Zellige Is Here to Stay, But Brigette Romanek and More Predict What’s NextWords by Maria C. Hunt
If Zellige tile was personified, it might channel Lauren Hutton, who beguiled with her glossy hair, classic cool-girl style, and endearing gap-toothed smile.
The popular tile’s slightly uneven texture is that little bit of imperfection that adds warmth to beauty, and makes it intriguing. Zellige (or zillij, which means “little polished stone” in Arabic) is an ancient style that historians say dates back to 10th-century Iberian Peninsula, when Moors from North Africa ruled present day Spain and Portugal. Master craftsmen perfected the technique by hand firing and glazing pre-dried clay. The original was just brown or white, but today it comes in a range of delicious hues.
Zellige captured our modern consciousness in 2018 when Hermès installed shimmering walls of the tile in gold, emerald, tangerine, and turquoise as a backdrop for their collection at the Salone del Mobile. By 2019, Zellige was the it-tile, edging out longtime favorite, subway. Today, it’s still hitting all the right notes: Gorgeous hues, a shimmer that makes light bounce around a space, and slight irregularity that gives it a handmade vibe.
We spoke to some of our Experts about why Zellige has dominated this creative moment, and what they envision as the next big thing in tile.
Look for a Handmade Vibe
Los Angeles-based designer Mandy Cheng says Zellige is appealing because it adds character, as seen in this iridescent Pacific Palisades bathroom. “We’re all trying to achieve texture, depth, and uniqueness and it’s becoming more popular to do this with solid, colorful handmade tiles,” she says. “The texture and color variation of the glaze gives us the ‘pattern’ we’re searching for.”
While she doesn’t see Zellige going away, Mandy believes we’ll see more intentionally imperfect machine made tiles. Lately, she's bringing that handcrafted feel to projects with deckled-edge marble. The slabs have slightly ragged, uneven edges that make them look like they were just chiseled from a quarry in the Apuan Alps. “I love the handmade quality and the inconsistency,” Mandy says. “Marble has been around for a long time, but there’s a resurgence in its applications and dramatic veining.”
Mix Colors and Patterns
Zellige has a timelessness and versatility that Brigitte Romanek isn't ready to forego quite yet. The Los Angeles based designer, who’s been named to the AD100 and the Elle Decor A-List, used Zellige to stunning effect in a pair of minimalist baths at Molly Sims’ Hamptons home. Mixing two tones of pale pink Zellige turned a shower enclosure into a shimmering statement, while cream-colored Zellige that evokes mother of pearl makes a stunning vanity backdrop.
Brigette, who has worked with Beyoncé, Joe Jonas, and Gwyneth Paltrow, says going forward, “people will stretch their Zellige muscles with bold color choices and graphic patterns.” She’s also been drawn to AvroKO’s cement tiles by Exquisite Surfaces. Handmade in Vietnam, they feature abstract designs in intense colors. “The color are rich and warm and the possibilities are endless,” Brigette says. “I'd love to use them on a living room floor with a velvet sofa and a marble coffee table.”
Layer With Natural Stone
“Zellige has this old-world charm that creates an artisanal warmth and character we love so much,” says Sascha Lafleur, principal designer at West of Main. For a recent powder room, the Ontario, Canada-based designer swathed a shower in a smoky olive Zellige tile to reflect the trees surrounding the home. Continuing the tile onto the tiny bath’s outer walls made the space seem much more expansive. “The undulating surface creates soft and playful lighting and complements a variety of styles,” says Sascha. “You could say it has an easygoing personality.”
As for what’s next, Sascha is a fan of using natural stone like slate in different forms. She installed both large format slate in the entry of a custom home that's echoed by smaller tiles in the main bath. “We love reintroducing the same elements in different ways throughout the home to create cohesion,” she says.
Embrace Reclaimed Terracotta’s Warmth
Jojo Barr is firmly on team Zellige. In fact, the creative director of studio House Nine Design says she just can’t imagine anything replacing a tile that’s become the modern-day equivalent of subway tile. In fact, her Fulham house project likely feels a little more glamorous thanks to the ivory Zellige tile surrounding the range. “It can be used in so many different ways to create a foundation to a design or be the feature in itself,” says Jojo. “It has that beautiful elegant appeal, but it’s also versatile and hard wearing.”
That being said, Jojo is exploring other tiles with a tactile appeal. “I am really drawn to terracotta, especially when reclaimed, and am enjoying using the different formats available,” she says. “I’m dying to use the slim profile limestone tiles that you see in Belgian design, but am yet to find a supplier in the UK to fill my desire!”
Explore the Possibilities of Terrazzo
Trendsetting interior designer Athena Calderone isn’t sure there’s one next big thing in tile. “I think about what the next kitchen statement is all the time,” says the AD100 designer. During the pandemic, she used Clé Forage terrazzo tiles in Mouse and White for her basement renovation.
Now, the EyeSwoon creator is longing to see more terrazzo in kitchens. “I know it’s not so typical, but I do see a return of terrazzo in a big way,” she says. “It could be really interesting to see it used on countertops.”