A few months before my daughter turned 3 my wife and I decided to make a play kitchen for cheap rather than buy one. This instructable shows how we used junk items to build a wonderful present! We found a free computer desk and old cabinet doors people were giving away in online classifieds as well as some other assorted junk and a few months later our very simple concept had actually evolved into a full-blown play kitchen with lots of bells and whistles. The concept is simple and you can add whichever extras you want!
- Old Computer Desk - something with a flat desk area
- Knobs and hinges from old cabinet doors
- Used Sink Faucet (preferably bathroom - we found someone giving one away)
- Old Metal Mixing bowl (found one at thrift store for like 50 cents)
- Possibly some 1" x 2" boards (or just scrap wood)
- Handles (if creating a microwave, oven, drawer, cupboard)
- Magnetic cabinet latch (bought these for a couple bucks at the hardware store)
- Baby jar lids (for the phone)
- Wire cooling racks (x2) (from the dollar store for the oven rack)
- Plexiglass or clear plastic from an old picture frame (for the oven window)
- Paint and Primer
- Screwdriver and drill
- Saw (I did this project with a hand saw and orbital jig saw)
- Palm Sander
Step 1: Visualize and Take Apart
First thing to do before taking things apart is to come up some semblance of a plan. You've got to work with what you've got. Does the current computer desk have a good flat top you can use for the stovetop and sink area? Are there sturdy sides on the desk? Can you use the sliding keyboard tray rails for a drawer on the play kitchen? Is there a cabinet or door with hinges you can use?
No matter what desk you use, you will have to shorten it for kids to be able to use. Most standard desk heights are 29" or more, but the play kitchen counter height you want is between 16" and 24" depending on the size and age of your kid. I chose 24" for mine figuring they could grow into it just a bit and the 18 month old could use a stool at first. (If I had to do it again I'd probably go about 20" instead.)
*Note: As you come up with the dimensions that work for your desk, take masking tape and label the pieces and which way is up before you take apart!!! The more you label, measure, and visualize the main pieces before taking apart, the more likely you are to realize you can re-use most of the hardware that connects those pieces. I made the mistake of almost immediately taking it apart and losing track of which board was which side.
With the height in mind, I measured the 2 sides of the desk and marked where I would cut off the bottom 6" or so of wood. I decided the length of the desk (35") was good for the counter, however the depth needed to be shortened by a few inches. I marked my cuts on the sides and top using a measuring tape and straight edge. The depth of the counter area on mine turned out to be 17" (about 2" lip over the bottom depth of 15"). I took the sliding keyboard tray and cut it along the length for the top of the kitchen (only 9" deep). My desk also had a bottom piece across the entirety to be re-purposed as a back for the kitchen. I re-purposed some other wood pieces from the cabinet of the desk to make the sides of the top going up 16" from the top of the counter, as well as some of doors, drawers, and shelves you'll see in the extras.
Step 2: Cut the Wood and Reconstruct
Once the desk has been marked and disassembled, take one board at a time and cut according to your lines. At this point you really have to just piece it together, often measuring and cutting as you go.
The best way to reconstruct the finished product is to use the existing hardware. My computer desk had cam dowels and locks (the little disks that you insert the metal dowel and turn to lock). If that is the case, it is simple to move the dowel to a new position by just drilling a new hole, and still using the existing lock hole on the other piece to connect the pieces. I used existing hardware for all of the major joins for the counter, sides, back, bottom, and top.
Step 3: Sand and Paint
*Before sanding and painting, look through the next steps for extra things to add and decide which items to include like microwave, oven, sink, drawers or cupboards.
Once assembled, sand with a palm sander. Try to remove the desk finish so your paint will adhere the best.
I used bare wood primer (I'd recommend something with stain blocking in case there was previous stain you can't completely sand off) and then a coat of latex paint.
In all reality paint is what makes the play kitchen. It really doesn't matter how good the wood is to kids. If it is painted to look in general what a real stove, or oven, or even sink look like, that will work. My wife's attention to detail really made this project exciting and fun!
Step 4: Adding Extras
There are many options you can add, but the basics are sink, stovetop, microwave, and oven. Decide which work for you. I've listed them in order of difficulty, so have a go!
Step 5: Adding a Stovetop
The stovetop is as simple as adding some old cabinet knobs and painting the burners. Use an upside down bowl to mark the burners. We glued black rubber coasters for the inside of the burners, but these eventually were ripped off and we had to just paint the inside black too.
Step 6: Adding Some Hooks
One of the simplest additions is having hooks for a fun touch! We added 4 hooks on the top to hang utensils, hot pads or cups, and then hooks on the side for aprons!
Step 7: Adding a Sink
The metal mixing bowl we found at a thrift store was 9" diameter. Use the orbital jigsaw to cut the hole slightly small (you can always cut more, but can't add wood back!), then liquid nails under the rim to glue it down.
The faucet was a used bathroom faucet and most of those have 2 or 3 holes you have to drill to secure it to the counter. The faucet has black nuts to screw from underneath to hold it tight. As you can see in my picture, I had to even cut out part of the back board so I could get the nuts on. It was nuts!
Step 8: Adding a Phone
Use a block of scrap wood and sand the edges to make a phone. The phone itself is a small scrap wood piece with 2 baby jar lids attached. Paint and creativity are your friends here! Your kids will wonder why anyone would want to hang a cell phone on the wall?
Step 9: Adding an Oven
Adding an oven is tricky. 2 cabinet knobs on the top were simple, and the oven bottom was like a shelf just screwed in from the sides. However this design required a face frame (something I'd never done before). You can see in the picture the light wood is the face frame. I cut some 1"x2" pine boards to create the frame that the oven door and cabinet door could fit in. This closed off the front of the kitchen, and added a seamless look to the front.
I cut the window from the middle of the oven door using the orbital jigsaw, then attached the door using cabinet hinges on the bottom. Two dollar store wire cooling racks bent on the back and screwed into the back wall with a dowel slid through the wire on the front made for our oven rack. We added some plexiglass from a cheap old picture frame to the back of the oven window with screws.
Step 10: Adding a Microwave
The microwave consists of just a bottom board, screwed into a side board (re-purposing screws from the desk) and covering front side with a 1"x2" board for the buttons and a front door. This was just screwed into the top and side of the hood. The hardest part was connecting the cabinet door hinges for the door and getting them straight. I had to add a block of wood to the side wall to allow a place to connect the hinges. A magnetic latch completed the microwave. If the magnet is too strong tape layers of paper around the metal catch to soften the connection.
Step 11: Adding a Drawer or Cupboard
I added a drawer to the bottom using more of the desk's scrap wood (that thing just kept on giving!) and the sliding keyboard tray rails. Without experience here, you may consider just making a tray that can slide out on the carpet.
For the cupboard, I cut to size the shelf and door from the original desk and connected them using the original door hinges. Adding a magnetic latch here as well finished things off nicely!
Step 12: Finished Product
There you have it! A few handles for the doors and drawers and the kids love it! Add an apron, some play food and dishes and your little chefs can now cook in style! :)
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Trash to Treasure