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Use trays to help organize, spruce up your home

If you went on a scavenger hunt for a tray in my home, you’d find one in every single room. In the 33 years I’ve worked in the world of interior design, some of the decorating foot soldiers I use to style my home have come and gone (anyone remember tassels?). But trays are here to stay. Here are my favorite ways to use trays in my home to keep my life organized and beautiful:


There is nothing more fun for me than dressing up bare tabletops with beautiful displays. Nine times out of 10, those displays are built on top of a tray.

Trays make the perfect stage. Magically, when an odd assortment of accents is placed together on a tray, the individual items suddenly come together with one voice and have a powerful impact.

Trays also ground a cluster of accents, giving them a visual place to land in the expanse of a bare table. Have a collection you want to show off? Put a few choice pieces on a tray.

Here’s another delicious example of how trays can be used for tabletop displays. Try a beautiful silver tray featuring an accent lamp and coffee makings. Somehow, using a tray turns mundane activities — like getting your morning cup of Joe — into an event.

I like to use trays as tabletops. Sometimes, I’ll top a stack of books with a tray to use as a table next to a reading chair. They also work wonderfully on top of urns or garden stools.


Since I’m not a cook, I am clueless about the differences in all the specialty oils and vinegars my husband uses when he crafts dinner for us. (But I know I love the results.) Instead, I see all these lovely bottles as decorative items for the kitchen counter. All you need to do is place them together on a tray.

My kitchen is pretty small and storage space is at a premium, so I have to keep things out on my countertops. That doesn’t mean that the items out on display shouldn’t be beautiful, right? Case in point: I take a few place settings of silver straight from the dishwasher and put them in lovely glass cups, collected on a tray that sits near our little kitchen table, ready for dinner.

Try using a tray as a backsplash in your kitchen. I always keep a tray behind my sink to keep water from splashing on my kitchen window. Plus, I just love how they look layered on the counter.


A beautifully set bar raises the spirits as much as the libations set upon it. A favorite trick of mine is to build a simple bar on top of a tray. My friend Marsee created a bar on her sun porch that is so beautiful, you just want to drink it in.

She used a simple wicker tray that’s a perfect pick to hold the bottles and bar supplies. She also used other versatile decorating tools to add to the ambiance, such as a cast iron garden urn holding the serving pieces and a silver candy dish displaying napkins.


My definition of “artwork” is broad and stretches to include just about anything I find delightful and can somehow manage to hang on my wall. Trays definitely fit in this category. All you need is a large plate gripper and your tray is ready to hang.

Another way to treat a tray as a piece of art is to use it as a backdrop for a tabletop display. My friend Anne placed a very simple tray against the wall next to her stove to frame a white jar. The lines of the tray mimic those of some plates hung above the stove. Poetry!


When you are entertaining guests or just want to make your daily life more beautiful, trays can be your best friend. Food is so much lovelier when presented on a tray — and so are drinks.

Trays also are great at anchoring place settings on your dining table, keeping individual elements like silverware and linens tucked up tight.

A common mistake people make when setting up buffets is to place all the food on plates and platters that are the same height. It’s functional but not very fun. For a table service exploding with drama, use serving tools like glass compotes that allow you to display food at a variety of different heights.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com. She can be reached at marycarol@nellhills.com.

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