installation tips for zellige
by clé tile | published: Apr 23, 2021
photos: Zio & Sons
Where can I use zellige?
We often get asked this question. Much of the rest of the world has been living with tile for centuries. It’s what makes us fall in love with the terrazzo-lined streets of Italy and the zellige tiled floors and walls of Morocco. America, however, has no such tile tradition. Here at clé, it has been our mission to change this.
And we have. We began almost a decade ago with cement tile and we wrote the book on how to use it when designers were thrown by this new material. Fast forward to today and now it’s available everywhere.
The same is happening with zellige. Seven years ago, we struggled to persuade people to install zellige. We fielded your questions and once again wrote the book. Today it has become the tile du jour.
Ideally, our answer as to where to install zellige would be to use it like they do in the rest of the world – everywhere. However, climate variations, installation experience and industry codes means that we have had to come up with our own guidelines for the US.
To that end, here is a quick snapshot of where we recommend installing zellige tiles:
- interior floor
- interior wall
- shower floor, shower wall, steam shower
- residential low + high traffic
- commercial low traffic
- sink backsplash
- stove backsplash
- fireplace surround
EXTERIOR (Limit use to non-freeze thaw locations only)
- exterior floor bejmat only (2×6 size)
- exterior wall
- for pool & fountain waterlines* use glazed zellige tiles only
A few key points to note for specific areas:
Since each zellige tile is hand chiseled there may be a few sharp edges. A good installer should be able to get the tiles flush with minimal lippage. If you find some tiles that stick up slightly or are a bit rough on the edges after grouting, a tile rubbing stone can be used to soften the edges.
(left) design: Studio Fauve / photo: Van Sarki; (right) design / photo: Jessica Turf Design
We typically don’t recommend any glazed tiles for countertop usage nor natural unglazed tiles dut to the porous nature of the clay, (stone is our countertop material of choice)
Zellige works well as a stove backsplash, except in the case with a stove that has an oven vent that vents heat directly onto the tiled backsplash. In such a case, we recommend the standard 4″ metal splash that comes with most ranges.
design: Brasstacks KC / photo: Jessica Cain
Salt Water Pools
While we can recommend glazed zellige for pool & fountain water lines in non-freeze locations, we do not have thorough testing yet on salt water pools so for now, we are unable to recommend zellige for usage in saltwater pools.
design: Desert Wild / photo: Swiley Interior Photography
Please note, the specifications section of the zellige material guidelines gives detailed information on where a tile can be used.
We always like to say an installation is only as good as your tile installer. Please make sure you hire a professional experienced with zellige.
(left) photo: Laurie Frankel; (right) design: Loom & Kiln / photo: Jessica White
Zellige does not come with any trim as Moroccans use traditional methods such as mitering to finish edges. We subscribe to the European model where tile looks best when cladding surfaces meet seamlessly and in a monolithic fashion. Think of a tiled wall from floor to ceiling as opposed to half way up a wall and as a way to offer a more custom finish. If you are looking for an alternatives for surface bullnose and corner trim, we recommend one of the following:
- Run a grout joint bead of caulk or grout along the exposed tile edge—just as they do in Europe.
- Build out sheetrock surface to meet the tile inset for one flush, continuous surface.
- If your project turns a corner, neatly miter the edge to give it the cleanest, crafted finish.
For more details please see our trim guide.
design: Black Gold Contractors / photo: Shawn Hood Media
We always recommend looking at our installation guides for the most up to date advice on what sort of grout to use. We adhere to the industry recommendations of a minimum grout-joint size of 1/16″.
As far as grout colors to recommend we suggest matching grout to the color of the tile. That said, if you wish to highlight all the chips and imperfections you can use a contrasting grout to make a design statement (but read our installation guide for the caveats on that front.)
How to pick a color?
Since there are so many grout colors that are now available, we offer this general guideline on a foolproof grout color selection. First, have your professional tile contractor complete your tile installation, except for the grout portion. Next, when ready to grout, ask your contractor to bring ALL grout color charts from his preferred grout manufacturers, for your review. Lastly, choose a time of day when you are most pleased with the lighting in your space (either natural lighting, installed lighting or a blend of both). During that lighting and time of day, select the grout color that best matches your tile selection.
For ideas on all the different ways to install zellige, please see our blog post.