How to Build a Modern Coffee Table-Pottery Barn Dupe

June 7, 2023

Hi! I'm Nicole

Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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As usual, when looking for a modern coffee table build, I perused Pinterest for the perfect fit. Usually when I don’t find anything that catches my eye there, I search my favorite furniture stores for ideas. My go-to’s Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, McGee & Co, Arhaus, West Elm….to name a few. When the Folsom Wood coffee table popped up on Pottery Barn’s site, I knew that was the one! I love the chunkiness of this piece. It is such a solid, modern coffee table with clean lines and the finish on it is perfect!

Modern coffee table made of wood and stained a light color with 3 Christmas trees on top

And that $800 price tag doesn’t discourage me…because I built my new coffee table for a LOT less. It looks so good in my living room! I can’t wait to share with you how to build your own coffee table too. So, let’s get to it!


How To Build a Modern Coffee Table

(Instructions are based on a 49″ long x 16 1/2″ wide; 20″ tall coffee table) If building a different size, be sure to adjust measurements accordingly). 

Wood Needed for Modern Coffee Table:

  • 2- 3/4″ 4×8 sheets of quality plywood
  • 4- 2x4x8 pine boards

Materials Needed for Modern Coffee Table:

Here’s a list of the Finish products I used:

Tools Needed:

Affiliate Links Included

NOTE: If you’ve never used a Kreg Jig, here’s a great tutorial.   If you don’t have one, I highly recommend buying one. You will use it all the time in the DIY realm! And it makes builds so much easier!  Amazon has a great price for them! Here’s the link!!

Step One: Make all of your cuts

  • Cut four 2×4’s at 13″ each
  • Cut four 2×4’s at 12″ each
  • Cut four 2×4’s at 47 1/2″ each

2x4's cut to length needed

Step Two: Drill pocket holes for your modern coffee table

Drill 1 1/2″ pocket holes on both ends of all of your above cuts except the longer boards (47 1/2″). Your boards should now look like this…

2x4's cut to length needed with pocket holes drilled in each end

Step Three: Build sides

Attach two 13″ boards to two 47 1/2″ boards using 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws. Using your straight edge (speed square), make sure it’s square.

Modern coffee table base made of 2x4's

Repeat these steps with your remaining 13″ and 47 1/2″ boards. You should now have your two sides. They will look like this…

Base and top made of 2x4's

Step Four: Add stretchers to the sides

Attach all four 12″ boards to one side, using 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws. Make sure pocket holes are facing out. This will make it easier to attach the other side….

Legs added to coffee table base

Attach the other side to the top of the stretchers (12″ boards), using 2 12″ p.h. screws. Note: this picture shows the frame on its side. Be sure to rotate it once to sit it upright, before starting next step (“Wrapping the Frame”)….

Frame of coffee table built out of 2x4's

Step Five: Wrap frame with plywood for your modern coffee table

Your coffee table frame should now be in the upright position and look like this. (See picture below). Cut plywood to fit each section and attach using 1 1/2″ wood screws. I found it easiest to attach in the following order:

Ends (front and back)

Wrapping frame with plywood. Starting with the ends first

Your contemporary style coffee table piece of furniture should now look like this…

Frame of coffee table wrapped with plywood

Sides of ends…(Once again, cut to fit)

Wrapping the sides of the ends with plywood

Bottom and top of long 2×4’s…

Table frame made of 2x4's and wrapped with plywood

Table top and bottom (base of the table). As shown below…

Raw wood modern coffee table

Step Six: Attach edge-banding

For the perfect coffee table finish, you’ll want to add edge banding. Edge banding covers up all of those rough edges. You can follow the detailed instructions on the packaging, but this step is actually very simple.

Using a hot iron, attach edge banding to all exposed plywood edges. This is a very simple process. Simply, cut the edge banding to fit and iron it on. Press it down for a firmer grip. To do this, you’ll want to use a piece of wood. Slide the block of wood along the ironed-on edge banding. This will seal it onto the plywood and cover up all of those rough edges….

Edge banding added to cover the rough edges of plywood

Step Seven: Ready for stain

Now you’re ready for stain. For the perfect finish, follow this step-by-step guide.

I like to use a Pre-Stain first before adding my finishing stain. In short, Pre-Stain will give you a more even finish with less chance of blotchiness. This process only takes a little bit of time and is well worth the extra step.

Brush on Pre-Stain first. After you’ve applied your Pre-Stain, your contemporary coffee table is ready for stain. Immediately. No need to wait for the Pre-Stain to dry. In fact, it is best if it is still somewhat wet, when applying your stain. This will help even out the absorption of the finishing stain.

