ADVICE & TIPS, BACKSPLASH

Zellige Tile Kitchen Backsplash – Pros, Cons & Advice

You might have come across the term ‘Zellige tile’ recently, given their current trending status in the world of interior design. But what exactly are these tiles, and how well do they fare when used for a kitchen backsplash?

In this post, I’ll explain what they are, explore their pros and cons, and assess their suitability for your kitchen backsplash.

Let’s get into it!

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What is Zellige Tile?

Zellige tile (aka zellij tiles or zelig tiles) is an artisanal form of tilework that originates from the North African country of Morocco. Rooted in a tradition that stretches back to the 10th century, these handmade clay tiles are celebrated for their distinctive and singular attributes, which encompass variations in colour intensity, luminosity, uniformity, and the depth of the glazing.

Each Zellige tile is meticulously crafted and glazed by hand, ensuring that no two tiles are exactly the same, adding to their allure and exclusivity.

Zellige tiles have certain similarities to the well-known subway tiles, predominantly in their primary rectangular shape. However, the traditional and most frequent shape of Zellige is square, often measuring around 10×10 cm.

Each tile is crafted from a non-refined natural clay sourced from Fez, a region in Morocco that’s historically known for its abundant and versatile clay deposits. The clay is kneaded with water, shaped by hand, dried naturally, and later kiln-fired to produce the raw tile that is then glazed.

Zellige Tile pattern Morocco

The hallmark of Zellige tiles is their dynamic and vibrant colour palette, with intricate geometric patterns and designs that show off the artistic skills of their makers. The tiles’ bright hues and engaging patterns emerge from a complex process of enamelling, which further enhances their aesthetic appeal and results in a tile surface that can range from glossy and reflective to matte and muted.

Imperfections, such as uneven contours, tiny cracks, and chipped glaze, are integral to their unique character, embodying the human touch and craftsmanship involved in their production.

The unique character of Zellige tiles extends beyond their radiant glazing to include varying thickness levels, further evidencing their handmade quality. This element adds a tangible depth and texture to the tiles, lending a three-dimensional effect to surfaces and reinforcing their artistic and bespoke character.

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Are Zellige tiles good for a kitchen backsplash?

Absolutely! Zellige tiles, with their vibrant colours, distinctive patterns, and handmade charm, make an excellent choice for a kitchen backsplash.

Zellige tiles are versatile in design, offering an array of colours and patterns for various aesthetic preferences. The unique, artistic appeal of these tiles, coupled with their subtle reflective qualities, can make your kitchen backsplash a captivating focal point while also brightening the room. As well as this, their kiln-fired nature renders them heat-resistant, making them suitable for areas near stoves or ovens.

Zellige tile kitchen backsplash

However, there are a few considerations to bear in mind when choosing Zellige tiles for your kitchen. First, these handcrafted tiles can be more costly than other types of tiles, owing to their artisanal production process.

Second, the installation of Zellige tiles can be more complex due to the inherent variations in size, shape, and thickness of each handmade tile. This usually necessitates the expertise of a professional for installation.

Therefore, while Zellige tiles can transform your kitchen backsplash into a visually stunning feature, it’s essential to consider factors like cost and installation before making your decision.

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zellige tile pros and cons

Pros:

  1. Durability and Ease of Maintenance: Zellige tiles are highly durable and can withstand the rigours of a busy kitchen. They are easy to clean and maintain, which is essential in an area that is frequently exposed to splashes, spills, and stains.

  2. Resistance to Heat: These tiles are kiln-fired, making them heat-resistant. This makes them suitable for use near stoves or ovens, where heat exposure is a given.

  3. Variety and Versatility: With their myriad of colours and patterns, Zellige tiles offer a range of design possibilities. Whether you want a vibrant, intricate design or a more subtle, monochromatic look, there is a Zellige tile that will meet your aesthetic needs.

  4. Artistic Appeal: The handmade quality and unique variations in each tile create an artistic and bespoke look that can make your kitchen backsplash a focal point in the room.

  5. Reflective Qualities: The glazing on Zellige tiles makes them slightly reflective, which can help to brighten your kitchen by reflecting light.

Cons:

  1. Cost: Due to their handmade nature, Zellige tiles can be more expensive than other types of tiles.

  2. Installation: Installing Zellige tiles can be more complex than installing other types of tiles due to their unique variations in size, shape, and thickness. It’s generally recommended to hire a professional for installation.

Are Zellige tiles expensive?

Yes, Zellige tiles are typically more expensive than many other types of tiles, but it’s important to understand why.

‘Real’ Zellige tiles are handmade, which means each tile is individually crafted with care, and this process is labour-intensive. The traditional production process begins with extracting the clay, forming and firing the tile, and finally, hand-applying the glaze. This labour-intensive process, along with the high-quality materials used, contributes to the higher cost of Zellige tiles compared to machine-made alternatives.

