DIY: The best play kitchen ever

Crafty parents whip up a home-cooked kitchen for their 22-month-old chef-in-the-making.

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Lindsay Pierce
Gracie Samuel plays in the play kitchen her mother, Dawn Samuel made for her out of a tv stand. Lindsay Pierce, The Denver Post
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Photograph: Lindsay Pierce
Gracie Samuel plays in the play kitchen her mother, Dawn Samuel made for her out of a tv stand.
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Photograph: Dawn Samuel
Play kitchen made from used TV cabinet (before)
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Photograph: Dawn Samuel
Play kitchen made from used TV cabinet (after)

Take a trip down memory lane with us, to the days not so long ago when you and your family watched television on a “set” even deeper than it was tall. The boring and unattractive, gray-plastic sides of this heavy electronic device probably didn’t go with the rest of your family’s furniture, so the TV likely lived in a wooden armoire (along with a VCR and, later, a DVD player).

Our present-day era of flat-screen TVs has rendered those omnipresent armoires all but useless. You can find them all over Craigslist: “Thirty bucks or best offer,” they say. “Just get it out of my house.”

Not so fast. With a bit of vision and some elbow grease, a crafty set of parents turned one such bulky relic into what we’re calling the Best Play Kitchen Ever, for their daughter, Gracie, age 22 months.

Gracie’s mom, Dawn, says she always knew she wanted her daughter to have a play kitchen, but wasn’t excited by today’s versions of the store-bought set she enjoyed as a little girl. A hand-built play kitchen found online sparked inspiration for the project and, taking the lead on its design, she and husband Jeff got to work. “I’m not gonna lie,” she adds. “It took weeks and just kept growing and growing. But we’re so proud of it and Gracie just loves it.” She spends loads of time toiling in her play kitchen, where Dawn often puts real cookies in the oven so  her daughter can “bake” them. “She uses an oven mitt to take them out.”

1 Sand it
Chances are good that the cabinet’s finishes are as out of date as a tube TV. A palm or rotary power sander is the fastest way to expose the raw wood; pick up the inside corners and trim details by hand or with a block.

2 Back it up
Cut the medium-density fibreboard (MDF) to cover the entire back of the cabinet, and doors for the fridge and freezer. Add magnet latches.

3 Install doors
Hang the refrigerator and freezer doors—not easy, Dawn warns—and move the hinges for the lower-right “oven” door from its side to the bottom.

4 Create window for the oven
Remove the center panel from the oven door and replace with Plexiglas, using glue. Insert oven racks.

5 Sink, tap and range
Cut a hole in the TV shelf so a large stainless-steel mixing bowl can sit inside and hang from its lip. See step three of “Swanky dog feeder,” page 28. Dawn and Jeff scored a used, store-bought play kitchen online and mined it for its stove top and (nonworking) miniature faucet. Apply small sheet tiles for the backsplash with grout.

6 Let in some light
Glue an enlarged landscape photo (Dawn and Jeff used the view from their family’s vacation cabin) above the sink and cover with glass or Plexiglas using double-stick mounting tape, which you can sneakily cover it with wood-trim mullions (pane dividers, for non-designy types). An old valance the right length makes perfect curtains.

7 Finishing touches
A light fixture on clearance at Home Depot for $4 proved “too good to pass up,” Dawn says. A conventional power cord behind the play kitchen plugs into any wall outlet. Enough paint was left over from past projects to cover the kitchen inside and out, and—bonus!—it automatically matched the rest of their house.

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