Credit: Eric Piasecki

When you consider everything a sideboard is designed to hold -- china, stemware, and silverware, not to mention mundane necessities such as matches, bottle openers, and coasters -- it's clear that this item of furniture can be one of the most practical in the house. But all too often what's behind closed doors is a chaotic jumble. With a dinner party hours away, who needs to be scrambling for lost serving pieces? And discovering a chipped Champagne flute is no way to ring in the New Year. So with the holiday season approaching, we've trained our organizing eye on the sideboard.

Getting Started

A sideboard, also called a buffet, was once, literally, a board set alongside the main dining table. As the piece evolved, it began to feature various compartments, typically shallow drawers over tall cabinets. Whatever the style or configuration of yours, a few of the following ideas will help make the most of it.


Remove everything from the sideboard. You'll probably discover a fair number of items that don't belong there in the first place, whether old photo albums or damaged or duplicate serving pieces. Give away any useful items you no longer want to friends, or donate them to a charity. Then make a list of any items that are missing or damaged and will need to be replaced. Vacuum and wipe down the interior.


Create categories for those items that you will be putting back into the sideboard, and assign them to specific drawers and cabinets. Decide if they are best stacked vertically or stored horizontally. It may be helpful to make a list or create a rough sketch. Make certain the sideboard shelves are sturdy; any wobbly ones should be reinforced with brackets. Test drawers to make certain they open and close smoothly.


Choosing from the strategies that follow, purchase whatever storage devices, liners, and accessories best fit your needs. Remember to take all necessary measurements (interior and exterior) before heading to the store. Also, before you restock the sideboard, line the shelves with cushioned nonskid liners to protect plates and silver pieces. And don't forget to clean and polish items before returning them.

Assorted China

To prevent accidents and facilitate access, space out china generously and keep the stacks short. Here are two ways to store dishes safely.


Place valuable china -- the kind usually reserved for special occasions -- in quilted storage cases. These zip-up accessories, which come in a variety of sizes and are available at kitchen- and bath-supply stores, prevent plates from being chipped or cracked and also lock out moisture and dust.


An upright metal carrier provides accessible storage for more frequently used dinnerware. Plus, the rack can be brought directly to the table to make setting it easier. Felt dividers between the dishes add layers of protection.


Depending on your space, use one of these strategies for silverware.


To protect your finest silver flatware, line shallow drawers with silver cloth cut to size. Place the utensils single file and facing up; add a box of chalk to absorb moisture and help prevent tarnishing.


Utensil trays will multiply the storage space for flatware in a cupboard. To increase their usefulness, paint the trays, and then add handles to the sides and rubber bumpers to the bottom corners, which make it easy to stack them securely. Labels framed with metal plates and embroidered store-bought silver-cloth rolls help identify the contents when trays are packed and stacked.

Glasses and Bottles

Glassware is delicate, and you need lots on hand. Here's how to keep it safe.


Assign a low cabinet space for mixers, shakers, tumblers, trays, ice buckets, and other cocktail party essentials that are used infrequently. Always store glasses upright and in widely spaced rows on a nonskid liner to prevent their fragile rims from becoming chipped or cracked.


Overhead stemware racks are often used in bars and restaurants. This miniature model, which hooks onto a shelf, maximizes small spaces by storing wineglasses while still leaving the shelf below free for trays, platters, or other low items. A wine rack on the shelf above keeps a dozen bottles close at hand.

Table Linens

A few smart strategies will keep linens wrinkle-free and at the ready.


Napkins are mainstays of entertaining. Because you need so many, they deserve their own drawer or two. Use adjustable dividers to create custom compartments for cocktail napkins and napkin rings in one drawer, and neatly folded and stacked dinner napkins in another.


To keep large tablecloths from becoming wrinkled, roll them around cardboard tubing used for wrapping paper. (You may need to fold the linen lengthwise first). The same technique can be used for table runners, but use a smaller paper towel tube. Store the rolled cloths in a basket or a box, with protective acid-free paper on top.

Silver Wares

To store loose, often valuable, small items, we borrowed storage ideas from other rooms in the house.


Lazy Susans make storage easier in kitchen cabinets, so why not in a sideboard, too? They make it simple to access infrequently used or heavy items, such as pitchers, coffeepots, and teapots; silver-cloth bags give these items added protection against nicks and tarnish.


Add a store-bought wooden storage cube -- the kind often used in bedrooms or closets -- to hold small, easily damaged items such as salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowls, and knife rests. Line the drawers with silver cloth, and, if you like, customize them with a coat of paint and glass pulls.

Serving Platters

Trays, platters, cutting boards, and trivets present their own challenges. Storing them upright often allows better use of a sideboard's limited space.


An expandable tension cafe-curtain rod lets trays lean safely against the back wall of the cabinet. If items are top-heavy or fragile, ensure additional protection by using a second rod, placed higher up, to prevent them from tipping over. Other trays or tall items can then be placed in front.


A wooden plate stand, available at kitchen-supply stores, keeps smaller trays and trivets organized and at hand. Paint the stand the same color as the other storage accessories to give the sideboard a pleasing unity.

Utility Drawers

An efficient sideboard must have room for all the miscellany of entertaining.


Dedicate a drawer in your sideboard to the hodgepodge of items you'll need for setting the table and serving. Our checklist includes assorted bottle openers, corkscrews, floral frogs, toothpicks, drink umbrellas, and a nutcracker, all neatly stashed in an adjustable utensil tray.


Appoint a second drawer for candles and their accoutrements including snuffers and matches. To prevent tapers from jostling in the drawer and getting nicked, store them in paper towel tubes wrapped in decorative paper. Votives in various sizes also fit neatly in the drawer, making it easy to keep track of inventory.

Sideboard Surfaces

The sideboard often functions as a server, so it's smart to protect its top.


A slab of natural stone will protect the top from beverage rings and everyday scratches. Use an oversize marble cheese board, as shown here, or have a stone fabricator cut and polish the stone of your choice to the top's exact dimensions.


Another option is to have a piece of tempered glass cut to fit the top. For a more decorative effect, lay the glass over a piece of wallpaper or fabric. This will integrate the sideboard with the other furniture in the room by playing off the fabric or paint color, and the glass will make it easier to clean.

Comments (3)

Martha Stewart Member
March 4, 2013
I guess the first tip was simply the best! We do tend to keep too many things we don't really need and, unfortunately, the sideboard is the place to keep them.. It certainly shouldn't be that way. Thanks for reming us to clean it up and give away the unwanted items.
Martha Stewart Member
April 30, 2011
It's hard to tell for sure but it looks like FireKing Anchor Hocking Peach Lustre Swirl.
Martha Stewart Member
April 29, 2011
I want those orange dishes! Anyone know the pattern??