Layered materials embrace rich intercalation reactions to accommodate high concentrations of foreign species within their structures, and find many applications spanning from energy storage, ion exchange to secondary batteries. Light alkali metals are generally most easily intercalated due to their light mass, high charge/volume ratio and in many cases strong reducing properties. An evolving area of materials chemistry, however, is to capture metals selectively, which is of technological and environmental significance but rather unexplored. Here we show that the layered telluride T2PTe2 (T = Ti, Zr) displays exclusive insertion of transition metals (for example, Cd, Zn) as opposed to alkali cations, with tetrahedral coordination preference to tellurium. Interestingly, the intercalation reactions proceed in solid state and at surprisingly low temperatures (for example, 80 °C for cadmium in Ti2PTe2). The current method of controlling selectivity provides opportunities in the search for new materials for various applications that used to be possible only in a liquid.