Decorating With Trays in Every Room

Decorative trays are a decorating staple and offer a lot more than simply a way to carry food to a dining table or outside when dining alfresco. What makes trays of all shapes and sizes a versatile decorating accessory is that they are a fast and affordable way to add style to any room in a variety of ways.

Read on and learn a few creative ways to use trays that you may not have considered.

Decorating on a budget and using what you have on hand to create a home that you love, is pleasing to your eye, as well as functional. It is one of my favorite posting topics.

Add to this – easy and affordable and it about sums up what gets me most excited about decorating my home.

Decorating idea showing a large trays in a living room table.

When I was thinking of a way to decorate my coffee table to give it a new look for the season I remembered I had a floral design tole tray up in my attic decor stash that I haven’t used in a long time.

I decided to bring it downstairs and place it on my coffee table to add a little bit of color to the room.

Doing this reminded me how much I LOVE TRAYS!!!

My tray collection

So I went back to my attic decor stash and then to my china closet, and my kitchen cabinets and pulled out every tray I owned.

From silver plate, wood, porcelain and painted trays. I gathered ten. When I adding this count to the trays already in use around my house, it brought the count to 17.

Like white pitchers... I have a thing for trays.

3 white ceramic trays for food can be used to decorate a home.

Over the years, I have collected quite a few trays. I also view porcelain serving dishes as trays and use them more for decor than for serving food.

What kind of trays do you have? Go take a look. In 20 minutes you can have a whole new look for any table or countertop in your home.

Choose a tray that you like and think of a way to display and use it decoratively in your home.

Here are a few ideas to inspire you to use the trays you own in new and different ways. All can be done in 20 minutes or less.

Why Are Trays The Most Versatile Decorating Accessory?

Trays are practical, portable, and easily cleaned. They are also pretty and can add a shot of color to your space and style.

Turquoise tray on dresser used to organize desk accessories.

A tray can become a desk when you don’t have one.

Ideas on how to use small trays to decorate a home

Seasonal decor needs to be stowed away when not in use. It causes clutter and takes up room. When you use a tray as a base, what you place on top of it can be changed for the seasons with small accessories.

No need to buy a coastal candle holder that can only be used in the summer. Instead make one using a tray, stones and votive candle holders.

Nature inspired fall decor. Acorns on a tray of white beans.

When the season changes, replace what is on the tray. As you can see, simple works.

Christmas decor using a tray

With each season, change what is on the tray…

Simple and natural Christmas decorating ideas

…or move it to another room and restyle it with a few small seasonal items.

Trays make decorating easy and organizing small items, stylish.

Coffee table with a pink wooden tray with yellow tulips and a candle on it.

Trays are classic and never go out of style. If they do, then they can always be painted to coordinate with a new trend or color scheme.

How to style a table tray for fall decorating raffia tassels

Or you can add tiles or decorative paper to the bottom to change it up for a season.

Wicker tray with vinyl covered cardboard insert.

If you have a wicker tray and want to use it to carry drinks, you can make a cardboard tray insert for it.

Try Layering Trays

Easter eggs on a coffee table tray

There is no reason to think that only one tray is enough: Smaller trays placed within larger ones create visual order and make it easy to organize or separate small items.

Match the Tray Shape to the Table on Which it’s Placed

Living room with oval coffee table with an oval tray on top
Photo credit: Kelly

Here is a great example of how to use a tray on a table in a decorative way. Match the tray to the shape of the table for an eye-catching display. It looks like the table and tray were meant to be.

Why I Like Organizing with Small Rectangular Trays

I like to use small rectangular trays to corral smaller items on my bathroom and kitchen counters.

How to use small trays to organize items on a bathroom counter.

The small trays keep counter clutter organized and makes cleaning the counter easy as the tray can easily be picked up when you need to clean the counter.

Bathroom counter decorating idea

I use them on every counter in my house.

Make Furniture With Trays

Did you know you can create your own furniture using a tray?

Make a bedside table using-trays

I turned plain TV trays into Butler’s tables by placing a tray on top. Voila! Instant chic that can also be made into a temporary night table for a guest.

Blue and white decorated master bedroom.

I created more interest for this small chest of drawers by placing a tray on top that is the same color, size and shape as the top. It looks like an integral part of the piece of furniture.

Night table in bedroom decor

I didn’t attach the clock paper lined tray, but I could. I like having the tray on top so nothing can fall or roll off the top.

Trays are the hardest working decorating accessory you will ever own.

Of course you can still use any tray when you need to carry things from your kitchen to the table or even outside to dine alfresco. Once the meal is over, you can put the tray right back into decorating mode.

Where to Find Trays

Most of the trays I own were purchased at flea markets and thrift stores. A few are from World Market, Walmart, and Target. My current favorites are smaller white porcelain trays that are sold with the intention of serving food.

