This table, designed in the '20s, is generally attributed to Jean-Michel Frank, a French designer and decorator associated with Parsons School of Design in New York City. But the Parsons table, as we call it today, has become an American classic not because of a cultured lineage, but simply because its timeless charm fits just about anywhere. It is, in fact, the essence of tableness--a distillation of primary components rendered in seamless flat planes, parallel lines and right angles. Our version is scaled to serve as a coffee table, but the simple construction details make it easy to build one of any size. To accentuate the geometric nature of the piece, we applied a paint finish that covers the woodgrain and joint lines.
Step 1: Materials
Parsons tables have square, parallel-sided legs that support a thick top. We created the illusion of a heavy top by setting its edges flush with the 3/4-in.-thick rails. Poplar is a good choice for the legs and rails because it's easy to work and takes paint well. Solid wood on the top, though, would create problems as it shrank and expanded with humidity changes, so we switched to stable medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
Because the table is painted, you could build it entirely of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), but you'd get a table that's twice as heavy as the poplar version. A lighter panel choice is plywood, but its edges are not as uniform as MDF and it requires more filing and sanding.
A table saw is the fastest and most accurate tool for ripping the leg and rail pieces, but a portable circular saw with an edge guide will work. A power miter saw is the tool of choice for the rail miters, and you'll use a router to trim the top flush to the rails.
Hardware and Supplies
1 1/4-in. finishing nails
1 1/2-in. finshing nails
120- and 220-grit sandpaper