In my opinion, the humble tray may be the single most useful and versatile item in a home (which may be the reason why I have at least 15 in mine). What other object can you use to: 1) serve food and drinks, 2) keep toiletries/office supplies/spices neat and tidy, 3) use as a surface for Play-Doh-creating and Lego-building, 4) capture slush and mud, and 5) decorate?
A terrific organizational tool, trays can turn most messes into artfully arranged masterpieces. While there's a time and a place for pricier models (wedding gifts, for example), you can score trays in all shapes and sizes for less than $30. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. These colorful square lacquer trays from West Elm come in a range of colors and sizes. I use a similar one to corral medicine and first aid supplies in my linen closet.
2. A mecca of inexpensive home goods, IKEA has some great tray options that stand up to the wear and tear of time. I use the larger ones when my kids want to play with Moon Sand (keeps most of it off the counters), then lean them up against my backsplash to store them and hide my ugly outlets. This Bärbar tray not only is a bargain ($4.99!) but serves beautifully as a beverage station, holding my coffee, tea, French press, and sugar bowl.
3. One of my best pals gave me a monogrammed melamine platter (first image above) from Preppy Plates in January and it's been stationed on my kitchen counter ever since. There's something about serving bagels from a pretty tray each morning that makes me feel a bit more civilized than dealing them from the toaster like a deck of cards.
4. For many years, I served cheese on a regular plate when I would have guests over because, as elegant as they are, I refused to pay some absurd amount of money for a marble or wood cheese board. But then I found Pottery Barn's great white cheese tray for a mere $19! When it's not being used for cheese, it holds my oils and spices right next to the stove.
5. This Valentine's Day I made my husband a papier mache valet tray/charging station to hold all of his end-of-day junk (two cell phones, keys, coins, business cards, and other random items that are produced from his pockets). I followed this simple tutorial and produced a lovely piece. You can't get much cheaper than paper scraps, watered down glue, and leftover paint! (FYI - the gorgeous photo below is from the tutorial, not my project!)
Need a gift for someone special or are you willing to spend a little more for your home? Consider one of these stepped-up options:
6) This stainless oval tray is timeless and elegant. Also, happily shiny.
7) This Amazon dreams platter from Anthropologie is fun, funky, and adds color.
8) Handmade in upstate New York, this courtly check serving platter evokes the feeling of a tea party with the Mad Hatter.
9) This square maze tray from John Derian represents masterful decoupage. (Incidentally, my very favorite trays are from the John Derian for Target collection...I hope he comes back someday!)
Beautiful and functional, no? Happy organizing and decorating! If you have other awesome tray finds, feel free to share them in the comments below!