Subway Tile Alternative Everyone Knows About But Me

Dear Laurel,

A few months ago you featured the most beautiful kitchen belonging to the interior designer, Natasha Habermann. (I think she lives fairly close to you?)


Timeless kitchen - Natasha Habermann - Smeg range - Farrow and Ball Purbeck Stone paint color - subway tile substitute

Kitchen by interior designer, Natasha Habermann


Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with that tile. Do you know what it is and where to get it? And, anything else about it, that I should know about?


Like, will I have to forgo pedicures for the rest of my life in order to afford it?


And, if I do this tile, is it so on trend that I’ll hate myself in ten years? I really don’t want to fall prey to yet another lame decorating trend.

I hope that you can do a blog post about this tile and tell it to us straight!


Tilley Zellige




Thank you so much Tilley who is someone I made up. ;] And, Zellige is the name of this subway tile alternative.


But, before I go on with a discussion about Zellige tiles,


I just want to thank everyone who took the time to write me such sweet notes regarding my mom. I can’t tell you how much each one means to me. There are about a dozen or so in there, that I did not respond to. If yours is one of those, it’s in no way personal;  I read them all. I had just hit a wall at that time.

Right now, there’s nothing new to report. But, that could change at any time.


Okay, let’s get back to this subway tile alternative called Zellige.


First of all,  I also didn’t know what it was called either, until I began to research it. And, then I found out the embarrassing truth.

EVERY interior design blogger in the entire cyberverse has already written about it. Yes, every one but me. How sad is that. Well, better late than never! And, like I always say, I’m learnin’ along with the rest of you.

Second, I love it too!


Third, yes, it’s wildly popular. Does that mean that if you do Zellige that it could one day become tired and dated, say like “Tuscan” design?


Not a chance! And, here’s why.

Under no circumstances could we compare this to Tuscan design, because so-called Tuscan has absolutely nothing to do with Tuscany! That is, authentic Tuscan design.


And, Zellige (pronouced Zell eej) has been around since at least the year 700AD.


That gives me a lot of confidence that although a trend, it’s a product that has stood the test of time!





What is Zellige Tile?


Zellige is a Moroccan tile that’s been handcrafted from natural clay found near the city of Fez, Morocco.

The luminous glaze coating is made of liquid-colored glass. After it is applied, the tiles are baked under very high temperatures. The colors in the glass glaze come for minerals such as zinc, mercury, copper, gold, etc.

The tiles are exceedingly durable and are stain, scratch, fade and slip resistant. And, they are easy to clean making them suited for any area of a building, inside and out.


And, while it could be a substitute for the common (but wonderful) subway tile, Zellige tiles comes in all different shapes and sizes, including rectangular shapes used for subway tile.


via @maritjonna on instagram - subway tile alternative - Zellige tiles

via @maritjonna on instagram – subway tile alternative – Zellige tiles


However, the most common shape is a square, usually 4″ x 4″. Yep. Just the same as your ol’ common bath tile.


Twig Hutchinson Bathroom - via The Grace tales Forum

Twig Hutchinson Bathroom – via The Grace tales Forum


 Twig Hutchinson - bathroom tile brass taps - faucets

Twig Hutchinson – @minford_journal via instagram bathroom tile brass taps – faucets

This Zellige is particularly pitted and rustic. But, not all of it is.


via @cletile on instagram design @houseofnomaddesign - photo - @laurasumrak

via @cletile on instagram design @houseofnomaddesign – photo – @laurasumrak

Cle Tile says that their Zellige does not require grouting. However, they do recommend that if it’s being used in kitchens and bathrooms, to use grout. In other words, do whatever you like, but don’t go crying to them if you have a leak.


zellige_tile_country - Design by Zio and Sons

Cle Tile – Weathered White Zellige for sale here!

Design by Zio and Sons

Awesome website!


kitchen-weathered white-4X4 cle terracotta tile - via remodelista - subway tile substitute

via Remodelista and an excellent post about the pros and cons of using Zellige tiles


zellige tile - lacanche range - oh my - photo - Sal Taylor Kydd - via Architectural Digest - subway tile substitute

zellige tile – lacanche range – photo – Sal Taylor Kydd – via Architectural Digest


Man, how sick is that!!! (“sick” means magnificent in case you don’t know) ;]

This is the work of Tara Mangini and Percy Bright, owners of the Jersey Icecream Co. Very cool house in the link. Please follow them on instagram.


