The Ultimate Guide to Moroccan Zellige Tiles

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You know those beautiful, irregular tiles that everyone is using now? Yeah, those puppies. Those are Zellige tiles!

Anyways, let me tell you: I. LOVE. THEM.

If you’ve landed here and are reading this, then perhaps you feel the same way, but you’re not sure if you want to use them in your project.

Keep reading; by the end of this article, you will have a much better understanding of whether or not this gorgeous tile is for you.

What is a Zellige tile anyway?!

Zellige tiles are beautiful hand-made tiles that come from Morocco. Funny that we’re pretty much just discovering these beauties because they’ve actually been around since before the 14th century. Only took 700 years for us to catch up over here, lol! 😂

Justina Blakeney was way ahead of us all back in 2015 when she used green subway Bejmat tiles in her kitchen reno, which you can see below.

(Bejmat tiles are also Moroccan tiles but are basically a sturdier, thicker version of Zellige tiles, often used on floors. TILE OVERLOAD!😅)

Zellige tiles are made out of non-refined natural clay which is extracted in the region of Fez (Morocco). When laid, they have a breathtaking undulating surface that almost looks like the surface of a rippling pond.

Zellige are also known as Moroccan tiles, zellige terracotta tiles, or simply zellij. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “zee-LEEJE“.

Moroccan tiles are used inside and outside, on floors, walls, and on water treatments like pools and fountains.

Zellige come in a variety of colors and finishes, which we’ll look at more below.

Characteristics of Zellige tiles:

  • hand-made appearance
  • color variation
  • rippled surface
  • cracks
  • crazed glaze
  • pits and chippy edges
  • variation in thickness of tile

What rooms can I use zellige tiles in?

Anywhere you would normally place tile, you can use zellige tiles. Backsplashes, walls, floors – you name it.

Need some examples? *hold my drink*

Sarah Sherman Samuel used them on her bathroom floor – I’ve shared this image before because I just can’t enough of this bathroom!! These tiles are the “natural” zellige tiles from Clé Tile.

Also, I’m obsessed with this bathroom. Here are links to the tub and bamboo stool used in the photo above:


Emily Henderson used gray zellige tiles in one of her guest bathrooms (that doesn’t get a lot of use). She used gray brick zellige on the wall and matching gray 2″ x 2″ square tile on the floor – also from Clé Tile.


Here is another bathroom that also uses zellige but has a completely different vibe due to the color palette. Tiles come from an Australian company called Surface Society.


Studio McGee uses them sometimes as backsplashes in her kitchens. Below she used a white zellige subway tile, but she also uses square. These tiles are ALSO from Clé Tile – ha.


If you live in a rental but you want an excuse to use these beauties somewhere, then check out how Mallory from Reserve Home used tiles inside her fireplace (it’s a faux firebox).

This was a really clever DIY that was 100% renter-friendly. She actually used ceramic tiles from Fireclay Tile, but of course you could easily use zellige moroccan tiles for a project like this instead! I just really love this project and wanted to share it with you 🙂

Are Zellige tiles difficult to clean?

If you clean your backsplash with Mr. Clean, a sponge and a quick swipe, you probably won’t have a good time with zellige.

Obviously uneven surfaces are always a little trickier to wipe down and keep clean. But the other factor with keeping zellige clean and stain-free is that depending on your situation and use, you may need to periodically reseal your tiles.

Not a huge ordeal, but definitely something to keep in mind.

So to answer the question: IF you seal your tiles properly, then zellige tiles require minimal maintenance and only require a mild pH-neutral soap for cleaning (don’t use funky chemical cleaning sprays).

These tiles ARE meant to wear over time – it’s part of their beauty and charm, but, if you don’t seal your tiles, they will STAIN easily and then you will likely not be happy.

Again, it depends on where and how the tiles are being used. A high traffic, greasy kitchen backsplash versus a hardly-used guest bathroom are two very different scenarios.

Anyways, more on sealing below.

What sizes and finishes do Zellige tiles come in?

Sizes and shapes

Zellige come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes!

One of the more popular sizes you’ll see designers using is the 5″ x 5″ tile size. But you can get larger square Zellige tiles as well.

