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How to Build and Style a Side Table

by Magnolia
Published on February 28, 2019

If you’re looking for a side table you can make yourself and customize, we’ve got a simple idea for you! We’re going to walk you through the steps to building your own side table, as well as three ways to style it in different spaces: a living room, a kid’s space and a bedroom. We’re also going to show you how easy it is to make it with three different types of table legs. Let’s get started!

With a few basic tools, this is a project you can complete in just 24 hours.

Here’s what you’ll need:

+ 2 - 18x6” pieces of high quality plywood
+ 2 - 18x18” pieces of high quality plywood
Note: We used Oak plywood, which came in ½ in x 2 ft x 4 ft sheets. It took us two of these plywood sheets to build one side table. From there, we had our local hardware store help us cut them down to the correct sizes.
+ Pencil
+ Ruler
+ Wood glue
+ Quick grip clamps
+ Drill
+ Screws (the size you need will depends on the table legs you buy)
+ Finishing nails and a hammer (if you plan on placing heavier objects on the table)
+ Paintbrush

Table legs—here’s what we used:

+ Armchair Side Table, Etsy—Hair pin legsOpens in new tab
+ Bedroom Night Stand, Etsy—Modern metal legsOpens in new tab
+ Kid’s Table, Vintage mid century legs—antique item

Top Coat Options:

Paint color of your choice - For the kid’s table, we used the color Freshly Cut Stems from the Magnolia Home paint collection.
One coat polyurethane finish - For our other two tables, we opted to simply finish them with clear polyurethane.

Step One: Assemble Your Table

On a flat workspace, lay out your pieces of wood, wood glue and clamps. Apply a line of glue on one side of the 18x18” piece of plywood, and place the 18x6” piece horizontally, holding it there until it sets into the glue. Repeat this process with the other 18x6” piece on the end parallel. Then, add a line of glue on the top of both 18x6” pieces, and place the second 18x18” piece on top. Secure the clamps on both 18x18” pieces to hold them in place, ensuring that both sides are even, so that they will dry straight.

As you’re moving through the steps, reference the first photo above of the finished table to help guide you on gluing the pieces together.

Let wood glue dry with the clamps secured on them for several hours or overnight. If you plan on putting heavy items on your table, add finishing nails along the joints once it has dried to reinforce the strength of your table. Once finishing nails are in, cover the nail holes with a natural-colored wood putty and finish by using fine grit sandpaper to smooth putty once it dries.

Step Two: Add a Coat of Polyurethane or Paint

Once the pieces are securely dried together, remove the clamps and paint a thin coat of polyurethane or any color of paint you prefer. Polyurethane is essentially a clear sealant. It not only adds a nice subtle gloss, (you can use a satin or matte finish if you prefer) but it also brings out the wood’s natural grain. If using paint, you may need to allow first coat to dry and add a second coat for opaque coverage. Allow paint or polyurethane to dry completely before moving on to step 3.

Step Three: Attach Table Legs

When choosing the style of legs to attach to your side table, be sure to pay attention to their dimensions to ensure they’ll “fit” your table. Also keep in mind that the height you order will need to depend on what you plan to put your side table next to.

Use a pencil and ruler to mark the wood where the table legs will be drilled into the wood, then attach legs using a drill one at a time. Make sure the screws you use are the correct size for the legs you’ve chosen, as well as short enough so that they don’t go all the way through the plywood.

After all four legs are attached, your side table is complete!

Three Types of Side Tables

The great thing about this piece of furniture is the fact that it is so versatile. From the legs you choose, to your table’s height and even the dimensions of the box you build—everything can be adjusted to work well with your style and needs. And because you only have to much room to work with on a side table, we want to make every inch count! To illustrate its versatility and to give you a few easy styling tips, we created three different versions of this table below.

Nightstand with Modern Metal Legs

Leg Height: 14 inches. Legs purchased from Etsy.

These simple, modern metal legs work with a variety of styles. For legs like these, you’ll want to make sure they’re 17 inches wide or less so that they fit underneath the box you’ve built. With a nightstand it’s all about practicality. You need room for nighttime essentials, like a lamp, an alarm clock and storage. We opted to save space by installing a hanging lamp, which made room for layering these framed prints. You could do the same with family photos, meaningful art, etc.

Note: We used 14 inch legs here, so that when they are attached to the box, the side table would be 20 inches tall. If you are unsure about what height legs to purchase, 20 inches is a universal height for a side table.


Kid’s Room with Vintage Mid-Century Legs

Leg Height: 7.5 inches

Legs are antique, but you can find a similar look at a home improvement storeOpens in new tab
Paint color: Freshly Cut Stems from Magnolia Home by Joanna GainesOpens in new tab

This table was painted and transformed into a low side table. This specific height makes it easy for little ones to turn on a lamp for reading or gives quick access to crayons and a coloring book. A solid colored bean bag chair, the playful rug and the fun pop of color on the side table makes it perfect for a kid’s space or reading nook.


Living Room Side Table with Hairpin Legs

Leg Height: 14 inches, purchased from Etsy

We took a modern, colorful approach to styling this side table. Placing minimal items on the table allows for more focus on the unique shape of the hairpin legs. Stacked coffee table books create clean, contrasting lines and decorative ceramic vases with fresh eucalyptus add height and dimension. A candle or a few coasters are tabletop items that also work well in this space.


We hope that this inspires you to make a side table to fit your space and style! If you have any questions about the process or want to let us know how it went for you, comment below. And don’t forget to tag us on Instagram (@magnoliaOpens in new tab) to show off your hard work once you’re done. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.


Here’s where you can find the specific products in this blog.

(Sourcebook—1) Nightstand with Modern Metal Legs

Rug - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Bedding - anthropologie.comOpens in new tab
Lamp - worldmarket.comOpens in new tab
Jewelry - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Jewelry dish - antique item
Clock - antique item

Wall Paint Color - Garden Essential from Magnolia Home by Joanna GainesOpens in new tab

(Sourcebook—2) Kid’s Room with Vintage Mid-Century Legs

Basket - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Table Lamp (custom painted yellow) - etsy.comOpens in new tab
Bean Bag - crateandbarrel.comOpens in new tab
Rug - rugs-direct.comOpens in new tab

(Sourcebook—3) Living Room Side Table with Hairpin Legs

Candle - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Zoe Herringbone Ceramic Vase - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Pink Vase - worldmarket.comOpens in new tab
Homebody book - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Throw - coming soon to wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab

Wall Paint Color - Ella Rose from Magnolia Home by Joanna GainesOpens in new tab