Trays may be my secret weapon in decorating. They give me a beginning and end to an arrangement, keeping it tidy and compact, while allowing me to present a mix of interesting materials and textures. They finish a room without disturbing the balance of color and pattern in it, while providing a tactile still life for all to enjoy.
If a table top, or ottoman top needs a little something, a tray scene will be Just the Thing!
1) Three heights
I like my arrangements to have 3 distinct heights for visual interest. If your objects do not give you that, consider stacking one on a few books or a decorative box. I use designer books versus regular ones to minimize the color and pattern a book can add. This can also be accomplished by using white and neutral-colored books without their dust covers. If you are feeling crafty, you can explore covering books in wallpaper or contact paper,
2) Liquid Texture
I always include a glass, mercury glass or shiny metal for one of the pieces. I like the contrast this liquid sheen gives me to the matte pieces next to it. Many times, I get this texture from the candle holder that is often the highest element.
Unless the tray is wood, I like to include an organic element like a flower, a fossil, or an element from the sea. It grounds the grouping and creates a conversation piece. Petrified wood, shells, coral, geodes, crystals, fossils can all fill this role.
4) Light it up
Many people find candles comforting and homey. Your tray scene can give that candle some company and enhance that peaceful feeling they bring. If you have children or dogs with large tails, you may want to consider flameless candles. They can be very realistic wax ones like those sold by Pottery Barn, or the more plasticky variety that can also be used outdoors. I love it when they can be on a timer that lights them at sunset and welcomes you home with a soft twinkle.