10 Chic Ways to Style a Tray

Trays are much more than a catchall spot for remotes. Group objets d'art, plants and other fave accessories for an instant update to any room.

Trays accentuate the most drab or fab spaces, especially when designers style them with a keen eye for balance, scale and color.

Styled Blue and White Serving Tray with Pink Flowers

Styled Blue and White Serving Tray with Pink Flowers

Trays should be balanced both visually and physically, says Atlanta interior designer Steve McKenzie. “Something with height adds interest — vase with a flower, pretty julep cup with your collection of vintage stir sticks,” he says.

Photo by: Christina Wedge

Christina Wedge

They are a functional decluttering solution and often an inexpensive way to add variety to any setting and for any style preference, says Keita Turner, an interior designer based in New York City.

From simple items that you probably already have on hand to more innovative stylings, here’s a look at how designers are topping their trays with collectibles or decorative groupings, such as boxes, vases, bowls, jars, figurines and other objets d’art.

Metal Tray on Coffee Table with Musical Theme

Metal Tray on Coffee Table with Musical Theme

A metal tray holds an assortment of items that fit with this room's musical theme.

Photo by: Edward Andrews Homes

Edward Andrews Homes

Trays should be balanced both visually and physically, says Atlanta interior designer Steve McKenzie.

“After all, they are a valuable entertaining tool, giving you a chic, pulled-together way to carry your food and beverages,” he says. “Something with height adds interest — vase with a flower, pretty julep cup with your collection of vintage stir sticks.”

However, make sure you can carry your tray, if needed. When entertaining, McKenzie says a tray can also serve as a placemat to catch drips, crumbs and used stirrers.  “A quick post-cocktail wipe-down with a soapy sponge and you’re all set to serve coffee,” he says. 

Folk Art Vase and Glass Bottles on Round Serving Tray

Folk Art Vase and Glass Bottles on Round Serving Tray

Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design used a vintage papier-mache vase in the Mexican folk art style of Gemma Taccogna on a tray. Glass bottles fill out the space without detracting from the vase’s vivid design.

Photo by: Black Lacquer Design

Black Lacquer Design

Use a tray to frame a vase or sculpture. Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design used a vintage papier-mache vase in the Mexican folk art style of Gemma Taccogna. Glass bottles fill out the space without detracting from the vase’s vivid design.

Modern White Tray with Pink, Gold and Brass Accessories

Modern White Tray with Pink, Gold and Brass Accessories

Layer conversation pieces onto a coffee table tray to keep your design interesting and functional. “The triangle tray is a solid brass catch all. The books were chosen to bring a bit of saturated color into the center of the room while anchoring the bright pink with a more grounded, subdued toned book beneath it,” says designer Caitlin Murray.

Photo by: Black Lacquer Design

Black Lacquer Design

Combining brass and books is a top designer tray tip. 

Layer conversation pieces onto a coffee table tray to keep your design interesting and functional. “The triangle tray is a solid brass catch all. The books were chosen to bring a bit of saturated color into the center of the room while anchoring the bright pink with a more grounded, subdued toned book beneath it,” Murray says.

Wooden and Brass Serving Tray in Masculine Den

Wooden and Brass Serving Tray in Masculine Den

A wooden and brass tray in a cozy masculine den corrals books, topped it off with a brass horn magnifying glass. The tray is a handsome addition to the ottoman.

Photo by: Keita Turner

Keita Turner

Turner used a wooden and brass tray in a cozy masculine den to corral books and then topped it off with a brass horn magnifying glass, for reading even the smallest text. The tray also provides the perfect surface for a decanter and pair of tumblers for a handsome addition to the ottoman and the room’s overall decor.

View trays as the base for a stack of interesting objects, like a bright piece of coral that adds color to an otherwise neutral grouping. 

Styled Serving Tray with Coral and Neutral Accessories

Styled Serving Tray with Coral and Neutral Accessories

View trays as the base for a stack of interesting objects, like a bright piece of coral that adds color to an otherwise neutral grouping.

Photo by: Black Lacquer Design

Black Lacquer Design

“The coral on acrylic base was an online find that perfectly pulled the neon red tone of the artwork (hanging in the room),” Murray says. “I paired it with an oversized coffee table book and weighty brass spherical sculpture.”

Acrylic Serving Tray Styled with Brass Urchin and Books

Acrylic Serving Tray Styled with Brass Urchin and Books

An acrylic serving tray is styled with a brass urchin and books.

Photo by: Clairebella Studio

Clairebella Studio

Kathy Story of Clairebella Studio says that it’s important to keep items on a patterned tray fairly simple, but complementary. She likes adding in “found objects” like brass urchins or glass orbs. 

Black-and-White Patterned Tray with Tiny Air Plant

Black-and-White Patterned Tray with Tiny Air Plant

Keeping items simple on a visually interesting tray is important to avoid overwhelming the eye. For a bit of greenery, designer Caitlin Murray loves using an air plant.

Photo by: Black Lacquer Design

Black Lacquer Design

“Rein it in,” says Murray of styling a patterned tray. Keeping items simple on a visually interesting tray is important to avoid overwhelming the eye.

For a bit of greenery, Murray loves using an air plant, and says even indoor gardening supplies can be pretty enough to display. 

“The brass and glass bottle is a water spritzer for the resident house plants,” she says.

Acrylic Serving Tray Styled with Flower

Acrylic Serving Tray Styled with Flower

Adding live greenery can bring a freshness to your coffee table tray, says Kathy Story of Clairebella Studio. She also tries to match the decor on a patterned tray with the tray’s theme, such as putting a pineapple candy dish on a tray with tropical leaf print.

Photo by: Clairebella Studio

Clairebella Studio

Adding live greenery can bring a freshness to your coffee table tray, Story says. She also tries to match the decor on a patterned tray with the tray’s theme, such as putting a pineapple candy dish on a tray with tropical leaf print. 

Circular Serving Tray with Lucite Vase and Books

Circular Serving Tray with Lucite Vase and Books

A tiny lucite vase by Alexandra von Furstenberg holding two Gomphrena buds sits on top of books on a circular tray.

Photo by: Black Lacquer Design

Black Lacquer Design

Books add color without creating too much visual clutter. Stacked books add height to a round tray, giving the scene balance, a trait that Murray says is important. On top, she placed a tiny Lucite vase by Alexandra von Furstenberg holding two Gomphrena buds.

Adding a mix of tall and short elements is visually pleasing, and keeps the design from getting boring, says Murray, who also used a gathered bunch of sage in front of the book grouping.

Wood Serving Tray in Modern Bedroom

Wood Serving Tray in Modern Bedroom

In keeping with the modern design of a master bedroom, designer Keita Turner chose a simple, yet slick wooden tray in the same dark finish as the headboard.

Photo by: Keita Turner

Keita Turner

In keeping with the modern design of a master bedroom, Turner chose a simple, yet slick wooden tray in the same dark finish as the headboard. In a bedroom, she says that using a decorative serving tray turns a simple houseware item into an ideal place for beverages and snacks, and the food actually serve a dual purpose, bringing color, shape and texture to the vignette on a tray.

“I love the versatility they offer to any decor,” she says.

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