Recently, I created this “Breakfast in Bed” tray as a shower gift for my niece. As anyone who has been married for longer than 6 months knows, the concept of serving your partner breakfast in bed is great in theory but not likely to really happen. The reality is life doesn’t allow for a great deal of leisurely breakfasts… but I am off topic. None –the- less, I love both the form and function of trays! This same gift could have been presented in a basket, but because of the nature of baskets, items sink down and are hard to see. The tray makes the perfect platform for presenting a themed gift, as all parts are visible. I also loved that I could purchase many little items from her gift registry and find a way to make a big statement. Please note to pull this off you need A LOT of clear packing tape!
Reduce Visual Clutter
Trays are practical for other reasons. They do a great job corralling many functional items. One place this comes into play is on a kitchen counter. Lining up frequently used oils, seasoning and tools (like cutting boards) on the counter ends up looking cluttered. Somehow, putting those same items on a tray makes them look pretty and planned.
Adding a few details, like this colored dishcloth, adds color and ties the grouping to other design elements in the kitchen. Ingredients used regularly, like lemons, apples or garlic, suddenly become ever changing accessories. Bathroom counters are a great place to implement this same idea.
On tabletops trays serve as a starting point for building a focal point. The photos above depict basically the same concept; three candles on a tray on a table. In the top photo there are three canning jars filled with coffee beans holding candles. This is placed on a kitchen table that is used everyday. The tray not only adds color and texture but more importantly the tray can be quickly lifted and moved enabling the table to be used for eating, projects, homework, etc. Without the tray, moving the three candles off and on the table would become a hassle. In short time the candles would be ditched. The bottom photo depicts a centerpiece used at a sailing themed dinner party. Here the functionality of moving the candles was not important. Instead, the tray provided a great surface for adding the pebbles, which in turn added texture to the display. Also, in both examples, the use of a tray created a larger footprint, which increased, its overall scale (an important design principal). Perhaps your accessories are not in proportion to the piece of furniture you want to use them on. Trays help solve that problem by providing a larger surface on which to place a group of little treasures. For example any one of the items on the tray pictured below, sitting alone on a dining room table, would look small and out of proportion. However, the tray, creating a larger footprint, fills the space allowing the items on the tray to create the details.
Tell a story
The key here is to include smaller items that work together. The wooden tray with its vintage feel ties into the vintage jar holding garden cut flowers. The key on the jar is repeated with the vintage key lying on the tray. The birds work with the garden flowers. The sheet of paper (which is hard to read) is actually torn from a shopkeeper’s daily log circa 1890. Not only is it unique (can’t find that at Pier One) but also definitely ties into the vintage look. Overall, the color scheme is pretty monochromatic but the flowers and various textures make up for that. If you collect something such as pillboxes, bottles, vintage jewelry, etc., consider displaying the collection on a tray. Truly, with the help of a tray, many items you already own have the potential to both tell a story about you and become a focal point.
Food As Art
Finally, the most obvious use for trays, serving food, offers the possibility of increasing the visual impact of food (remember we eat first with our eyes). Consider employing trays to help create a colorful display on your buffet. This can be achieved with a little planning and careful execution. Work on cutting food into uniform shapes. Pay special attention when you attend catered events for new ideas. For ideas, there are many great resources available but like many things you can learn a lot through observation.
Perhaps, the best attribute of a tray is that they are easy to collect. They can be readily found in many styles and price points. With a little effort and creativity you can even make your own. Their narrow profile makes them very easy to store. Pick up a few and put them to work for you!