The first finishing stain you’ll apply is, Tinsmith Gray. I like to allow my stain some time to absorb into the wood, before wiping off the excess. Working in 3-4 foot sections usually works best. After wiping off the excess stain, you’ll want to allow this stain to dry on your own DIY coffee table.

Once the Tinsmith Gray is dry, you’re ready for the next stain color. Apply Special Walnut next and follow the same technique you used to apply the Tinsmith stain. Once again, allow it to dry.

After your wooden coffee table is completely dry, you’re ready for the polyurethane. Give it 2-3 coats poly for a durable finish….

Cans of stain and poly

That’s it! You now have a beautiful Pottery Barn-inspired modern coffee table; for a fraction of the price. This simple design is great for any woodworking skill level. I hope you’ve found this free coffee table plan to be easy to follow. Are you inspired to go build your own? It’s the perfect design for any living space.

Maybe you’re in the market for an outdoor coffee table? Only one simple change needs to be made. Make sure to use an outdoor poly, if placing it outside. And that’s it! You now have a functional coffee table for outdoors!!

Modern coffee table side view

With just some basic tools, this is one of the easiest DIY projects you’ll ever build…

Furniture build in a family room with a couch and pillows in the background

Want to check out more free DIY coffee table plans? Here’s another easy build.

Or maybe a modern farmhouse coffee table is more your style? Check out this pallet coffee table tutorial. 

Personally, I love the geometric design of this modern look. At Christmas time, I like to keep my top of the table decor simple, yet elegant…

Bird's eye view of a family room

And a quick look at my beautiful coffee table throughout the rest of the year…

coffee table with a black pot and green plant

Want to build an end table to match? Here are the free plans! 

As always, if you have any questions on how to build this gorgeous coffee table (or maybe how to style it), please comment below or email me. I love helping you make these builds more than just something you read through. 🙂

FAQ’s: For a modern coffee table

What are the advantages of adding a pre stain before the finishing stain?

Adding a pre-stain before the finishing stain can provide several advantages in the process of staining wood or other materials:

  • First and foremost, pre-stain can help to even out the absorption of the finishing stain. This can be especially useful when working with porous or unevenly textured materials.
  • Pre-stain penetrates the surface of the material and can help to seal the pores. This reduces the amount of stain that is absorbed and prevents blotching or uneven coloring.
  • Pre-stain can help to enhance the color of the finishing stain by providing a more uniform base color. This is particularly important when working with lighter stains or when trying to achieve a specific color tone
  • Pre-stain can help to improve the durability of the finishing stain by increasing its adhesion to the surface of the material. This can help to prevent the stain from peeling or flaking over time and can extend the lifespan of the finish.

As you can see, adding a pre-stain before the finishing stain can provide several benefits and is often recommended by professionals in the woodworking and finishing industries.

Why should pre stain be somewhat wet when applying the stain finish?

Pre-stain should be somewhat wet when applying the stain finish because it helps to ensure proper absorption of the finishing stain and can prevent the stain from drying out too quickly.

When the pre-stain is still slightly damp, it is more receptive to the finishing stain and can help to promote even absorption of the color. This is especially important when working with porous materials such as wood, which can absorb the finishing stain unevenly if the pre-stain has dried out completely.

This can, in turn, result in a blotchy or uneven finish.

However, it’s important to note that the pre-stain should not be too wet, as this can also affect the absorption of the finishing stain and can cause the color to appear lighter or less vibrant than intended. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and allow the pre-stain to dry to the appropriate level of dampness before applying the finishing stain.

What is the ideal size for a modern coffee table?

The ideal size for a modern coffee table depends on several factors, including:

  • the size of your living room
  • the height of your seating
  • how you plan to use the table.

As a general guideline, the height of the coffee table should be about the same as the seat height of your sofa or chairs. The length and width of the coffee table should also be proportionate to the size of your seating area. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least 18 inches of space between the coffee table and the edge of the sofa or chairs.

How much does it cost to build a modern coffee table?

The cost of building a modern coffee table can vary widely depending on the materials used, the design complexity, and the level of craftsmanship involved. A simple coffee table made from plywood and a few basic tools can cost as little as $50, while a more elaborate design made from premium hardwoods and intricate joinery can cost several thousand dollars.

What is the difference between a modern coffee table and a traditional one?

The main difference between a modern coffee table and a traditional one is the design aesthetic. Traditional coffee tables tend to be more ornate and decorative, often featuring intricate carvings and details. I love this beautiful, modern coffee table. New, upcoming build???

