer your questions. (please note: we don’t offer installation instructions–you’ll need to rely on the expertise of your artisan tile installer–for more on that, read on!)

myth no. 4: imperfections are defects.

one of our all-time favorites. and the answer is an emphatic no.

we proudly sell artisan tile which is made by hand, often using ancient techniques. our zellige, for instance, is fired in bee-hive kilns fueled by burning olive pits and branches, then chiseled by hand—just as in olden days.

naturally, there are going to be what some call “imperfections” and we call “beauty marks”! in our view, chips, cracks, and variations in color, surface, size and thickness are inherent to the allure and authenticity of artisan tile. 

vintage rose zellige 2x2. design: prairie interiors / photo: chad mellon

yes, we do have standards, of course, to make sure that these “imperfections” are within reason, but we also rigorously curate our collections for lively character, variation, and the look and feel of the hand—that connection to heritage and humanity.

so do your homework. order multiple samples. read up on variation. review your specific tile’s materials guidelines to understand how much variation you’re likely to get (and if you think there’s no variation in white tile, read this).

if you're concerned about variation, one option is to consider ordering more tile so you can cherry pick through your order. if you want to do that, be sure to order at least 25% more tiles than the typical 15% we recommend for overage. 

if you’re intimidated by the idea of translating a box of artisan tile into that magical installation you spotted on Instagram, rest assured an installer experienced with the material can make that happen. (more on that below).

for us at clé, we prefer the “imperfect.” 

but if you know that “imperfections” will drive you crazy—or if you’re even just nervous about it—then look to our clé classics collection for alternatives. 

myth no. 3: tile can be installed straight from the box.

design / photo: zio and sons 

design / photo: zio and sons

this one gets a resounding NO. please, we’re practically begging you—don’t do it.

install tile—any tile—blindly from the box and we can promise you won’t be happy with the outcome. even with something as seemingly innocuous as subway tile, it’s a huge risk (and one we can’t recommend taking). 

bottom line: you need to blend, blend, blend your tile to take full advantage of variation and variegation, but avoid an imbalanced, blotchy, less-than-elegant installation.

weathered white zellige 4x4. design: nomad design / photo: eric kruk photo

there’s only one right way to approach tile installation, without exception: unbox every single tile and lay out your project exactly as you want it to look. only then should your installer begin to put them up. 

myth no. 2: once you’ve installed your handcrafted tile, stone, or marble, you don’t have to maintain it.

no, it’s not so.

like anything that’s worthwhile, tile needs to be cared for. read up on how your choice needs to be maintained (and be honest with yourself whether you’re able to commit to that). each of our product pages also has information on the kinds of maintenance you’ll need to do. 

keep in mind that as a natural material, all tile will patina over time. (we welcome the patina). 

myth no. 1: your tile installer, who has 30+ years of experience, will be able to install clé tile. 

our very favorite myth. the answer is maybe. probably not.

why take the risk?

just because an installer says they have 30 years experience, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have any experience with the tiles you want to install. and that can be a recipe for disaster.

palace red zellige 4x4. design: studio life/style / photo: sam frost studio.

vintage rose zellige 2x2. design: prairie interiors / photo: chad mellon

we always recommend hiring an installer who’s worked with artisan tile and in particular, the kind of tile you want to use. they will understand the nuances of the material and how to work with variation and so-called imperfections. they’ll know the importance of blending (i.e. never install tiles directly from the box—this goes back to myth no.3!). they’ll also know the right kinds of grout and sealants to use…and the list goes on.

over the years, we’ve seen the handiwork of installers who don’t have experience with handcrafted tile. most of the time, the results aren’t pretty and can be expensive to remedy.

one way to make sure you’re working with an experienced installer: always ask to see their work with the same types of tile you’re wanting to install. otherwise, find an installer who has.

as we always say, your tile is only as good as your installer. take your time. read our guidelines. be involved. trust us, it’s worth the investment in time and care.