One of biology's most pervasive nanostructures, the phospholipid membrane, represents an ideal scaffold for a host of nanotechnology applications. Whether engineering biomimetic technologies or designing therapies to interface with the cell, this adaptable membrane can provide the necessary molecular-level control of membrane-anchored proteins, glycopeptides, and glycolipids. If appropriately prepared, these components can replicate in vitro or influence in vivo essential living processes such as signal transduction, mass transport, and chemical or energy conversion. To satisfy these requirements, a lipid-based, synthetic nanoscale architecture with molecular-level tunability is needed. In this regard, discrete lipid particles, including reconstituted high density lipoprotein (HDL), have emerged as a versatile and elegant solution. Structurally diverse, native biological HDLs exist as discoidal lipid bilayers of 5-8 nm diameter and lipid monolayer-coated spheres 10-15 nm in diameter, all belted by a robust scaffolding protein. These supramolecular assemblies can be reconstituted using simple self-assembly methods to incorporate a broad range of amphipathic molecular constituents, natural or artificial, and provide a generic platform for stabilization and transport of amphipathic and hydrophobic elements capable of docking with targets at biological or inorganic surfaces. In conjunction with top-down or bottom-up engineering approaches, synthetic HDL can be designed, arrayed, and manipulated for a host of applications including biochemical analyses and fundamental studies of molecular structure. Also highly biocompatible, these assemblies are suitable for medical diagnostics and therapeutics. The collection of efforts reviewed here focuses on laboratory methods by which synthetic HDLs are produced, the advantages conferred by their nanoscopic dimension, and current and emerging applications.