3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

In a recent article, Remodelista proclaimed zellige tile to be “the trendiest tile of 2019.”

I usually don’t care about trends. I like timeless, and zellige is anything BUT trendy. The laborious art of making these luminous, variegated tiles has been passed from generation to generation in Morocco by master craftsmen called maâlems.

To make zellige tiles, natural clay is mixed with water, hand-shaped, dried, and then kiln-fired. Artisans then apply enamel glazing, by hand, only to the front. True zellige tiles must be made from a clay without lime or iron, both of which can damage the tiles, and labeled accordingly.

 

3 Super Important Things to Know About Zellige Tile

The kitchen that started the craze. By Zio & Sons.

 

While the Remodelista article goes on to detail “10 Things Nobody Tells You About Zellige,” I was surprised to find that there was nothing of practical use in the article — except for the bit about how it should definitely be installed by a professional.

 

And I would advise that not every tile installer is prepared to install zellige.

 

If you read Thursday’s update about my “Ain’t No Plain Jane Powder Room” for the Spring 2019 One Room Challenge about heating hard-to-reach spaces, you’ll have noticed a teaser at the end about the tile I chose for the floor.

 

 

I got my zellige from a batch of Second Shelf (overruns or seconds or returns) at Cle last fall.  I was thrilled to score it during a free shipping deal, too! It’s no joke to ship tile from the West Coast — even just a couple of boxes!)

 

Obviously, I’ve been thinking about this powder room for a long time!! It’s my favorite shade of green, so I jumped on it.

 

The color is a discontinued one, but it is very, very similar to Cle’s current “Fallen Citrus” offering. In fact, as you can’t get tile samples from Second Shelf, I ordered a Fallen Citrus sample. It’s so close I can hardly tell the difference.

 

Anywho! I’m VERY lucky to have a fabulous tile installer here in New Hampshire, Al diBicarri of AD Ceramic Tile. While zellige is popular right now the world over, trends usually hit a few years (or more!) later up here in the woods. I was thrilled that Al and his fabulous team had experience in installing zellige.

And this was his very important advice, based upon previous experience installing zellige tile:

 

1. Sand Your Tile Edges

Zellige tile is handmade. That’s the beauty of it. But because of that, you can’t get an even flat surface if you’re laying the tiles right up against each other. Edges may protrude rather than laying flush.

Moreover, the edges of zellige tile are pretty sharp, like paper cut sharp. So, not only can that unevenness make the tiles trickier to wipe down, those edges can catch on fabrics … or your skin.

 

3 Important Things to Know if You

 

In this close up image of the Zio & Sons kitchenette, you can see how the edges are uneven.

 

Is there something you can do?

 

Yes. Al and his guys sanded every edge of every tile they installed for me. I’m using this on the powder room floor and they didn’t want Things 1 & 2 to cut their tootsies on the tile!

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

Soaking each tile after sanding the edges so that they won’t suck up the moisture in the thin set. This also enables them to be “movable” a little longer, because the thin set won’t dry out and harden as quickly. (You can see the sander in the upper right corner.)

 

Do you have to sand the tiles? No. Could it add to the cost of installation labor? Yes. But, when Al suggested it, and when I saw that I couldn’t detect any visible difference and could save our feet, I said, “Yes.”

 

2. Don’t Butt Joint Your Tiles

All the installation guides say that zellige should not use a grout joint, but should be butt jointed — right up next to each other. Wedge spacers can be used to allow for variation in the butted tiles, but the ideal is no spaces and no visible grout.

However, the problem of the unevenness of the tile strikes again here. Al recommends a very minimal joint — like 1/16″ — which will vary bigger or smaller depending upon the edges of each tile you lay down.

 

This will allow for smoother transition between each tile, again, minimizing the “edging” effect.

 

Again, I was skeptical. I wanted that watery, undulating look of the tile, but I could also see how it was impossible to have every tile line up end-to-end in a perfect butt joint. But Al and his guys said the thin set would be wet for a bit, and we could move things around if we wanted the tiles closer.

 

This is what we ended up with.

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

Tile is laid with the thinnest grout joint possible.

 

3. When White Won’t Do

All of the guidelines for installing zellige tile say to use a grout that matches your tile. One of the reasons for this recommendation is because the tile itself is so porous, that it could leach the dye from the grout and discolor the edges of the tile.

 

But how often do you see apple green grout?!?!?!?

 

Believe me, I AGONIZED over this one. While there aren’t as many images of colored zellige tile (ok, there are lots of dark charcoals/almost blacks, but again, that an easy match for grout), the few that I found used a white grout.

 

I didn’t want white. I thought it would make this green tile look like a green apple candy cane, and that wasn’t the vintage/old house look I wanted with my wallpaper. I’m going for interesting and quirky, and not blingy, in-your-face-funky in this particular room.

 

Not that I have a problem with blingy, in-your-face-funky. 🙂

 

I also wanted the green to be the shining star, not white grout.

 

I thought a dark grout would look better — call out the ghost-lady’s dark olive jacket (which I also reference in my chosen dark bronze wall sconces, appearing in the corner of the below image).

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

The guys mocked it up for me with the small but visible grout joint.

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

Yep, dark gray was the way I wanted to go. But the guys warned me that the grout dye *could* leach into the edges of the tile (just because, even with sealing, the tile is so porous), discoloring it not unlike in the image below, where they passed it over an unsealed tile face.

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

UGH!!!! WHAT TO DO???

 

The answer was using something called “Crystal Quartz.” Unlike cement grout, CQ is made of actual tiny crystals, themselves of which are colored — there are no dyes.

 

No dye = no leach effect.

 

It comes ready-to-use straight out of the container, but it can dry pretty quickly. Definitely use a pro, or if you want to try it yourself, read A LOT about it before you do, and take some trial runs.

 

I used the “Charcoal” color, and I’m beyond THRILLED with the final results.

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

I haven’t found these recommendations anywhere else on the web — believe me, I looked!

Whether you agree with them or not as a general rule, they worked very well in my particular situation. But I’d be really interested to know if anyone else reading this has worked with zellige before and what your takeaways are (if any) about the sharpness/unevenness/color-leaching factors. If so, please let me know in the comments!

 

And if you liked what you read, here’s a Pinable graphic so you don’t forget!

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

Check back on Thursday for the regular ORC posting to see what color PAINT the trim in this powder room is getting!

See you Thursday!

-Amy

 

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  • Diana Bier

    Oh, I just love Zellig tiles! I considered them for my kitchen backsplash 5 years ago, but I didn’t have a tile pro who was experienced installing them, so I decided against it. You are so lucky to have Al!
    It’s kind of disappointing to hear that they have been proclaimed “trendy,” though. They are classic.ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      Yes, I am lucky to have Al and his guys. Good tradespeople are gold, and to find those that are both open to a designer’s new ideas while providing useful ideas of their own in a spirit of cooperation is treasure.ReplyCancel

  • What a useful post! Thanks, I’m about to do some Zellige in a kitchen.ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      Oh my gosh! I’m so excited to get a comment from you when I’ve learned so much from your posts! Thank you. Please feel free to share!ReplyCancel

  • Morgana

    Great post! I love it when a blogger posts useful, practical information. Your floor looks wonderful.ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      Thanks, Morgana! And you are most welcome.ReplyCancel

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