The Elusive Tole Tray

Recognizable by its papier-mâché applied (and hand-painted!) floral design and small size, the tole tray was commonly used in Europe and hand-made in Japan. To be completely honest, they don’t teach you about tole trays in design school and thus, I had no clue what they were aside from ‘pretty’. My grandmother (she’s incredibly eclectic and stylish and currently down-sizing) dropped a few of these unique vintage trays into that goodie bag I mentioned in my previous poppy post. Her mother (my great-grandmother) used them as individual dessert trays with enough room for a plate, a cup of coffee or cappuccino, a napkin, and silverware.

In my home, I have one on my kitchen table holding a salt bowl, salt+pepper mills, a sugar bowl, and a small cup of greens. I have also placed one on the nightstands beside the guest room bed. Those trays hold lamps, a clock, and small metal pigs.

Tole Trays, Photo by Carolyn Laich ©2011

They are searchable on ebay and also may be found in antique stores.  In addition to the uses above, I’ve compiled a list of “5 Ways to Use Tole Trays.” Enjoy!

1. Individual serving trays for hors d’oeuvres during a dinner party.
2. A tray on which to serve ‘Breakfast in Bed’. Holds mimosa glass, small plate with croissant, small bowl of fresh cherries, and a cloth napkin-wrapped fork+knife.
3. A coffee table catch-all for small figures, a vase, or miniature books.
4. A kitchen catch-all for keys, wallets, and coins.
5. A pillar candle tray for your bedroom, bathroom, living or dining room. Fits 3 3-4″ (diameter) pillars of various heights. Create a row of 3 trays with pillars and cranberries or sage leaves down the center of your dining room table during a dinner party. Lovely, contained ambient lighting.


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