Décor workhorses can pull together an assortment of smaller household items for a presentation that's inviting and interesting.

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At its heart, good design is all about telling our stories. My favorite spaces are those that wrap me up in the world of the people who live there. The furniture and accents we select for our homes work together to give glimpses of who we are and what we hold dear.

Trays are the ultimate tools for telling your stories in your home. I view trays filled with tableaux as artwork, simple stages on which the one-act plays of our lives come alive. You will find them in just about every room of my cottage, holding things that are precious, such as family heirlooms, and everyday, like my TV remote and reading glasses.

The other day I was working with a customer, helping her make her home a better reflection of her style and personality. On our checklist was styling the open hutch in her dining room and creating a display on her living room coffee table. She had lovely accents, but what she was missing was a good selection of trays.

To make her hutch feel less staged or fussy, trays were used to help it tell a series of interesting stories. For example, we placed a tray on a shelf and filled it with bottles of after-dinner drinks and glasses. It made her hutch not only functional, but also visually appealing. I used a tray in a similar way to house teacups in the bookcases that line my dining room walls.

A tray is used to house teacups in this kitchen bookcase. (Mary Carol Garrity / TNS)
A tray is used to house teacups in this kitchen bookcase. (Mary Carol Garrity / TNS)

Since our cottage is so small, we have to use just about every inch when we entertain. Trays are essential when we take the party to the living room, den or outside. I like to keep trays on my end tables, ready to fill with drinks or snacks when friends drop by.

Trays not only make everything that sits upon them feel special, they are also attractive workhorses, beautifully corralling all our stuff. For example, in my bathroom, I have a round silver tray on my vanity that holds a glass compote filled with my jewelry and a mug for my makeup brushes. I filled in the empty spaces with little treasures that make me smile, like petite framed photos of my family. Take away the tray, and you’ve got a cluttered mess. Add the tray, and it looks like artwork.

I like to use trays in my kitchen to pull together cooking utensils; vinegars and oils; the makings for my morning cup of coffee; or dishes and silverware ready to put on the table for dinner. Place one on your office desk to hold pens, paper clips and papers. In your family room, fill a tray with your magazines and books.

Flowers can bring to life a tray of assorted items in any room. (Mary Carol Garrity / TNS)
Flowers can bring to life a tray of assorted items in any room. (Mary Carol Garrity / TNS)

Trays also make fabulous artwork. In bookcases, you can tilt a tray on its side and use it as a backdrop to a display, giving the space added depth.