If you went on a scavenger hunt for a tray in my home, you’d find one in every single room. In the 33 years I’ve worked in interior design, some of the decorating foot soldiers I use to style my home have come and gone (anyone remember tassels?). But trays are here to stay. Here are my favorite ways to use trays to keep my life organized and beautiful:

Stage beautiful displays

There is nothing more fun for me than dressing up bare tabletops with beautiful displays. Nine times out of 10, those displays are built on top of a tray.

Trays make the perfect stage. Magically, when an odd assortment of accents is placed together on a tray, the individual items suddenly come together with one voice and have a powerful impact.

Trays also ground a cluster of accents, giving them a visual place to land in the expanse of a bare table. Have a collection you want to show off? Put a few choice pieces on a tray.

Or try a beautiful silver tray featuring an accent lamp and coffee makings. Somehow, using a tray turns mundane activities — like getting your morning cup of Joe — into an event.

I like to use trays as tabletops. Sometimes I’ll top a stack of books with a tray to use as a table next to a reading chair. They also work wonderfully on top of urns or garden stools.

Keep the kitchen organized

Since I’m not a cook, I am clueless about the differences in all the specialty oils and vinegars my husband uses when he makes dinner for us. Instead, I see all these lovely bottles as decorative items for the kitchen counter. Just place them together on a tray.

My kitchen is small, and storage space is at a premium, so I have to keep things out on my countertops. That doesn’t mean that the items shouldn’t be beautiful, right? Case in point: I take a few place settings of silver straight from the dishwasher and put them in lovely glass cups, collected on a tray that sits near our kitchen table.

Try using a tray as a backsplash in your kitchen. I always keep a tray behind my sink to keep water from splashing on the window. Plus, I just love how they look layered on the counter.

Dress up a bar

A beautifully set bar raises the spirits as much as the libations set upon it. A favorite trick of mine is to build a simple bar on top of a tray. A friend created a bar on her sun porch that is so beautiful you just want to drink it in. She used a simple wicker tray that’s perfect to hold the bottles and bar supplies. She also used other versatile decorating tools to add to the ambience, like a cast-iron garden urn holding the serving pieces, and a silver candy dish displaying napkins.

Act as artwork

My definition of “artwork” is very broad, and stretches to include just about anything I find delightful — and can manage to hang on my wall. Trays definitely fit this category. All you need is a large plate gripper, and you’re ready.

Another way to treat a tray as a piece of art is to use it as a backdrop for a tabletop display. Another friend placed a very simple tray against the wall next to her stove to frame a white jar. The lines of the tray mimic those of some plates hung above the stove. Poetry!

Elegant entertaining

When you’re entertaining or just want to make your daily life more beautiful, trays can be your best friend. Food is so much lovelier when presented on a tray — and so are drinks.

Trays also are great at anchoring place settings on your dining table, keeping individual elements like silverware and linens tucked up tight. A common mistake people make when setting up buffets is to place all the food on plates and platters that are the same height. It’s functional, but not very fun. For a table service exploding with drama, use serving tools such as glass compotes that allow you to display food at a variety of heights.