How to Design and Build a Modern Dining Table

If you’re like me, the main reason you want to build your own table is because you simply cannot find exactly what you want in a store or online, and if you have found it it’s one of three things:

  • Made with super cheap materials that will not stand the test of time (never mind holding up to kids, who we all know are not gentle with ANYTHING) and yet is still is expensive,


  • Just plain crazy expensive and not in the budget by a mile


  • Not the right size for your unique space

So, what’s a girl to do? Settle for the cheap materials at high end material prices? Have a table that is too big or small for your space? Well, not me. I actually waited 1.5 years after moving into our new home to finally get a table for these very reasons. We ate every single meal at our kitchen island, which is fine, but there’s nothing quite like sitting at a table with the ones you love and sharing a long, delicious, and COMFORTABLE meal! So, let’s get to it!!


First things first, you want to do a lot of research. I mean, you’ll hopefully be sitting at this table for years to come, so you want to make sure that it not only looks great, but is functional for you and your family. Do you like to have dinner parties and want to have flexible seating? Maybe a trestle or pedestal table design is the way to go so there are no legs at the corners which would be restricting an extra person to squeeze in. Do you have kids who climb on everything? Well then you’ll have to make sure that the style of table is super secure and doesn’t leave any room for tipping when there’s lots of weight on one side. Here’s an inspo picture I found for the table style that I wanted to make. I love the mix of modern and classic, with the clean square lines and the chunky wood legs.

Dining Table inspiration. In love with the chunky legs and clean lines.

Next you should do some research and decide which type of wood you want to use. Hardwoods like maple and oak are great, they will last forever and ever. Pine is also a great option, but it is a softer wood and will show dents wherever there is pressure applied, like for instance a fork banging down on the table begging for dinner to be served!

Lastly is the type of table legs and stain or paint colour you want. A more traditional route is using wood for the legs, or you can go with a more modern look and use metal. As for the stain or paint, that is a totally personal choice. Google images is a great tool to use to see what you like and don’t like.

Deciding Table Size

Here’s an important one…you definitely need to know how many people you want to comfortably seat at your table before you start ordering and cutting wood. For most standard dining chairs, you should allow for 2 feet of space for each person. The chair themselves aren’t that large, but you want your family members and guests to have enough room to get in and out of their chairs without bumping into everyone else, and of course enough room beside them while they are eating that their elbows are not bumping into one another. You can always squeeze chairs closer together for those larger dinner parties, but you most definitely want to be super comfortable in the day to day of things. We knew the chairs we wanted so I ordered them here and had them in the room. We measured and placed the chairs where they would sit and used this to judge if the size table we were making would work in the room. You can also use painters tape on the floor to mark out where the table would go.

Here we set up the chairs where they would sit with the table measurements we wanted to see if it was a good fit for the room.

Now on to the room size. Just like you want to leave 2 feet if space for each chair, you also want to allow for at least 2 feet of space behind each chair. Whether it’s a wall, a hallway, or a credenza or console table, there should be enough room for you to push your chair back, stand up comfortably, and get behind your chair to tuck it in. If the space behind your chairs will be used as a walkway for others to get to their seats, a little more than 2 feet is best. That way, those who are already seated won’t need to squish and suck in their tummies in order to tuck their seats in when someone gets up to use the bathroom or refill their drinks.

Lastly, you have to decide the height that you want your table to sit at. For this I would suggest the best thing is to have your chairs already picked out, because while the height of chairs is fairly standard, there is a slight variance. If not, it’s no game ender! The most important thing is that you figure out what works for you. Is your family on the taller side? Then you might want to build your table slightly higher than standard. On the shorter side? You get where this is going! The standard dining table height is 28″-30″ from the ground to the top of the table top. We went with 29.5 inches because it felt most comfortable for us. I often times will sit with my foot under my butt at dining tables because otherwise it feels like I’m reaching up to get my food, so this height felt good enough that I won’t have to do that daily.

Here is a major tip, something that I did not do when getting furniture for our first home. Everybody has different preferences. And while you want your guests to be comfortable in your home…you do not need to cater your entire life to what they want. Shocker, right?! This is your home, your dining table, do what YOU want. Trust me when I say, you’ll be surprised at how many compliments you get when you do something a little out of the ordinary but that rings true to who you are. Game. Changer.

Now that you have all that figured out, on to the build!

What you’ll need:

  1. A rough drawing of your design. Nothing fancy, a doodle will do. Just something to reference and make measurement notes beside.
  2. Wood of choice
  3. Wood Screws
  4. Drill
  5. Drill bit to pre drill holes
  6. Pencil
  7. Miter Saw or Circular Saw (if not having parts cut/milled for you)
  8. Stain/Paint
  9. Paint brushes and painters cloths
  10. Pocket hole tool (Not mandatory, but helpful)
  11. Clamps (Not mandatory, but helpful)

Step 1:

If you have a local lumber yard, it can be totally worth the cost to have them mill and put together your table top for you, and even the other table parts if they are pretty custom. To get a really professional looking table top it’s best to clamp the pieces of wood together with plenty of glue in order to have them hold well. That being said, unless you plan to glue up many many table tops, the investment in several 4 foot clamps probably isn’t worth it for you. So you can have the lumber yard do it, or you can do it yourself with pocket holes and some support pieces beneath.

