terracotta tile

A monochromatic terracotta wall with a pattern in relief.

clé tile has long been a champion of terracotta tile. formed from humble clay, and fired using age-old methods, terracotta tile has been used throughout the world for centuries to line streets and walkways, clad floors and walls, and cover roofs both grand and humble. today, it is revered for its authenticity and aesthetics–along with its remarkable durability.

clé has helped bring about a renaissance in terracotta tile by featuring the work of artisans who honor the traditional forms of terracotta tile production by using it as a canvas for more artistic tile. here’s what you should know about handcrafted terracotta tile from clé: what it is, its role in history, how to design with it, and tips on its installation and care. 

what is terracotta tile?

traditional terracotta tile is made from clay that goes almost straight from the earth into the kiln, creating inherently textured tiles with an unprocessed, handcrafted feel.

many think of terracotta as a red clay with an earthy character and texture: the word may conjure images of the terracotta-clad roofs ubiquitous in Italy and southern Europe. however, terracotta (which means “baked earth” in Italian) appears naturally in a wide range of colors, from the traditional venetian red to white and shades of dark charcoal. in fact, the color of terracotta depends on the clay from which it’s made: it will be darker or lighter depending on the amount of iron oxide present.

traditional terracotta tiles are fired at a low temperature to avoid breakage; over-firing results in a more brittle material. a low, steady kiln temperature prevents the particles in the clay from fusing tightly and creates air pockets, resulting in a porous, soft yet durable tile. 

A sculptural sink and a terracotta tile floor with a pattern of lozenge and rectangles.

fornace brioni + cristina celestino cotto tivoli. design: aker interiors / photo: michael clifford photography

A floor of dark mushroom colored narrow rectangular terracotta tiles.

fornace brioni + cristina celestino cotto listello in moka. design/photo: bone design

A floor of slate-colored rectangular tiles in front of an arched window.

belgian reproduction square + rectangle. design: lisa schmitz interiors / photo: mike sinclair

to truly understand terracotta’s resilience we look to Italy, where terracotta tiles first originated. in cities like Rome and Florence, places where terracotta tiles have protected roads and roofs for centuries, terracotta is as much part of the artistic culture and style of the country as it is a part of the physical landscape. 

our broad range of terracotta tiles

while terracotta in the broad sense refers to any type of fired earthenware, we at clé are more picky about our terracotta. we’re also committed to honoring the traditions and customs that have shaped tile making throughout history, which means we want to learn from the best and partner with artisans for whom terracotta is not only a material, but part of a family tradition and way of life.

our embrace of authentic tile traditions has encouraged us to seek inspiration where tile craft has the deepest roots. our collections of handcrafted terracotta include terracottas from Italy and Morocco; places known for their tile-making heritage, rich clay deposits, and expertise.

unglazed terracotta 

Hexagon shaped terracotta tiles on the floor of a bathroom.

antique terracotta hex. design: sarah ruth interiors / photo: theresa wooner photography

Flemish belgian reproduction tiles with a dark finish on a fireplace.

belgian reproduction rectangle. design: leanne ford / photo: erin ash kelly

unglazed terracotta is the ultimate earthy, textured tile that brings a rustic, of-the-earth feeling while remaining elevated and refined. the color of unglazed terracotta depends on the clay itself, specifically the iron oxide content, and will vary based on the batch and clay source. unglazed terracotta bears the mark of its maker, and like all handcrafted tile, will exhibit variation in size and thickness.

due to the unique firing process, unglazed terracotta is durable yet soft underfoot, and will develop a patina over time. unglazed terracotta will change over time, yet will never fade or lose its timeless, essential character. 

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

romantic, sunbaked mediterranean afternoons serve as the inspiration for le sol, a classic-meets-bohemian collection of premium terracotta made in Morocco. 

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

the austere and rustic structures of northern Europe, famous for their terracotta floors, are the inspiration for our belgian reproduction collection of wood-fired, thick-bodied terracotta tiles that emanate a substantial presence. these come in two shades: flemish black and flemish red.

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

antique terracotta, a collection of terracotta hexagon and square tiles eased from antique European structures, is proof that some things do get better with age. these reclaimed tiles are a testament to terracotta’s durability, and the ultimate in recycling.

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

fornace brioni + clé includes two terracotta tavellas (6x12 rectangles) that come in a dark charcoal (cotto grigio) and the familiar red terracotta (cotto rosato). these tiles bring the perfect amount of rustic elegance to any space, and can provide a fantastic base on which to build upon. this collection is exclusive to clé.

