Have you ever picked up something and imagined its’ creative and functional possibilities beyond the obvious?

Lately I had that moment when I was looking at some trays in a store. Trays have so many possible functions in so many rooms that they really are indispensible. My philosophy is all about rethinking traditional applications in modern ways. With so many style options, a simple tray can find its’ way into anyone’s life. No matter how much you spend, a well-appointed tray can add style, texture and a bit of sophistication that serves up great dÌ©cor.

While the most obvious place to utilize a tray is in the kitchen and dining room, trays are not just for transporting, they can be used as working decorative accents. For example, I keep a white lacquered tray on the counter in my kitchen holding a crock of utensils and a glass vessel for Schnauzer cookies. I like to place my iPad here and the occasional candle. Not only does the tray highlight everything nicely, but at a moment’s notice, I can grab the tray by the handles and relocate it for access to additional counter space.

Before we go into different applications, let’s talk about the many different kinds of trays. There are trays with handles and trays without. Obviously the trays without handles are designed to stay put. Let’s not confuse these designer trays with a traditional breakfast tray with legs, although those are lovely to own as well.

Trays come in almost every imaginable size and kind of material from silver and wicker to Lucite, wood, bamboo, mirrored glass, plastic, vinyl, leather and embossed textures. Mirrored trays are wonderful because they are easy to wipe off, they reflect light and highlight anything placed on top of them. I love to place a candle in a beautiful vessel on a mirrored tray. Lucite trays are very popular and while typically pricey, there are deals to be had. Clear trays take up zero space visually which makes them great for small spaces and are definitely more modern. While Lucite tends to be more lightweight than glass, your choice of material will depend on which room in your home you wish to use the tray and how you wish to use it.

Here are some ways that trays can be used as design elements around your home.

In an office: Use a tightly woven wicker tray on a side-table to house books and other small design elements such as pictures, statues, boxes, paperweights, etc. As in the kitchen, should you need the space in your office for a project, you can carry the tray into another room or stash it in a closet.

In the bedroom: I keep a large tray on my dresser that holds a box of keepsakes, some books, and the TV remotes. This tray is made from vines that have been woven together and bleached. It keeps the remotes organized and my dresser neat.

In the bathroom: I love using small wicker trays in the bathroom. They can house jars, tissues, soaps, and even makeup. It sure makes cleaning easier. I also have a small ceramic tray without handles that holds smaller apothecary jars. I am a bit of a neat-nick and like everything to have a proper home. Out of sight, but not out of mind works best for me.

Believe it or not, I also use a tray in my laundry room. This tray holds small baskets of rolled towels. These are ready at a moments notice should I have houseguests that require fresh towels. I love this look because it upgrades the look of the room and is both stylish and functional.

In the living room: In my living room on a console table that divides the living/dining areas, I placed an alligator embossed, black patent leather tray that serves as a bar and holds not just liquor, but glasses, an ice bucket and bar accoutrements. I love this tray. It has silver nail heads on the perimeter that match the nail heads on the chair parked at this table. Matching up these design elements ties the pieces together for a cohesive look.

In the den: Whether large or small, the den or family room is a great place to utilize trays. A tray on a coffee table or side table is a great way to sequester magazines, books, remotes or coasters, really any items that you need to keep neat and at your finger tips. Small trays can be put on bookshelves and inside cabinets and closets to keep things neat and organized while easily retrievable.

Mirrored trays of various sizes were often used in the boudoirs of women from the last century to hold perfume bottles, tiny picture frames, jewelry and other small keepsakes. Many of my female friends have beautiful antique trays on top of their dressers in their bedrooms. Men on other hand often use small leather trays either on top of a dresser or inside a drawer to hold keys, cuff links, change, collar stays and any number of small items that find their way into a gentleman’s pocket.

Here’s some sMARt tips on how I use my trays: I like to stack extra thick books on a tray and then layer interesting items on top of them such as a vase, an old trophy, a piece of coral or small statue. To me, these last items are like adding the cherry on top of a sundae. In my garden studio, I have a wonderful lattice tray made of teak that I use for serving outdoor cocktails and dining al fresco. Because it’s teak, it’s weather proof and quite durable. I can also put it on the coffee table with some small plants inside and then move it when necessary. Underneath my bed, I can even slide a discreet tray and store remotes, a book, some tissues, my reading glasses and basically any item that I want to keep accessible but not on the night table next to my bed. That’s just too cluttered for me. The same idea can translate to a sofa or club chair. I’m fortunate in that Violet couldn’t care less what’s underneath the furniture, unless it’s a ball, of course.

Here’s a tip or two about what not to do: Clear trays should never be put on glass tables. Mirrored trays should not be put on mirrored surfaces. Matching color-on-color, texture-on-texture, pattern-on-pattern is a design no-no, save that for your shoes and bags. And please, never put a tray on a tray. There’s no doubling your pleasure here.

No MARstake about it, there’s plenty of ways to be “tray chic”.

And there you have it.