Kismet House - Beautiful kitchen remodel - Cle Tile - cafe-appliance-range

Kismet House – Beautiful kitchen remodel

Cle Tile – cafe-appliance-range

You might recall that I saw this lovely range at KBIS last February.


Zellige tiles - Emily-Henderson_Modern-English-Cottage_Tudor_Master_Bathroom

Style By Emily Henderson

rectangular Zellige tiles – in a subway tile pattern


Ash NYC via first dibs - zellige hand-made tile bathroom - green pedestal sink - subway tile substitute

Ash NYC via first dibs – zellige hand-made tile bathroom. How cool is that sink!


@myhomeorg on instagram Zellige - subway tile substitute


Original source unknown but a similar tile at Riad Tile


All of the faucets in these beautiful bathrooms are reminding me of the fabulous sale going on at Pottery Barn. Everything on the site is on sale. I don’t know when it’s ending. There’s even a little discount on their cool faucets. And, they never go on sale!


And, PB also a similar mirror on sale right now!

pottery barn - stella-powder-room-mirror

Stella Powder Room Mirror


vanity - towels - faucet - love - from Pottery Barn


Their other items on sale are at least 20% or more off. You can see more favorites on the bed & Bath hot sales page

Also, please check out the main hot sales page. Lots of new things to see this week.


For more bathroom inspiration, please check out these posts:


whether or not it’s a good idea to do brass in the bathroom.

gorgeous bathroom vanities, sinks, faucets, mirrors, etc.

how to get the cool high-end bathroom for a lot less

an epiphany about a bathroom remodel (sort of)

finding bathroom storage for a small difficult bathroom

a disturbing bathroom renovation trend (an oldie but goodie!)

a beautiful bathroom renovation I almost didn’t get any photos of!

My favorite sources for a chic affordable medicine cabinet

And, this post about kitchen backsplashes


Closing thoughts about Zellige tiles.


Yes, they are expensive. How expensive? It depends on the source.
But, be careful, because there are some fake Zellige tiles. So, get samples first.

Real Zellige is rustic and wildly imperfect. Each tile is unique. So, if you’re the every hair in place type, this product might not be to your liking. Again, please get samples or go to see the tile in person, first before ordering.


Is it a mistake to do this as a substitute tile alternative?


I don’t think so. Not at all! However, like everything else, it is only one element in the room. But, it’s one that has its own quiet beauty. So, I think the most successful rooms using it have either a somewhat modern or retro vibe. Or, at least a young-trad look.

So, over-all, if the tile is in your budget and suits the look of your kitchen, bath or other location requiring tile, then I’d go for it.




33 Responses

  1. My wonderful villa on St. John USVI was badly damaged in Hurricane Irma and Maria September 2017. We are rebuilding now, and hope to be finished in 2 months. I have 6 large sliding glass doors, 4 bedrooms, 2 living room that are mostly open for our wonderful hillside location breeze we have (we can see 14 islands in a more than 180 deg view off the deck. When sleeping and for privacy, we will want them blocked from people on the deck but ideally some/most air needs to be able to get through also. Money is very tight… Vertical blinds are so awful but still seem the best option. Rattling happens even with them and loose curtains pulled, blow and flap. Thank you for any help!

  2. We are restoring an early 1950’s home, (it feels late 40’s) and I was wondering if this style of tile, in 4×4” size would work? I know it’s not authentic to the period, and I do want to be sympathetic to the period the home was built. I know the 1950’s is not your favorite period for bathrooms and kitchens 😉
    How do you keep a mid century ranch home true to period, but not feel kitschy. Is there a way to make it feel “timeless” ? Does that make sense? I’d love to have a post about it if you feel up to it.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Karen,

      That’s a good idea. There probably are some posts here that address this. Or, at least some ideas. I know it can be a little difficult to find them sometimes. Of course, there are still a lot of variables in ranch homes. Some can even look quite traditional.

  3. So sorry about your mother. Cherish your happy memories so they can hold you strong when need be.

    Laurel, you have touched many lives in such a unique way with your blend of honesty, humor, and wisdom. I am sure your readers all send sympathetic thoughts to you and your family. You are all in my prayers.