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

the fornace brioni + cristina celestino and the fornace brioni + giovanni collections, exclusive to clé in the United States, is a partnership between two Italian masters: a third generation cotto producer and leading designers (Cristina Celestino) and Giovanni Barbieri. this collection brings traditional craftsmanship and modern Italian design to spaces both contemporary and classic, and elevates terracotta in ways never done before. 

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

fornace brioni + cristina celestino terracottas come in white, gray, moka (a medium brown) and an orange-toned red. if you can’t choose a color, you’re in luck–cotto variegato is a hand-mixed terracotta rectangle that combines two colors of clay into one tile.  

glazed terracotta 

while traditional unglazed terracotta tile is beloved for its texture (often grainy and rough to the touch) glazed terracotta tiles have a smoother, satin finish that reflects light differently than their unglazed counterparts.

clé terracotta tiles are glazed by hand and then fired in the kiln a second time, inviting more opportunities for variation: glazed tiles often exhibit iron spotting or crazing, unique to each tile, based on how the glaze reacts to the clay and high heat of the kiln.

A room with a bright turquoise tile floor in medium/small tiles.

eastern earthenware koi pond 4x4. design: homme boys / photo: gretchen gause.

A shower with Eastern Elements clé tiles in a neutral white on all walls and the floor.

eastern elements rice paper 4x4. design: jak studio / photo: kristin juette

some of the most well-known styles of glazed earthenware include Delft tile from Holland and Maiolica earthenware from Italy. these two examples of tin-glazed earthenware have distinct histories and qualities, yet share a common ancestor and have been greatly influenced by each other.

sitting at the intersection of texture and color, glazed terracotta tiles provide the freedom to explore the use of color in your space with a tile that still exhibits the variation and welcome irregularities inherent in handcrafted tile.

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

eastern earthenware is a limited edition of wood-fired glazed tiles, where each kiln load is totally unique. eastern earthenware tiles are earthy, varied, and impossible to replicate–ideal if you are looking for a tile that looks more like artwork than your typical kitchen or bathroom tile.  

clé zellige square in platinum and clé zellige bejmat tile in gold

architect’s palette, a collection of terracotta planks available in four silky-matte glazes in neutral shades, continues the theme of a modern-by-way-of traditional vibe in rustic Italian clay.

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

casale rustico from fornace brioni + clé is handcrafted white glazed terracotta for every look, from rustic farmhouse to modern minimalist. casale rustico is a collection of squares and rectangles, as well as bundles of both that create an unconventional, customizable pattern.

clé zellige square tiles in unglazed natural create a rustic, bohemian kitchen backsplash
clé zellige zio and sons collection in moroccan sea salt and unglazed natural on the bathroom walls and floor

eastern elements is a collection of elegant white tiles with a distinctly handcrafted feel. it includes mochi white and two glazes formerly of the eastern earthenware collection: rice paper and robin's egg

clé zellige square in platinum and clé zellige bejmat tile in gold

zellige tile–is a glazed terracotta tile handmade according to centuries-old tradition in morocco. clé’s zellige collection is as authentic as it comes: a product that embraces its heritage and place. a combination of tradition, artistry, and expert craftsmanship, clé zellige comes from the exact location in morocco where, during the 10th century, zellige tile-making began. in addition to its popular weathered white and sea salt, our glazed zellige collection features deep plums, blues, greens, pinks, yellows, browns, dark greys and blacks, a collection of neutrals–and even gold and platinum.

the new era of cotto: spotlight on the fornace brioni collection 

A ceramics studio with a terracotta file floor in a squiggly pattern.

fornace brioni + cristina celestino bibiena

Unglazed terracotta tiles with a pattern in relief.

fornace brioni + cristina celestino acanti

of all the terracottas in the world, there is nothing quite like the authentic cotto found in Italy–the birthplace of terracotta tile. our search for the best terracotta led us to Italian cotto producer fornace brioni, third generation artisan tile producers who continue to make terracotta the way it has been made for centuries: from clay and water and nothing else.

the clay used by fornace brioni is from the po river valley in northern Italy, which is near their production facilities, and produces strikingly deep colors. the purity of authentic terracotta also means that over the years, the clay retains the same color and nature as it wears. 

