Saturday, August 10, 2013

Building a Play Kitchen from a Chair

Let me start off by saying that this is not my concept (I wish I was that brilliant). I originally saw it when Apartment Therapy covered a blogger from Hungary named Kata and I filed it away in the back of my brain as a novel take on the DIY play kitchen. I always thought I would have plenty of space to build a big one out of an old entertainment center or something. Wow, was I delusional. Not delusional, exactly, more like uninitiated. I had no idea how quickly a room can get filled with play apparatus. A craft table with two chairs, an easel, a doll stroller, a shelving unit to keep the small stuff in check (theoretically), this month's cardboard box project, a Little People farmhouse and a couch that some poor visitor may actually have to sleep on someday all lead to a 'cozy' play space. So as I contemplated building O. a kitchen for her second birthday, the idea of a using a small chair suddenly seemed to make a lot of sense.

I got the chair from a second hand shop for $5, the handle for the stove and a few miscellaneous fasteners for $10 or so, and the mixing bowl sink for $1. Everything else was stuff I had either saved or salvaged. But I am not going to call this the '$16 Play Kitchen,' because that would be ridiculously misleading. I happen to have amassed a lot of stuff in my basement and my shop in case it proved useful one day. And indeed, it has. But if you had to buy the hinges, paint, plywood, faucet, etc then this would run you somewhere around $50-60, maybe more. But I hate when I read DIY tutorials that claim a project cost 'less than $5' but involves an old nightstand or an entertainment center that was just sitting around collecting dust. I am all for reuse and reduce but let's be honest, that nightstand cost you $75 a few years back, it didn't just fall from the sky. But I digress...

The original concept was to have the oven down below beneath the seat. I figured I would box it off, put a door in and call it done. But the space gets narrower as you go from the front legs to the back and for some reason it just wasn't coming together. After chewing on it for awhile, I came up with the idea to make the oven up above and using below for storage (which hasn't happened yet). But I didn't want to build an entire box for the oven from scratch, so I looked around and found an old drawer I had salvaged from the dump. I had saved it mostly for the straight-grained oak the sides were built of, thinking I could make small picture frames out of them. Five years later it was still sitting there, waiting to be taken apart. Once I realized that the curved drawer front would add some instant character to the project, I was sold. I trimmed out the sides and back a bit and attached it to the chair back with some L-brackets.

The oven door was a pain in the ass but in the end it came out pretty good. The two extra large strap hinges are definitely overkill, but I had them lying around, so that's what got used (I ditched the metal lattice strip to cover the opening below the hinges--it is there in the picture below-- because I came to my senses and realized that it is a freaking play kitchen and I should stop obsessing over dumb details and just get it done). I was going to fashion the handle out of some dowels painted silver, but I came to my senses and purchased a handle for $8. Smart move. I even installed an interior rack so two things can be baked at once.
The other big challenge was the fold-down sides. I wanted to make them folding so the kitchen could be used in the smallest space possible. But the trick is how to make them strong enough to withstand toddler abuse when they are deployed. After a lot of trial and error I came up with a system that involved a wooden dowel, a cup hook and a rubber gasket. Amazingly enough it works really well and the sides are stable as can be. But I am gong to keep my eye on them to see how they withstand the test of time.

The other details were much easier to make happen. The sink is a small mixing bowl and the faucet is an old one off of a porcelain sink we had salvaged for our house but eventually did not use. The burners are the bottoms of two take-out bowls from a Chinese restaurant. The oven and burner knobs are lids to small tester jars of paint, attached with long bolts. The idea for the retro color scheme came from the little oven timer I purchased for the play kitchen months before I built it.

And as far as the supplies, I have been saving smaller cans and packages for months. I had a box in the basement that I would throw stuff into on my way to our recycling bin. I also made a big score at the thrift store when I came across a bag of random play kitchen things for $2. And the ultimate touch was the handmade felt pastries courtesy of Aunt Carrie, and a personalized apron from our dear friends across the pond.

Now that O. has had the kitchen for a few months now I am very happy to report it gets used every day. She cooks with abandon and proudly makes all types of food for anyone who stops by. It was a lot of late nights to pull it all together, but I have zero regrets. I am hoping it will keep O. and her brother happy and busy for years to come.


  1. It's such a great project, Richard. You did a great job, and I am sure O. makes some really great tea with lime juice and baking powder! :)

    I'm going to share this because it is such a neat concept and it was executed so well. Love the paint color, too!

    1. Thanks so much! Strangely enough, the dish she makes most often is tofu. We do not eat a lot of tofu, but she must love the sound of the word, because it is on the menu every day.
      Thank you for sharing it, much appreciated.


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