My Favorite Small Trays

Affordable, Fast and Easy Decorating Ideas Using Trays

More Decorating Ideas Using Trays:

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  1. Linda L Weeks says:

    Oh, I love trays. I find I use them everywhere, mainly since picking up one thing is easier than picking up 12 things; like you say, for dusting under, etc. I always ‘need’ more trays! But you have a gorgeous one, the tole paint one – when I was little, they were everywhere, but they’re scarce as hens’ teeth now! Beautiful!

  2. Stephanie says:

    WOW! Thank you so much for the in-depth look at using trays!! This was truly an eye-opener for me! LOVE IT!!

  3. Diane,
    Your blog is wonderful. I get so many ideas from you. I love decorating and with this terrible pandemic going on I’ve kept myself busy looking for new ways to “pep” up the house. I’ve actually been having fun. I really don’t mind being quarantined. I also love to garden so it’s my way of getting fresh air.
    It seems I’m babbling on but have never enjoyed other blogs as much as yours.
    I make simple pillow covers and change them frequently. The tray ideas are fabulous. That’s my project for today.

  4. I love bringing some of the older style items into play in my home decorating. It brings memories of my mom and grandmother’s homes to mind. Specifically, I’m referring to the painted tole tray which you used. An idea to help preserve the painted metal, especially if you like to place plants or wet items on them is to use a matte finish acrylic spray to protect the painted surface.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Elaine – Thank you for taking the time to tell me about the tip about how to preserve the painted metal using matte acrylic spray. Great advice!!! I know many readers will benefit and keep painted toile looking beautiful.

  5. Shirley Korade says:

    Diane, I love this post and it has inspired me! You are so incredibly talented and you share your talents with us, the untalented, so unselfishly. Your imagination is limitless! As soon as I can get out, I will be hunting for trays of all descriptions! Thank you!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Shirley – Thank you so much. XO I hope once we can get back to normal and can get out and shop that you find a perfect tray. I think once this is over, thrift stores may be brimming with new items since many people organized their homes while staying at home and are going to donate what they no longer needed.

  6. I find trays a wonderful household asset.
    Enjoyed your post . . .
    Loved the floral tray in your first picture . . .
    Just the other day I pulled out a contemporary grey/white tray my daughter had given me and placed three of my antique Mason jars of different sizes on it . . . PERFECT.
    Thanks a Diane . . .

  7. I feel the same way and use trays a lot! To corral items on the bar or in the bathroom…they are super versatile. Great post!!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Lynn :-)

  8. Nice ideas. I have that white tray so I may be using it very soon.

  9. I have an attachment to trays as well and I understand your love for them perfectly. I didn’t think of using the porcelain ones for candles though, I think I need to borrow that idea for my Easter table.

  10. Love these ideas Diane- all so pretty! Stay well

  11. Sandi from Wisconsin says:

    Your trays are lovely, as is your ideas for using them. I especially love your black tray with the beautiful tole painting. It is always a good idea to shop one’s house, especially during this unusual time we are going through. Thank you for all the good ideas.

  12. 1960s girl says:

    Hi! I love trays too! I like the black one with flowers that you posted. I think it’s a good idea to keep a stash of things, because you never know. Thanks for the post.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Chantal – I have had the tole tray for over 30 years. It has made it though many a decorating item purge I do every few years. :-)

  13. Edna Smith says:

    I love trays, too! I enjoyed looking at the ways you have used them in your home, and I especially love the black metal one with the toile flowers. I think it is time to for me to take inventory of mine and think of some new ways to use them. Thanks for your inspiration!!

  14. Oops! My tray is a hand-painted TOLE tray.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Karen – Thanks for noticing my typo. :-)

  15. Thanks for an inspiring post. I have a vintage hand-painted tile tray that needs to be cleaned. Do you have any suggestions for cleaning this family piece?

    Please continue posting…it brightens my day since I am staying safe at home. Hope you and Ed are well, in spite of the pollen!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Karen – To clean your tray, I would use dish detergent and warm water. Use a soft cloth to gently clean the surface and then pat dry.

  16. Diane,

    I too have so many trays. I actually have the floral one that looks so cute on your table. You gave me such a great idea. Thank You.

    Happy Easter to you and Ed!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Jane – I use to have a collection of Toleware. Over the years I have sold the pieces that no longer made me smile, but the black one is a classic and I love the colors. Happy Easter

  17. Thanks for reminding me to dig out my trays…of which I have far too many, lol! So glad that you could join us today.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Janet – I have seen some of your trays in your posts… all are so pretty. Thanks for inviting me to join the series.

  18. Beautiful decorate tray of all shaped i really loved it,