As Christmas approached, my wife and I knew we wanted to make it a special day for our daughter, Norah. But having just moved to a new home in a new state, we also knew we didn’t want to give her too many toys, since we were well aware of how much stuff we have. So we started brainstorming the perfect gift for her. And we quickly settled on building a DIY kitchen play set.
Of course, this perfect gift would likely be found on Pinterest. My wife sends me pins fairly regularly, mainly projects that she would like me to make. And when she sent me a pin for a play kitchen, I knew we had to build one.
We had seen play kitchens before in the stores, but most were plastic and boring. The kitchen carried by IKEA looked more modern, but also was more than we wanted to spend. So the idea of building a kitchen play set got me really excited.
As we talked about this kitchen, we came up with two plans. The first way to build it would be to use an old piece of furniture. We could repurpose a nightstand, end table, or even a small entertainment system. The key would be to find a piece that is the right size. The second option is to build the play set out of birch plywood. The benefit is that we could build it to the exact dimensions we want, but it would take a bit longer to build and wouldn’t have detailed trim like a piece of furniture would.
I stopped in a local used furniture store and found a nightstand that would be perfect for this project. It had a drawer opening that we could turn into an oven, while the top would be the range. We later added a sink to the plans, and it had plenty of room on the piece. Most importantly, the nightstand had the decorative trim we were looking for. I picked up the piece for $30 and started working on it.
The first step in building the kitchen was to start making the oven. I removed the drawer and slide. I had planned on raising the shelf a little bit — to give the oven more height — but I couldn’t move the shelf without significantly damaging the entire piece. I did add a piece of plywood to the bottom of the oven, so it was a solid base.
For the door, I measured out the exterior of the oven opening, then cut a piece of birch plywood to fit. I installed the hinges, magnetic latch, and handle to make sure it all worked smoothly. One difficulty I ran into was finding the right hinge. I wanted it to look good, but also be strong enough for the door and my daughter if she stood on it. It took me 2-3 tries to find the right hinges that would be strong enough, look great, and also fit in the location I wanted to install them.
I then prepared the oven door for the plexiglass window. I figured out how big I wanted the window, then had a piece cut for me at my favorite local hardware store. They had several thicknesses available, and I opted for the one that felt sturdy but not rigid. Using a drill and then the jig saw, I cut out a hole for the window, making sure the plexiglass extended beyond the hole 1/2 an inch on every side. I put blue tape along the front of the door to minimize tear-out while cutting, and that seemed to help.
Once cut, I installed a rabbeting bit in my router table and cut a 1/2″ rabbet on the back of the oven door. This groove is where the window will rest inside the door, and will have enough surface area for me to attach it. While I had the router table out, I also did a slight roundover on the exterior of the door.
After the oven was complete, I turned my attention to the top of the kitchen. First I added a backsplash. I took the face off the old drawer and ripped it in half. I drilled pocket holes in the back and then screwed it into the top of the nightstand.
We knew we wanted a 2 burner range and controls, and as I looked more at the space available, I thought we could add a little sink and faucet. I picked up a cheap bathroom faucet and used an old saucepan with the handle removed. I cut a hole in top with the jigsaw, and made it a snug fit so I didn’t have to use screws or glue. I then drilled two holes to mount the faucet. Unfortunately, the largest bit I own is a 1/2″ and the holes needed to be 3/4″, so it took quite a bit of wiggling to get the holes the correct size.
My wife used her Cricut Explore to design and print burners on black vinyl. We added these to the surface of the kitchen after it was painted.
The final step in preparing the kitchen was to figure out the controls. I picked them up online for cheap, but still had no idea on how I would mount them to the furniture while letting them still spin freely. After musing about several different options, I settled on the following:
If I had unlimited time for this project, I would have rather made wooden knobs. But since I had a hard deadline looming (December 25th!) I went for this option and I think it will work fine.
We went with a light green color for the kitchen play set. It took 2 coats to fully cover the kitchen, after we had roughed up the wood with some sandpaper. After the paint dried, we added a light wax antiquing finish to the trim and edging. It’s a subtle touch that might not show up well in the photos, but adds just the right texture that we were looking for.
I glued the plexiglass to the inside of the door with Goop. I put the glue in the rabbeted groove on the door, placed the plexiglass on top, and then used stacks of hardcover books as a weight to clamp the pieces together. Once dried, I reattached all the hinges, handles, knobs, and fixtures. I also added a hook on the side for a dish towel.
We finished the play set early the day on Christmas Eve, and set it up in our living room after she went to bed that night. Family members gave her pots, pans, play food, and a shopping cart, so we placed them on the storage shelf, in the oven, and on the top.
When our daughter woke up on Christmas morning, she was thrilled to see the new play kitchen. She loves opening and shutting the oven door, banging the pots and pans in the sink, and organizing the food in the storage area. And as she grows, this kitchen will give her hours of imaginative play.
We wanted the entire project to come in under $100 — for both the furniture and all the components.
Total Cost: $83