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Tile Icons: Zellige

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

When I thumb through the bevy of forgotten travel photos stored in my camera roll, it's hilarious to see how many shoe selfies I've taken around the world. Not taken because I wanted to show off my stilletos, but because they got in the way when I was trying to preserve the memory of antiquated mosaic tile floors in far off places. I am tile obsessed. I laboured over an appropriate, celebratory hashtag and finally decided to make #TileIcons happen. Who's with me?! (Honorable mentioned goes out to "#Selfeet"- thank you random Instagram poll!)

For my innuagural #TileIcons post, I thought to find inspiration at the source. I imagined rough hands kneeding corse, grey clay into squares someplace like Morocco. This reminded me of Talitha Getty, which is forever Pavlovian-ly linked in my mind because of this photo:

Like Talitha Getty (and one incredible episode of Absolutely Fabulous), Zellige tile is largely associated with Marrakesh. And you're going to start noticing Zellige tile everywhere (if you haven't already), though I promise you there's nothing new about these handmade works of art. Authentic Zellige has been molded out of terracotta clay in the outskirts of Fez for hundreds if not thousands of years. It is the Grandmother-As-Muse of modern subway tile, and available in a kaleidoscope of shapes and hues.

If you consider yourself "Type-A", turn around now- this tile is not for you. Irregular edges and imperfections are Zellige's hallmark. No two tiles take the glaze exactly the same way, allowing for a spectrum of shades across each colour that add to the surface's innate artistry. This tile is for admirers of the rough and refined, those who abhor thick grout lines (sorry Talitha photo), and those who value the rich tradition of makers passing down skills from generation to generation, lest they be lost.

Currently, I have specified Zellige tiles for a kitchen backsplash with expected completion in late October 2019- right around the corner! I love the juxtaposition of softer, organic tile glaze against the static labyrinth of Arebescato veins. I fantasize about implementing Zellige for my next abode, envisioning a period-correct powder room or mud room floor in an historic 1900's Edwardian revival.

If the below video of Zellige being born doesn't make you want to drop everything and take a sledgehammer to your current shower walls, then you are a tough sell. Not to worry, I've got an endless well of materials to bring to your attention in future #TileIcon posts!

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