An artisan work terracotta into a mold.

handmade terracotta tiles at the fornace brioni factory

A row of tiles in production.

fornace brioni’s authentic cotto is formed by hand, placed into wooden molds, and fired at a low temperature. this traditional technique contributes to terracotta’s strength and durability; the clay particles are not as tightly fused and the tile is more porous, and therefore resilient against years of wear and changes in temperature.

not only does fornace brioni work to preserve centuries-old traditions–they also look to the future, pushing the boundaries of what authentic terracotta tile can look like and turning it into something truly modern.

they are part of a new wave of terracotta tile that has emerged in recent years: one that combines centuries of artisan tradition and craftsmanship with modern design sensibility.  

in addition to the fornace brioni + clé collection, our Italian terracotta collections include partnerships with Italian cotto producers fornace brioni and Italian designers cristina celestino and giovanni barbieri, who have together ushered in a new era of cotto.

read about cotto: history made modern in authentic Italian terracotta in clé notes, and explore our fornace brioni+clé and fornace brioni+cristina celestino collections to get inspired by artistic, emboldened terracotta.  

designing with terracotta tiles 

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 zellige use in the United States. 

A bathroom with grey walls and a slate colored tile floor.

fornace brioni + clé cotto grigio. design: nicole hollis / photo: douglas friedman

while terracotta tile is best known for its earthy character and durability, its design versatility also plays a role in its worldwide popularity.

in many ways, every terracotta tile is a piece of living history. we think of terracotta as the ultimate bridge between past, present, and future, perfect for spaces both classic and modern.

terracotta is also the ultimate bridge between the utilitarian and the aesthetic, ideal for use on walls, patios, kitchens, and of course, roofs. terracotta tile is durable and long-lasting, and instantly becomes part of the architecture of a space the moment it is installed. 

A kitchen backsplash in white vertically oriented rectangular tiles.

architect’s palette in blotter. design: branca and co. / photo: sarah elliot

A standalone tub in front of a window and natural colored zellige tiles in 2x2 squares.

natural zellige 2x2. Design: sarah sherman samuel / photo: matthew williams

when it comes to color, terracotta offers endless possibilities in both glazed and unglazed formats. the organic, earthy hues of unglazed terracotta lend a rustic, old-world vibe while looking elegant and sophisticated at the same time, while glazed terracotta brings a little more glamour and brightness.

finally, don’t feel like you need to pick one terracotta and stick to it–we encourage the combination of multiple hues or tiles. if you are feeling adventurous, you may find that mixing tiles can yield unexpectedly beautiful results.

explore our terracotta collections to find the perfect terracotta tile for your project. 

why people love terracotta tile 

A wall with medium brown 4x4 clé zellige tiles.

weathered white zellige 4x4. design: deborah osburn / photo: laurie frankel

A bathroom with light neutral walls and a slate colored floor.

belgian reproduction square + rectangle. design: emily lauren interiors / photo: madeline harper

in all their many varieties–glazed or unglazed, large format or small, earth toned or vibrant–terracotta tiles bring personality and romance to any space.

people have been using terracotta as a building material for centuries, perhaps even longer. when fired at low temperatures, the clay hardens to create a durable, hardworking tile that can accommodate years of foot traffic while remaining soft underfoot.

terracotta tiles can be used almost anywhere in the home, inside or outside, depending on whether your tile of choice is glazed or unglazed. if you live in an area that experiences freeze/thaw cycles, many of our unglazed terracottas can be used outdoors depending on freeze thaw conditions. make sure to read the product specifications available on every product’s page (scroll down to the bottom) to make sure your tile of choice is appropriate for your specific conditions.

while terracotta tile is meant to last a lifetime (or longer), it will not remain unchanged. terracotta tile will bear the mark of use and develop a patina, such that over time it will tell a story of those who use it, connecting us to an indelible part of history. 

terracotta tile: history and heritage

terracotta holds a prominent place in the history of art and architecture. for much of human history, it was the only clay used for building and sculpture due to its accessibility and ease of use.

ancient terracotta objects were sculpted from wet clay and baked in pit kilns: many of these objects have survived to this day, a testament to the long-lasting nature of this primeval material.

the origins of contemporary terracotta can be traced back to the Mediterranean (most notably Italy and Southern Europe) and China, although it’s hard to say where exactly the tradition began since so many early civilizations and cultures used terracotta as a building material. terracotta was also common in ancient Greece, India, and Egypt–just to name a few.

