That’s a question we hear quite frequently. In fact, it’s a big part of the reason we felt compelled to explain our signature product in greater detail. We would like for this article to serve as a to-go guide for contractors, interior designers, and everybody else, who is interested in gaining an in depth understanding of zellige as a product.
If you really want to understand zellige, it’s best if you stop looking at it through the prism of tile. It’s so different from other types of tile that a word had to be created especially for it, namely the Arabic word الزليج, which means zellige. It’s undeniable that the two have a lot in common. After all they both are used to cover surfaces. However, the differences are quite stark and significant.
To stay within a manageable scope, we will focus on the most visible differences between zellige and tile, which matter most to end users and design professionals. We picked one of our best-selling products, the oddly shaped Iberica mosaic pattern, to illustrate the key differences:
If you look at the outside edges of one of our Iberica tile sheet, you can see that it comes with interlocking “teeth”. This way most of our patterns can be installed like large puzzle pieces. That’s the best way to keep intricate patterns intact when repeated on larger surfaces. Most regular tiles you find at your local tile store come with straight edges, usually as perfect squares or rectangles. When installed correctly, our mosaic tiles create a seamless look like this kitchen backsplash (http://www.houzz.com/
Color & Texture
Each sheet of tile is made up of dozens, sometimes hundreds of handcrafted single pieces. Therefore, each individual piece is totally unique and comes standard with natural variations and imperfections. These variations and imperfections occur in both the colors and texture of zellige.
Several factors are responsible for creating the range of shades each color comes in: mineral pigments, the sun, and the human element. Any time you deal with elements like minerals, you will get naturally occurring variations. The sun plays a big role in the drying stages of the production process. Every day is truly a new day, because you get different levels of intensity, different levels of UV rays, and different angles of the sun, depending on the day and time of year (not to mention cloudy days). The human element comes into play when the color glazes are manually applied to the raw terra cotta squares. Thicker layers of glaze will turn out slightly differently than thinner ones.
Even the texture of zellige is characterized by variations and imperfections. Machines don’t enter the production process at any point. The soft clay mud is manually beaten with a wooden paddle to flatten the top surface of each raw 4”x4” tile square, the same way it has been done for centuries. That’s why no piece of zellige is completely 100% flat. Each piece comes with some minor bumps and curvature. In one of the later stages of the production process the raw 4”x4”pieces are hand cut into all the different shapes zellige is so endeared for, such a chevrons, diamonds, stars etc. No line is perfectly straight and no pieces are exactly the same.
Nowadays most tiles you find at your local tile showroom are entirely machine made in a cookie cutter approach, and the colors are chemically based, like most paint. That type of approach does not allow for any sort of variations and imperfections. It produces a colder, more ordinary, and sterile look when all tiles look exactly the same. If you walk into a showroom that carries tile and zellige, you can spot zellige from a mile away, because it looks and feels so radically different. Most other tiles which are advertised as “handmade”
Due to the handmade nature of the product, the thickness of zellige mosaic sheets varies slightly from 0.5”-0.75”
Le Mosaiste is the only zellige manufacturer that uses a special type of adhesive, which bonds perfectly with thinset and effectively eliminates the bending of mosaic sheets. The adhesive used by other manufacturers is substantially weaker and frequently leads to the bending of sheets during transit or when sheets are stored for extended periods of time. Another benefit of the stronger adhesive we use is that it allows us to produce larger sheets (with larger patterns) than any other company.
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