The more intricate the design or the greater the variety of colours, the higher the price will usually be. Additionally, because these tiles are traditionally produced in Morocco, import costs and duties may also contribute to their price if you are purchasing them outside of Morocco.

However, while Zellige tiles might have a higher upfront cost, they can also add a unique aesthetic and value to your home. Their unique, artisanal look and feel, their durability, and the touch of luxury they can add to a space can make them a worthwhile investment.

So, while the initial cost may be higher than other options, the long-term benefits and unique aesthetic qualities of Zellige tiles can make them a valuable addition to your home. It’s always a good idea to consider all these factors when evaluating the total cost and potential return on investment.

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Can You Get More Affordable Zellige “look-a-like” tiles?

Yes, you definitely can! For those who love the unique charm of Zellige tiles but are concerned about the cost, there are alternatives available that capture the look of Zellige tiles at a more affordable price point.

These alternatives, often referred to as Zellige “look-alike” tiles, aim to replicate the irregularities, vibrant glazes, and artisanal character of the traditional Zellige tiles.

Ceramic Tiles: Some manufacturers offer ceramic tiles that mimic the look of Zellige. These tiles are machine-made but are designed with irregular surfaces and glossy glazes to emulate the handcrafted appeal of Zellige. While they may not offer the exact same level of uniqueness or the tactile richness of authentic Zellige, they can be a good option for those seeking a similar aesthetic on a tighter budget.

Zellige "look-alike" ceramic tiles
Image – Walls and Floors

Porcelain Tiles: Porcelain tiles that resemble Zellige are also available. These tiles are known for their durability and resistance to moisture, making them a good choice for areas like bathrooms and kitchens. They can be manufactured to mimic the colourful glazes and uneven surfaces characteristic of Zellige tiles.

Zellige "look-alike" porcelain tiles
Image – Walls and Floors

Glass Tiles: Some glass tile options can mimic the reflective and glossy qualities of Zellige. They can be an interesting alternative, offering a similar shine and variety of colours, although they won’t capture the full depth and textural variations of true Zellige.

Zellige-look-a-like-glass-tiles
Image – Walls and Floors

When shopping for Zellige look-alikes, it’s important to remember that while these alternatives may visually resemble Zellige tiles, they won’t perfectly replicate the individual charm or the artisanal quality of the real thing. However, they can certainly provide a similar aesthetic vibe at a reduced cost, making the Zellige look more accessible to a broader range of budgets.

Are Zellige tiles Easy to clean?

Zellige tiles are pretty much as easy to clean as any other type of wall tile.

The glazed surface of these tiles is not only beautiful but also serves as a protective layer that resists stains, dirt, and moisture. Regular cleaning is straightforward and can be done with mild, non-acidic soap and warm water.

While the tiles are relatively easy to clean, it’s important to remember their handcrafted nature, which means they may have slight variations, cracks, and crevices that could potentially trap dirt or grime. However, these imperfections are often seen as part of the charm of Zellige tiles.

As with all tiles, the grout lines between the tiles may also require attention over time, as they can accumulate dirt. A soft brush can be used to clean these areas. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaning tools, as these could damage the tile surface or the grout.

Do you use grout with Zellige tile?

Yes, grout is used when installing Zellige tiles.

However, the grouting process with Zellige tiles can be a bit different than with other tiles due to their handmade nature. Zellige tiles are known for their irregularities in size and thickness, so the grout lines may also vary, adding to their unique, artisanal charm.

Zellige Tile being installed with minimal grout lines

Traditionally, Zellige tiles were installed with very minimal grout lines, even allowing the tiles to touch each other, creating a seamless look. However, in contemporary installations, designers and homeowners might choose to have more visible grout lines for aesthetic reasons or to accommodate the natural variations of the tiles.

When choosing a grout colour, some prefer to use a colour that closely matches the tiles to create a uniform, seamless appearance, while others might choose a contrasting colour to highlight the unique shapes and patterns of the tiles.

It’s important to note that professional installation is often recommended for Zellige tiles due to their unique characteristics and the artisanal precision required for their installation and grouting.

Final Thoughts…

There you have it! Some things to consider if you’re thinking of having a zellige tile kitchen backsplash.

Zellige tiles bring a touch of artisanal beauty and unique character to any space. With their rich history, vibrant colour palette, and distinctive imperfections, they add a depth and personality that is hard to achieve with machine-made alternatives.

While they may come with a higher price tag and require expert installation, their durability, versatility, and timeless appeal can make them a worthy investment.

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Author

Michael from Kitchinsider.com

Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.