We’ve long established, and confirmed in 2023 , that our most-loved Southern homes effortlessly mix old and new elements. That pattern is present in our love for antiques and our soft spots for traditional decor mixed with contemporary amenities. This balance of old and new is the home decorating sweet spot. The ‘old’ keeps your home comfortable and timeless, while the ‘new’ prevents you from falling into the unfortunate realm of outdated . These days, there's a new frontrunner for this time-twisting pattern: zellige tile. We’re seeing this tile gracing backsplashes, embellishing showers, adorning fireplaces, and more.
Aubrey Butcher, a Dallas-Texas based interior designer with Gilded Heights and co-owner of the store Riad Tile , has grown to appreciate this trend, adopting it into her own home and making it her business to help others do the same.
“It's a really classic, handcrafted look that has a timeless quality to it,” Butcher says about zellige tile. “We started importing it and as a designer, I find it to be so multifaceted. There's so many different ways that you can use it for different looks that can go from really classic to really striking.”
Like designers , homeowners can’t get enough of these perfectly imperfect tiles either, and they’re experimenting with them all over the house. Here’s what you need to know about the newest trend bringing age-old charm into the home.
What Is Zellige Tile?
Hailing from Morocco, zellige tile is handmade from clay and incredibly popular across the region. These tiles are prettily glazed and can be made in a variety of shapes, thicknesses, and colors. Because they are handmade and travel a great distance (authentic zellige tile must be made in Morocco!) to make their way into Southern homes, zellige tile may contain imperfections like unevenness, color variation, and slight chips. No two tiles are exactly the same, but that’s what makes them so uniquely lovely.
Why Zellige Tile Is Timeless
For centuries, zellige tile has been used in Morocco and neighboring countries to bedeck floors, walls, pools, park benches, and more. Simply put, these tiles have been tested by time and passed with flying colors.
“Zellige tile predates any ceramic or porcelain tile that's ever been made. This goes back like centuries and centuries, which I think is amazing because that just speaks to its longevity,” says Loree Beth Harris, interior designer with Both Minds Design serving Middle Tennessee. “It predates any interior design elements that we're incorporating now and that speaks volumes.”
The look is one that has withstood the test of time, but has been shifted slightly to suit contemporary American design sensibilities. Rather than the intricate and colorful mosaics you’ll see in Morocco, Southern designers are primarily sticking to a monochromatic look, choosing tiles in one more-or-less cohesive shape and color to cover a given space. The result is classic with just the right touch of craftsmanship that clues us in to the fact that this is one trend that we won’t regret embracing in just a handful of years.
They’re a versatile material that can be installed in different colors, shapes, sizes, and patterns, as well. This way, they can be implemented to suit each home and homeowner.
“I really don't see it as material going away anytime soon,” explains Butcher. “Most of that is due to how flexible it is, with its look and aesthetic, and also how versatile it is with applications, as well.”
In addition to the appearance, the clay material guarantees that this trend has longevity, too. Zellige tile is incredibly sturdy, heat-resistant, and water-resistant despite its delicate sheen. They’ll hold up like you need them to in well-used, high-impact spaces such as your backsplash or bathroom floor, just as they have for ages in Moroccan homes and public spaces.
The Zellige Appeal
The beauty of zellige tile is in its imperfection, which all goes back to the fact that each and every tile is made by hand. When installed, the tiles’ varying thickness and slight tonal disparities will create dynamic texture. Welcome these irregularities, and it adds instant personality to any space. In contrast to the cement or porcelain tiles, glossy and fluctuating zellige tiles shimmer animatedly on any surface.
“There's really not anything that I don't love about them,” says Harris. “I like the texture that they bring to a space, the color variation, and the aspects that they're handmade.”
Designers have also found that zellige tile is a wonderful way to elevate a well-loved but undoubtedly over-done subway tile . Use zellige tile to instantly upgrade this linear look while still keeping all the best classic elements.
“Subway tile is a machine-made product that is mass produced and the zellige is almost the exact opposite of that,” Butcher tells us. “Every single tile is hand-cut and chiseled by an artisan, so you get some variation to it. It reflects light in a really beautiful way and depending on the color, it could have a lot of variation. The look is just so unique, so beautiful, and definitely more elevated than something monolithic like a subway tile.”
How To Get The Look
Use zellige tile wherever you would normally use other, more basic tiles. They'll upgrade any room on surfaces from showers to fireplaces. Some designers are wary to lay them on floors, though, because their uneven nature could pose a tripping hazard. Once you decide on a location, the design potential is near limitless.
Start by considering the three main choices: color, shape, and alignment. For a more neutral look, Harris recommends using natural-colored tiles over pure white because the slight color variation will make the display dynamic. For a more bold look, Butcher loves black zellige tile, and both Butcher and Harris tell us that deep shades of blue and green are incredibly beautiful and popular. Be even more daring by going with two or more colors to create a pattern.
When it comes to the shape, Butcher reveals that 6x4 rectangles or 2x2 squares are the most common choices. For something funkier, a more complex shape like a hexagon will certainly add spice to the space. From there, choose how to calibrate your tiles, either linearly or in a more intricate pattern like a herringbone, checkerboard pattern, or a hammocking stripe.
What To Keep In Mind
If you do decide to incorporate zellige tile into your home, know what you’re getting yourself into. Designers inform us that there can often be confusion around the practical parts of this trend. For example, clients expecting neat perfection are in for a surprise, as are perfectionist tile installers who will have to manage the handmade tiles’ inconsistent shapes.
Before hopping on the zellige tile bandwagon, be sure that you’ll love the imperfection and the edge of personality that comes with it in your home. Not everyone will, and that’s okay. If you make the educated choice to include zellige tile in your decor, the result can be compelling and beautiful, like art.
“I set the expectation with clients that zellige tile is a piece of art,” says Butcher. “Maybe there's a chip or it's slightly uneven, but that adds to the character of it and makes it feel that much more elevated and unique.”