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How to Decorate with Vintage Trays

When it comes to vintage trays, let us pose it this way: is there anything they can’t do? Functional and decorative, vintage trays are our go-to solution for coffee tables that feel barren, bar carts that feel haphazard, and kitchen pantries that feel functionless. Much like a swipe from a magic wand, vintage trays add instant polish to spaces, corralling items both pretty and not-so-pretty, while effortlessly adding visual cohesion.

Whether opting for a simple teak tray that will serve up breakfast in bed like a pro, or a glamorous piece rendered in a textural material like bone or calf hair, a vintage tray is inspired for maximizing a space’s workability and giving it a lived-in feel. In fact, once you commit to using a vintage tray the problem can be where do you not use one? As proven by the multitude of uses below, a secondhand tray knows no bounds.

Use One (or Several!) in a Pantry…

Pantries can be a godsend, but keeping them organized? Now, that’s another matter. Often deeply recessed and hidden behind doors, the pantry can become easy prey for disorganization. To keep things in check, try outfitting your cabinets with used trays. Pile vintage trays categorically with goods (such as olive and vinegars on one, flour and sugar canisters on another), and you’ll carve out go-to spots for tasks like baking and setting the table with condiments. Opt for trays in smooth materials like acrylic, here, which will slide forwards and backwards on shelves with ease. The best part of this set-up, though? Trays can be completely removed for things like baking projects, or slid a few inches out to retrieve a one-off item and then easily scooted back in.

Use One to House Houseplants…

Adding a little green to your house is like adding a little to your plate: it looks gorge and feels positively good for you. The problem; however, can be watering them. Terracotta pots and baskets can leak water and those plastic pot liners can be a little less than aesthetically pleasing. To remedy, try placing your plants on a vintage tray. Trays in durable materials like bone work like magic here, as they catch water but don’t absorb it, preventing damage to the tray’s surface. Just wipe the tray dry every few days, or every time you water. Purposely seek out trays with handles and you’ll have a transportable garden that can be set atop virtually any surface. Turn an eyesore like a disconnected radiator or into an architectural plant stand, and in the winter easily move the entire tray outdoors to give your plants a well-needed dose of sunshine.

Use One to Create a Bar…

While you’ll never catch us discouraging a bar cart, we get that some spaces simply don’t have room for pieces that aren’t on the essentials list. In lieu of one; however, a credenza topped with a vintage tray is a master-minded substitute. To get the look, grab a tray (Any tray! Really! This look is virtually fool-proof), and set it on one side of your credenza or console. Then load the tray with the bar essentials: bottles, shaker, jigger, and picks. You might also think to leave room for a vintage vessel which can be used to display fresh fruit like lemons, limes, or when winter descends—kumquats with the leaves still attached. The result will be a chic, moveable bar that can be utilized right on the credenza, or easily moved into the living room to craft a round of Negronis post-feast.

While any vintage tray will work, if you’re stuck on what to pick, try a stately and refined tray with touches of glam to accent the old-school appeal of most liquor bottles. Brass, stones, and Lucites are always complementary.

Use One on Top of an Ottoman… (Poof! Instant Coffee Table)

Spatially-challenged interiors know how to get crafty, and from them we borrow this: one of our all-time favorite coffee table looks. Rather than opting for a full table, position two small ottomans (or one large one) in front of your sofa and top them with a vintage tray. Best here are large-scale trays, which will add presence to low-profile ottomans and increase your usable surface space. When looking for trays for this, make sure it offers up enough room to house a vase, a book, and few coasters (not stacked), and look for trays made of smooth materials like plastic and bone rather than texture-heavy ones like seagrass. The beauty of this look is that when not in use, the arrangement can be disassembled to increase seating or reveal open floor space.