Whether glazed or natural, zellige is a historic craft with unique attributes
Choosing the “difference” with clé Zellige Tile
“Authentic” has become a word that has special significance at clé. The concept of authenticity is not new for us, even though the term has become a marketing buzzword as the world seeks comfort in heritage products and artisan crafts. In the world of tile, it’s a very real thing.
True authenticity is found in products that tap into and embrace their roots. clé’s zellige collection is precisely this: a combination of tradition, artistry and expert craftsmanship, curated from the exact location in Morocco where zellige tile-making began in the 10th century.
Real artisan zellige is instantly identifiable thanks to its hand-chiseled edges and pit marked surface
What Is So Remarkable About clé Zellige Tile?
Our successful quest to offer authentic zellige has led to some confusion as to what actually constitutes true zellige. The most defining characteristic of zellige is it’s imperfections and variations. The glossy glazed surfaces often have chips and uneven colors and edges, which can lead Instagram-loving clients (looking solely at the final installation) confused and feeling like they might have defective tile. Rest assured: these beautiful flaws, irregularities and variations are 100% authentic. These are the telltale signs of something that is hand-made and serve as a reminder of the tiles' great history, like a stamp of authenticity.
As zellige has become a social media must-see, many zellige-like products have been released. While these imposters may be just fine for certain clients and certain projects (they’re certainly more affordable), we have found that offering these look-alikes with their machine-cut edges simply aren’t real zellige, and that isn’t the clé way. They cannot offer the treasured zellige characteristics of pitted surfaces and hand-chiseled edges. All you’re left with is a watered down version of zellige; not the real deal.
Raw Moroccan clay ready to be handcrafted into zellige
clé introduced zellige to the US market when clients were hoping for some of the Moroccan magic that they fell in love with while visiting. clé spent great time and effort to secure a resource that produces the authenticity and purity of historic zellige and, as a result, we have become the leading provider of zellige. In fact, the clay in our zellige tile collection is exactly the same clay unearthed centuries ago when this craft was born. Even the firing process preserves ancient practices, including the use of bee-hive shaped kilns fired by traditional materials like olive pits and branches. These organic, local materials, when fired, are a key reason that we get such delicious color and surface variation.
a small piece of history seen with this embedded shell in a tile, on its way to full fossilization.
Most importantly, to add even more authenticity, it all takes place in the place where the skill and craft of zellige expertise has been passed down from generation to generation. In that same location, clay is transformed into a work of art: each tile is hand-molded, hand-cut and chiseled and hand-glazed, making no two zellige tiles exactly the same. Each dimple, crack, pit and discoloration you see is a perfect part of their firing journey.
Experience is EVERYTHING
With over 35 years in the tile industry, clé has made it our singular goal to push the boundaries of surfaces by exploring tiles from around the world, often presenting undiscovered materials that have been used in other countries and cultures for centuries. Launching and expanding classic zellige in America is a great example of that commitment and is integral to the clé story.
By being at the forefront of these discoveries, clé has found that introducing tile, like zellige, to new markets requires a degree of education for the consumer. To appreciate zellige, we believe that anyone interested in using this product should understand its history, the material DNA that goes into it and it’s undeniable, individual charms. This level of nuanced detail is something that most clients would overlook, but when it comes to zellige, we aim to inform our clients as much as possible, so that they might fully realize the magic it provides.
The variegation is quintessentially zellige. Here: clé Tea Ceremony 2x6 displays all of the tiles’ hallmark imperfections.
Just as you rely on clé for our long time experience, you must also ensure that you select a tile contractor who has experience installing a tile such as zellige and who will understand how to properly treat its unique surface features. We always say that your installation is only as good as your tile installer, which is never more true than in the case of zellige.
In this kitchen, Anthony Dargenzio of This Old Hudson embraced the inherent imperfections in this Weathered White zellige installation creating an undulation and mostly grout-free backsplash
What does tile experience mean?
clé advocates that your tile journey always start with the most reliable source. There is NO substitute for history and experience when selling tiles, especially artisan quality tiles. A search for the most authentic tiles always deserves supplier reliability and a long history of tile experience to help guide you and your contractor through some of the anomalies of artisanal tiles.
Buying a less expensive product from a supplier with little tile industry experience can be the biggest downfall in a tile project. Like any other investment, cheaper rarely means better (even before the labor costs), so it’s assuring to have the confidence of buying from an experienced resource who knows the material like no other. In the world of zellige in the US, you’re in the right place.
This flush installation of weathered white with matching grout creates a unique shimmering surface and is the focal point of this kitchen.
The Proof Lies in the Finished Design
When clé curates tile collections, we always do so with the finished surface in mind, whether it be the mass-produced rigor of our basics collection, the intensely hand-hewn irregularities of our artisan tiles (such as zellige) or our artist collaborations, designed to push the boundaries of the notion of surfaces.
Zellige’s roots as an authentic craft, steeped in ancient processes, is why its inherent uneven shapes, protruding edges, irregular shade variations and speckled finish are all design details that make this artisan tile more of a statement than a surface. More a creation than an installation, zellige should be valued for its timelessness of centuries past, which will persist for decades to come.