terracotta’s long history of use in sculpture and architecture across almost every continent and culture is a testament to its value as a resource and design element. although there have been times in the history of modern American design where terracotta has been more or less trending, we think terracotta is here to stay.  

clé terracotta tiles: shapes and sizes

Glossy jade eastern earthenware tiles on a kitchen backsplash.

eastern earthenware polished jade 2x6. design/photo: celine ord 

the clé terracotta collections include a wide variety of shapes, both classic and modern, in small and large formats.

belgian reproduction tiles are available in the traditional rectangle and square, as well as two bundles: circle+losange and star+cross.

the le sol collection is split into two size categories: grand and petit. grand tiles include large-format squares and rectangles, as well as a lantern and scallop. petit shapes are a little more delicate, and include diamond and hexagon shapes as well as a star+cross bundle.

while the fornace brioni + clé collection focuses on squares and rectangles, the fornace brioni + cristina celestino breaks the mold when it comes to shape, and offers a more modern selection of forms including planks, a rounded lantern called bibiena, and a selection of artistic bundles that truly redefine the expectations when it comes to terracotta tile. 

An entryway with a squiggly design tile floor.

fornace brioni + cristina celestino bibiena. design: logan killen interiors / photo: augusta sagnelli

through its designer collaborations, fornace brioni has also created several collections of relief tile (also known as sculptural, dimensional, or 3-D tiles) for the wall. examples include mantegna, giulio romano, and acanti from the fornace brioni + cristina celestino collection, and le piastrelle segnate from the fornace brioni + giovanni barbieri collection.) 

we’ve curated the shapes and sizes available in our terracotta collections so designers and homeowners have a panoply of options ranging from the traditional to the modern, from streamlined to maximalist, and anywhere in between.

what to expect: size and texture variation in terracotta tile

terracotta tiles, like many handcrafted products, exhibit a wide range of variation in size, width, and texture.

to help you understand what level of variation you should expect with each tile, each product on our website is given a grade for color, size, and texture variation. tiles are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating low variation and 5 indicating high variation.

belgian reproduction tiles exhibit a high level of size variation: this means that each tile may differ slightly in size and width, creating a surface that is varied and textured. tiles may also be slightly darker or lighter than their neighbors, creating a variegated effect that highlights the tile’s handcrafted nature.

antique terracotta also exhibits a high level of variation, however more noticeable in the color than the shape. reclaimed antique terracotta tiles range in hue from a rich red tone, to a lighter pink, to a neutral sandy beige.

with le sol terracotta, you will notice significant variation in color and texture, and a slight difference in size and thickness. 

the fornace brioni terracotta collections are somewhat less varied when it comes to size and texture, giving them a more modern and elevated feel. with these tiles the emphasis is on making a design impact so shape and color play a larger role than variation. 

best areas for terracotta tile

A bathroom with light neutral colored rectangular tiles, installed vertically.

eastern elements rice paper 2x6. design: celine ord / photo: reagan taylor

terracotta tiles are extremely versatile and can be used in most spaces, with some exceptions depending on the kind of terracotta and whether it is glazed or unglazed.

terracotta is a porous clay, meaning that there are usage restrictions when it comes to pools, steam rooms, fountains, and exterior walls, and outdoors. make sure to check each product’s material guidelines, located on the bottom of each product page on our website, to ensure proper usage.

terracotta tiles are perfect for interior walls, floors, backsplashes, kicksplashes, and more. the fact that the strength of authentic terracotta comes from its resilience and not hardness means that when used as flooring, it will be more pleasant to walk and stand on–something to keep in mind if you plan to use it in a kitchen or hallway.

remember that terracotta tile will develop a patina over time, creating a surface that reflects the passage of time, tells a story, and becomes as much part of the architecture of the home as the floors and walls themselves.

terracotta installation and maintenance 

we always say that any tile project is only as good as its installer. hiring a professional tile installer familiar with handcrafted terracotta will be key to a successful installation.

before deciding if terracotta tile is right for you, please consult the material guidelines located at the bottom of each product page.

our material guidelines for terracotta tile contains information on technical specifications, grout, material guidelines, and dimensions, as well as a how to guide for installing terracotta tiles.

whether you use terracotta in a traditional and classic manner–or take it in a more modern and expressive direction, rest assured, this is a tile to enjoy over a lifetime.