  4. Love the glaze on those tiles! I’m curious about the Cafe range. Who makes that brand? Also, I feel like shaker style cabinets have been around for a while. Do you foresee any new cabinet trends?

  5. Hey Laurel! Great post.

    I recently used this kind of tile in a bathroom reno, and learned 3 super important lessons about how to work with it — not just pros and cons, but necessary tips. It’s on my blog if you look in search and you’re interested!

  6. Totally off topic but I love the blue paint on the wainscoting in the last picture. Any info on what color that is?

  7. Hi Laurel, I read so many of the comments from your post about your Mother. My own Mother is in the end stages of COPD and I’m greaving already. Sending you prayers of healing. Although the hole in our heart grows smaller it never goes away. I still greave for my father who left this earth ten years ago last Thursday. Now about the tile. I like it and in the right home would be magnificent. So now for your laugh of the day. I’ve been eying a sofa at One Kings Lane for the last six months, trying to decide if I would get it. I was aware of their 25% off sale and just couldn’t make up my mind. Talked to my neice yesterday,since she is an interior designer, and asked if it was a good deal. She said get it! Finally last night at 8 pm I got it in my cart, went to check out and my debit card was rejected!!! UGH, I remembered I set a 500 dollar limit on my card! Couldn’t order the sofa at 25% off. Guess I’ll wait for the next sale 😂

  8. Hello Laurel, The problem with irregular tiles (or rough grout) for kitchens and bathrooms is that it seems unsanitary and difficult to clean. As you point out, some of these designs are smoother than others, but some of these installations make me just a little uncomfortable.

    I agree with you that the green sink is a killer (again, meaning magnificent)! Some old Chinese ceramics are just that color!

  9. Hi Laurel, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. You have given me so much joy when reading your hilarious but very informative blog that I wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts during this difficult time.

  10. Love It!
    The imperfections are so pretty, but I’m an antique fan.
    I am so sorry about your mom. The most difficult. Loved reading earlier blogs about the two of you.

  11. When I read your post about your mom a few days ago, I couldn’t even leave a comment because I was so teared up thinking of my own mom and her dying from Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. You’re so right; I’d lost her to the disease years before that. All the best to you and your family as you go through the end of this journey. Peace.

  12. Hi Laurel,
    Love your blog! Working my way through from the beginning, and reading the newest one each Sunday.

    I lost my mom to dementia so know exactly what you mean by having already lost your mom a long time ago. Unfortunately, I was medical power of attorney and had to make difficult decisions for both of my parents. It’s still a hard period for you and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your sister.


    1. Hi Juli,

      As difficult as that must be, they were lucky to have you as their advocate. I wonder what happens to people when there is no other family to intervene on their behalf. Thanks so much for your kind words!

  13. Hi Laurel,
    As much as I think this tile is pretty, my opinion is it would only work in certain styles of homes or kitchens.
    I think it would be out of place in my late 90’s track home. I’ve been wrong before about things so maybe this thinking is wrong. Maybe I haven’t been exposed to it enough.

  14. I love the Zellige hex patterns – the tiles just catch light beautifully. The colors and imperfections are just lovely.

  15. I’ve been keeping you and your family in my thoughts. I read the phrase ” hold yourself gently” in the comments from your last post and it is a lovely sentiment that is worth repeating.

  16. Great post and great timing. Can different rooms in the house be from different eras … I mean modern kitchen, retro bathroom, young-trad something else, traditional living room?

  17. Thanks for the great introduction to this tile type and style. I’ve been seeing them in many remodels here in Europe. There are a lot of Moroccan tiles used in shops and restaurants here in the South of France but not the square ones with the glass glaze.

    Just to let you know, they are terracotta and very rustic looking with bubbles and cracks in the glaze. I suppose this handmade quality is part of their appeal. Also, the terracotta isn’t as durable as ceramic or porcelain and most of the Moroccan tiles I’ve seen eventually chip. I do like the look of the ones you have pictured with the very tight grout pushed in as it seems to unify them.

    I found this link that adds some additional information

    1. Thank you Susan. There is a link in the post to Riad tile, (under the green bathroom) but I did not link to that specific page. One thing I read somewhere else, is that this is definitely not a DIY product. Only masons with specific experience in working with this tile should be entrusted to install it. However, it’s still good for them to put those instructions on their site, for those tile masons who are working with this tile for the first time.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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