We went the route of the lumber yard putting the separate pieces together for us. The people over at Century Mill Lumber are the best in the biz and made the pieces exactly as we asked all in the most beautiful Wormy Maple. What we ordered was:

  • x4 – 4″x8″x23″ for the legs
  • x2 – 3″x5″x34″ for the feet
  • x2 – 1.5″x8″x40″ for the leg supports
  • x1 – 2”x4”x60” for the trestle
  • x1 – 1″x2″x96″ for half the skirt
  • x2 – 1″x2″x84″ for the other half of the skirt
  • x1 – 2″x48″x84″ for the table top

Here are photos of my rough drawings that I used to figure out the measurements and make sure I ordered all the parts I needed. You’ll notice that some of the measurements are different from what I ultimately ended up ordering.

Step 2

Once the lumber yard delivered all the pieces…side not…OMG the table top is heeeaaaavvvyyy!!! Anywho, once the pieces were all delivered I set them up to make sure that the heights I had calculated would work once all the parts were attached.

Freshly delivered lumber….droool!!

Yes, it all works! Let’s build!

Step 3

Now let’s put this baby together! First thing to do is attach the trestle to one leg on each end of the table, allowing for a couple inches of hangover. I did this with two 3″ screws into each leg, through the trestle. I put the screws in staggered in order to stop any movement. Next thing was to place the legs upside down on a flat surface, the second leg pushed right up against the open side of the trestle piece. Then you’ll lie the foot on top of the legs, and get underneath to measure and make sure that they are straight and evenly placed. Once ready, have someone hold everything in place while you pre-drill your holes, then attach the pieces using three 5″ screws into each leg. You could use clamps here if you have them and don’t have an extra set of hands.

Step 4

Flip your legs over (which are all now attached because of the feet and the trestle), line up the leg supports, again making sure that everything is even and straight. Pre-drill 3 holes through the top of the support piece into each leg, then attach using the 2.5″ screws. Your table base is now complete! Ok, now for the heavy lifting!

Step 5

Depending on the size of your table, you’ll need help with this part. Lie the table top on the floor, upside down. So the bottom of the table top will be facing the ceiling. Next, flip the table base upside down, on top of the upside down table top. Once again, you’ll need to make sure that the table base is sitting straight and evenly spaced from each side of the table top. When that is all done, go ahead and pre drill 8 holes through each leg support into the table top. Next up, get your 2.5″ screws and attach those babies!!

Step 6

Now that your base is attached to the table top, the last bit of construction that is needed is attaching the skirt. I had these pieces made the length of each side of the table, so that once I attached the base I could take exact measurements and cut accordingly. I didn’t bother mitering the corners because I knew that with the very dark stain we’d be using you wouldn’t be able to see the joints anyway.

We decided on placing the skirt 2” inset from the edge of the tabletop. I made the measurements and marked the pieces to be cut.

So, now the skirt pieces are cut to size and ready to be attached. I used my Kreg Jig to drill 2 pocket holes every 12 inches across the length of the skirt pieces, making sure to place some as close to the edges as possible without splitting the wood. Tip: Many people will grab onto the skirt and pull on it, either to help tuck themselves in or to move the table around the room. You want this to be super secure and strong. You can also add some wood glue to these for extra strength. Once all your holes are pre-drilled you can put them in place and attach with the proper screws.

Fully assembled Moder Dining Table upside down

Now let’s flip that baby over and marvel at your hard work.

Full assembled Modern Dining Table

Step 7

Time to sand and stain or paint your beautiful new table! Depending on the finish you’ve chosen, these steps will vary, but the first thing you should do is sand your table. This way the paint or stain that you chose will adhere nicely. I also like to round out or lessen the severity of the table edges so that our kids don’t hurt themselves too bad when then inevitably run into it!!

Me staining the bottom of the dining table

For our table, I used Rubio Monocoat 2C stain in Charcoal. I don’t have anything but great things to say about this stain. It coats wood like a dream, doesn’t leave streaks, and won’t leave overlap lines. It is on the more expensive side compared to home improvement store stains, but is worth every penny. It only requires one coat, as the stain and sealer are applied together. Best of all us that it is zero VOC, and Safe for food surfaces.

Finished Modern Dining Table

Dining table legs, feet, trestle and skirt

Beautiful wormy maple dining table top

Finished Modern Dining Table with chairs

And there you have it! Your brand new, custom made-by-you table, ready to enjoy, and I hope you do! Hop on over to Instagram and show me your work, I can’t wait to see it! @olidesignhouse

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Until next time,


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