Zellige Tile Backsplash: Glossy Handmade Tiles with Slightly Rough Texture

Zellige tiles have become an increasingly popular choice for backsplashes in recent years. These traditional Moroccan tiles are handmade, with each one featuring slight imperfections that give them a unique, artisanal look and feel. Zellige tiles come in a variety of glossy colors and patterns, adding a touch of exotic flair to any kitchen or bathroom. Let’s explore why Zellige tile is an ideal backsplash material, tips for designing with it, and how to care for it.

What is Zellige Tile?

Zellige, also spelled zellij or zellig, refers to traditional handmade Moroccan mosaic tiles. The term comes from the Arabic word “az-zellige,” meaning polished stone.

Zellige tiles have been produced in Morocco for centuries, mainly in the port city of Fez. Skilled artisans shape clay, form geometric and ornate patterns, and polish each piece by hand. The tiles are first molded from natural terra cotta clay, then set out to dry in the hot Moroccan sun. Once hardened, they are dipped in a slip that serves as a glaze when fired in a kiln.

The handcrafting process results in Zellige tiles with slightly uneven shapes and surfaces. No two tiles are exactly the same. These imperfections add organic beauty and character to Zellige mosaics. The small differences in size and color create interest and movement when the tiles are installed.

Why Choose Zellige Tile for a Backsplash?

Zellige tile brings exotic, handcrafted appeal to kitchen or bathroom backsplashes. Here are some of the benefits of using these tiles:

Unique appearance

Every Zellige tile has its own unique patterning and texture, ensuring no two backsplashes will be exactly alike. The handmade tiles add artistic flair and one-of-a-kind beauty to your space.

Vibrant colors

Zellige tiles come in a diverse palette of vivid glossy colors, ranging from brilliant blues and greens to warm earth tones. You can create colorful mosaics or opt for a monochromatic look. Either way, the tiles introduce eye-catching hues to your backsplash design.

Dimensional texture

While the tiles have a glossy glazed surface, the handcrafting process results in slight indentations, irregular edges, and undulations that add subtle texture. The tiles have a smooth yet organic feel. The variations in each piece catch and reflect light in an interesting way.

Blends old and new

Zellige tile blends traditional handcraftsmanship with a modern, clean aesthetic. The tiles work beautifully in contemporary spaces, adding an exotic Moroccan twist. Their bold patterns and colors give a global flair to modern kitchens and baths.

Durable material

Fired clay Zellige tiles are tough, water-resistant, and easy to clean. Their durability makes them an ideal choice for kitchen backsplash areas prone to moisture, grease, and daily wear and tear. The thick tiles are less prone to cracking or chipping than thinner ceramic or porcelain tiles.

Design Ideas for Zellige Tile Backsplashes

Zellige tiles offer great versatility in backsplash designs. They can be arranged in various patterns ranging from simple stacked layouts to intricate mosaics. Here are some ideas to inspire your space:

Moroccan mosaic backsplash

Create a mosaic look by using small Zellige tiles in a combination of colors and patterns. The tiles can be laid ingeometric motifs or ombre gradients fading from one tone to the next. This style has a very authentic Moroccan feel.

Stacked Zellige backsplash

Using rectangular Zellige tiles in one color, stack them horizontally or vertically for a clean, contemporary look. This streamlined style works well in modern kitchens. Create visual interest by alternating satin and gloss finishes.

Zellige diamond backsplash

Diamond-shaped Zellige tiles can make up a timeless patterned backsplash. Lay them point-to-point in contrasting colors for dramatic geometric impact. Mixing in some solid color tiles tone it down.

Multicolor Zellige backsplash

For a playful patchwork effect, use Zellige tiles in a seemingly random combination of colors and sizes. Keeping the overall color scheme cohesive will keep the tiles from looking too busy. This funky style pairs well with cottage or bohemian decors.

Zellige accent backsplash

Use Zellige tiles as an accent within a larger backsplash area. For example, do a full backsplash in classic subway tile, then frame it with Zellige tiles or add a Zellige border. This allows you to get the artisanal look without overpowering the space.

Focal point Zellige backsplash

Instead of tiling the entire backsplash area, create a Zellige focal point behind the stove. Flank it with simple white tile for a graphic look. For open shelving, line a few shelves with Zellige to highlight display areas.