They are also available in rectangular “brick” shapes in many different sizes, from your standard subway tile size to smaller kit-kat type sizes, in diamond, hexagonal and triangular shapes, fish scale shape (popular in bathrooms!) and many more shapes.

Finishes

Zellige tiles mostly come in glazed and unglazed finishes!

Glazed finishes will be glossier and provide the shimmery, watery final result. An unglazed finish is more matte. It’s totally a personal preference and the finish you choose will be dependent on the type of look you’re going for in your project.

For glazed zellige, you should apply a sealant or use a grout release prior to grouting if the tile has visible crazing or if you’re using a contrasting grout color.

If your glazed tile is going to be used in a dry environment, then no sealing is required, however it’s a different story if your glazed tile is going to be exposed to moisture. In that case, you need to seal the tile because it will protect the grout and any cracks, crazing or pits.

For really superior water repellency, additional sealing can be applied on top of the base sealing (good for a steam shower, for example), and yearly sealing is required.

Unglazed zellige will 100% need tile sealing to protect the porous surface. Keep in mind that stains on unglazed zellige may be impossible to remove if unsealed.

Colors

You can find Zellige tiles in the most beautiful range of colors. The colors will depend entirely on the company you are buying from. Here is a sample picture from Mosaic Factory, displaying a range of their available colors. It looks like candy! 😍🤤

How do I grout Zellige tiles?

If you’re wondering how to grout Zellige tiles, or what the best way to grout Zellige tiles is, keep reading.

If you’re new to tiling (AKA you’ve never tiled before and you’re embarking on your first reno) you’ll DEFINITELY want to do your research beforehand, as these tiles are not installed exactly like other ones. 😄

The recommendation is to use very liquid cement grout – you can see how liquid it really is in the video I embedded below.

Most guides also advise laying the tile edge to edge, aka with a butt-joint, which means right up against each other with no spacers. You can do this, but because these tiles can be very uneven, this might accentuate this feature too much for some people. You could use a super-thin 1/16″ joint if you are finding that butt-joint Zellige tiles aren’t for you.

Here are a couple of example grout joint/tile spacer options that you can find at places like Home Depot:

Below is a really accentuated example of how uneven the tiles can be! These ones are actually Bejmat tiles (like Zellige tiles but even thicker).

You’ll also probably want to use a grout that matches your tile. If you’re using an unusual color tile, you can tint your grout with color pigments – there are several available on Amazon.

You just mix the pigment into white grout until you achieve the desired hue.

In general it’s not super recommended to use a contrasting grout color (although it can look amazing – look at the photo below!!) because it can accentuate all the hairline cracks, crazing and chips (in a not-so-good way).

Even small defects that are invisible to the naked eye will become visible. So if you are using contrasting grout with your zellige then you should seal the tiles before grouting to avoid this.

If you’re going the contrasting grout route and plan on cherry-picking your tiles to use ones that have fewer cracks and pits, then you’ll also need to consider ordering 20 to 30% more tile for your project.

These tiles are already pricey, so it can be a significant increase in cost.

I’m a perfectionist, are Zellige tiles for me?

Honestly? Probably not!

If you’re bothered by irregular surfaces, things that look a little rough around the edges, and basically don’t look brand new (or if you’re a Virgo, ha), then you might not like Zellige tiles. Remember, true Zellige tiles are hand-made, and are prized for these characteristics!

When you order Zellige tiles, it is not unusual to receive tiles that have color variation, cracks, crazing in the glaze and edge-chipping – all totally normal. You really need to be aware and ok with this if you’re ordering this type of tile.

Still not sure? Zellige tiles are perfect for bohemian style spaces, wabi-sabi style spaces, and would also fit well in with japandi interiors. If you identify with any of these styles, then chances are you will love having Zellige tiles.

Related post: the 9 most popular interior design styles – which one are you?

What are your thoughts on these beautiful tiles?! Do you think they are a passing trend, or are they here to stay? I am of the opinion that handmade will never go out of style and that these tiles are *not* a trend – definitely here to stay. 🙂

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