Modern coffee table-round with decor on top

Modern coffee tables, on the other hand, tend to be more streamlined and minimalistic, with clean lines and simple shapes. Modern coffee tables may also incorporate unconventional materials and finishes, such as metal or glass.

What is the best shape coffee table for a small room?

The best shape for a coffee table in a small room is typically a rectangular or oval shape. Primarily, because these shapes tend to take up less visual space and provide a more streamlined look. Rectangular or oval coffee tables can also be pushed up against a wall or sofa to save space, or used in a modular arrangement for more flexibility.

What is the best shape coffee table for a large room?

In a large room, a coffee table can be more of a statement piece, so a larger size and a bolder shape can be appropriate. Round or square coffee tables can work well in larger rooms, as they can help to anchor the seating area and create a focal point.

A larger coffee table can also provide more surface area for decorative items or practical items like books or drinks.

How should I decorate a large square coffee table?

I like to divide up a large square coffee table into sections when decorating. This is an ideal way to create a more organized and cohesive display.

Dividing the table into sections can help to create visual balance and prevent the decor from feeling cluttered or overwhelming.

One way to divide up a large square coffee table is to use trays or other decorative organizers to create distinct sections. For example, you could use two sections, opposite of one another, for decorative objects like vases or sculptures. One section for practical items like coasters or remotes. And another section for books or magazines. Ideally, if the table is large enough, I prefer to divide it into four sections. If it’s not big enough, three sections is a stylish look.

2 coffee table pushed together to form a larger coffee table

SOURCE: BA Staging & Interiors

How should I decorate a small coffee table?

  1. Use a tray: A tray is a great way to create a defined section on a small coffee table. Use a decorative tray to corral items like books, candles, or decorative objects.
  2. Create a central focal point: Choose one item to serve as the central focal point of your coffee table display, such as a vase of flowers or a decorative sculpture. Then, arrange other decor items around it in a circular or symmetrical pattern.
  3. Use books: Stacking books can be a great way to add height and visual interest to a small coffee table. Choose a few books with decorative covers or interesting titles to add a personal touch.
  4. Add some greenery: A small plant or succulent can add a touch of nature to your coffee table and help to create a more organic feel. Choose a small plant that fits the scale of the table, and consider using a decorative pot or planter.
  5. Incorporate textiles: A decorative coaster or a small decorative dish can add color and texture to your coffee table display. Choose a few items that complement the color scheme of the room.
  6. Keep it minimal: When decorating a small coffee table in sections, it’s important to avoid cluttering the space. Stick to a few carefully chosen decor items and use negative space to create a balanced and intentional display.

What is the most durable finish for a coffee table?

My go-to finish for all of my furniture builds is General Finishes High Performance Top Coat. It’s the hardest and most durable consumer top coat on the market today. This stuff is the bomb! So good! I usually apply 3-4 coats to the table top; where most of the wear and tear is going to occur. And 1-2 coats to the rest of the furniture piece. Sometimes to save money, I’ll only use this item on the table top. For the rest of the furniture piece, I’ll use 2 coats of Varathane Ultimate Poly.

Coffee table round with great lines on the base and a large white base and books on it

Do coffee tables make a room look bigger?

Coffee tables can have a visual impact on a room, but whether they make a room look bigger or not depends on a variety of factors. In general, coffee tables themselves do not make a room look bigger, but they can be used to create the illusion of more space.

Here are some ways that coffee tables can be used to make a room feel more spacious:

  1. Use a coffee table with a low profile: A coffee table with a low profile can make a room feel more spacious by not obstructing the view and allowing the eye to travel further.
  2. Use a small-scale coffee table: A small-scale coffee table can make a room feel more spacious by not taking up too much visual space. This is especially important in small rooms where every inch counts.
  3. Use a coffee table with a light color or finish: A coffee table with a light color or finish can reflect light and make a room feel brighter and more spacious.
  4. Create negative space around the coffee table: By leaving some space around the coffee table, you can create a feeling of openness and make the room feel more spacious.

Ultimately, the size, shape, and style of the coffee table should be chosen based on the needs of the room and your personal style. While coffee tables themselves do not make a room look bigger, they can be used in creative ways to create the illusion of more space.

Be sure to Pin This Post to your Pinterest Board for later…


Let’s go beyond the design to build something beautiful together!

Until next week,

Happy Building, Friend!!

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POTTERY BARN FOLSOM WOOD COFFEE TABLE (If you would rather buy one than build it 🙂  )

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