How to Install Zellige Tile Backsplash

Installing Zellige tile backsplash requires careful planning and patience. Here are some tips for properly installing handmade Zellige tiles:

Choose appropriate substrate

Zellige tiles should be installed on cement board or a cement-based thinset rather than directly onto drywall. Cement creates a durable, moisture-resistant base for the tile. Be sure to prepare and prime the substrate according to manufacturer directions.

Use quality mortar and grout

Due to their handmade irregularities, Zellige tiles have uneven backs and thickness. Use a high quality thinset mortar to account for the tile variations. Let it fully cure before grouting. Choose an unsanded grout for the thin crevices between tiles.

Plan tile layout

Study your tiles and lay out a pattern before installing, arranging pieces for balanced size distribution and color harmony. While each Zellige tile is unique, you want an overall uniform look. Map out the layout to minimize cuts.

Cut tiles carefully

The unique shapes of Zellige tiles makes intricate cuts necessary. You may need to cut individual pieces with a wet saw for an exact fit. Make precise cuts so tile edges fit snugly together. Expect the layout process to be slow.

Use tile spacers

Adding spacers between the tiles ensures even grout lines for a uniform finish. The small grout joints also account for the tiles’ irregular sides. Wider grout lines can look sloppy and highlight size variations. Proper spacing creates a clean mosaic look.

Seal tiles and grout

Once installation is complete, apply a penetrating sealant to the tiles and grout. This prevents stains from setting into the porous terra cotta tiles. The sealant maintains the vibrant glossy surface and keeps grout looking new. Reapply sealer annually.

Caring for a Zellige Tile Backsplash

Zellige tiles require some simple maintenance to keep them looking beautiful over time:

  • Use a pH-neutral cleaner to safely clean the tiles as needed without stripping the sealer. Avoid abrasive cleansers.
  • Reapply sealant to the tiles and grout once a year to protect from moisture and stains.
  • Rinse the backsplash with clean water and wipe dry after cleaning to prevent soap scum buildup.
  • Do not use acidic cleaners like vinegar or lemon juice which can damage the finish.
  • Use a grout brush and mild cleaner to periodically clean out dirty grout lines.
  • Avoid putting excessive force or pressure on tiles to prevent chips, cracks, or loosening.
  • Immediately clean up spills to prevent staining of the porous tiles.

With proper care, a Zellige tile backsplash will maintain its beauty and become a focal point in your kitchen or bathroom for years to come. The tiles develop a lovely patina over time.

Frequently Asked Questions About Zellige Tile Backsplashes

How much does Zellige tile cost?

Zellige tiles range from $10-$25 per square foot based on factors like tile size, color, and pattern complexity. The specialized labor involved also impacts cost. Handmade artisanal tiles are more expensive than mass produced types.

What colors does Zellige tile come in?

Traditional colors include blue, green, yellow and terracotta. Today you can find Zellige tiles in a huge range like bright whites, bold turquoises, brick reds, and metallic gold. Mix colors for a vibrant mosaic.

Can you use Zellige tile on a shower wall?

Yes, Zellige tiles work beautifully on bathroom shower walls. Use a waterproof membrane over the wall and be sure to seal the tile and grout. Limit moisture contact time and squeegee water off tiles after showering.

How thick are Zellige tiles?

They typically range from 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch thick. The handcrafting process creates some variations in thickness, so use a mortar that can accommodate uneven tile backs during installation.

Can Zellige tiles be used on a kitchen floor?

Zellige tiles work best for backsplashes and wall applications. For floors, choose thicker, more uniform Moroccan tiles better suited for foot traffic. The small mosaic Zellige tiles could crack under stress.

How long do Zellige tiles last?

Properly installed and cared for, Zellige tiles will last for decades. Their durable terra cotta clay composition resists cracking and damage. Maintaining the tile sealant is key for longevity.

Give Your Space Exotic Flair with Zellige Tiles

If you’re seeking a backsplash that makes a statement with artisanal elegance, Zellige tile is a wonderful choice. The dazzling colors and mesmerizing patterns infuse spaces with the exotic beauty of faraway Moroccan mosaics. Each handcrafted tile tells a story, bringing intricacy and texture to your design. With proper installation and care, Zellige tiles will add their special touch to your home for years to come. Let this exceptional material transform your kitchen or bath into a stylish showpiece.