How To Make A Homemade Play Kitchen (From A Cabinet)

We did it. Holy cats, we did it.

Just a few days before Christmas we started Clara’s homemade play-kitchen (in secret of course, since she thinks Santa brought it)… and we actually finished it on Christmas Eve! Yes folks, it was a Christmas miracle. We went into it with a goal of spending under $99 since this basic play-kitchen from Ikea is that price – but we wanted to add a bit more detail like oven knobs that actually turn, an oven light that goes on and off, a wire baking rack inside the oven instead of a shelf, and a real faucet (not plumbed of course, but movable!).

So here’s how we made our own little Clara version in the last 72 hours before Christmas, for what ended up being $74…

More pics in a moment (lots more!), but first the dirty details. The core of our homemade kitchen was initially going to be a real kitchen cabinet, so we had it around already (yessss!). It was actually the one we bought for $14 from the Habitat For Humanity ReStore when we intended to hang a big microwave next to our pantry. Heck, we even hung it temporarily when determining where we wanted the electrician to add our microwave plug a while back.

But in the end it never got used (since we opted for a smaller microwave – more on that here) so we hung onto it in preparation for its eventual rebirth as a play kitchen.

It was a little low (only 15″) so we began by building it up on the bottom with a quick box made out of a 1 x 4″ remnant that we had in the basement. We offset it from the front a bit so it would even look like a real base cabinet in a kitchen (toekick and all).

John also had a spare 1 x 12″ board in his scrap wood pile that, when paired with a leftover plank from our desk-building project, fit perfectly as a counter and low backsplash. Well, perfectly once they were cut down a bit.

Picture me rubbing my hands together maniacally and saying things like “it’s all going according to plan!”

But before attaching all that, we had to build our sink area. We hit up the ReStore again and snagged a real faucet and handle for $10 (and inadvertently crashed their company Christmas party in the process – sorry ReStorians, thanks for letting us quickly grab that faucet!). We thought those two real kitchen features paired with a metal bowl (found at Target for $7) would make for a purty chrome and stainless steel kitchen sink area. Only the best for our girl. Haha.

After tracing around the lip of the bowl, John jigsawed a hole just inside the line (so the edge of the bowl had something to rest on). It didn’t have to be perfect since the bowl would be covering it.

After cutting matching holes in both the counter and the cabinet top (and sanding them both smooth), the bowl was officially transformed into a sink – just by dropping it in.

I wish I had peeled that sticker off for this pic, but you get the idea.

Adapting the sink hardware was also pretty straightforward. The faucet was pretty much ready to go, but the handle had lots of tubing that was just going to be in the way under the counter.

Luckily, with a wrench and a copper pipe cutter we removed the excess mumbo jumbo. Oh, and since the bottom of the fixture will be concealed between the top of the cabinet and the counter we don’t have to worry about Clara messing with it.

Then it just took drilling some holes…

…and securing both fixtures to the underside of the counter (though the handle was so thick it required an extra block of wood to keep it secured).

Now that we could finally secure the counter to the cabinet, it was starting to look like a play kitchen! So yes, this is where we got all weird / annoying / giddy / hyper.

But just wait, there’s more excitement in store. Check this out…

Every play kitchen needs an oven right? So we bought some $3 fence hinges to convert one door to open downwards.

And we also snagged a piece of pre-cut plexi from Home Depot (for just $3!) so that we could give Clara’s oven a proper window (the girl’s gotta check on her souffles). We completely lucked out that this pre-cut pane was the perfect size.

We weren’t so lucky when cutting the hole for the plexi though. John can’t figure out if it’s him or his Dremel Trio, but he has trouble getting straight cuts sometimes (his words, not mine). It looked okay from a distance…

…but up close he was less than happy with it. Yes, there may have even been some hushed cursing.

So after a dash to the craft store (we had to buy materials for some oven knobs anyway) we grabbed some thin pieces of craft wood and cut a miniature frame to trim out the imperfect opening. Huzzah for Plan B!

We didn’t want to actually attach the plexi until we were done priming and painting, so it was onto making some knobs for the oven. I guess knobs are usually for a stove, but we figured it wouldn’t hurt to have something for Clara to spin and interact with. So we took some small wood discs from Ben Franklin (for $2) and drilled a hole in the center for a washer and bolt.

Luck was back in our favor when it came to drilling holes for the nut on the back of the oven door. The Kreg Jig drillbit (which has a small pilot drill on the tip before becoming larger) made the perfect sized holes for not only sinking the nut into the door (since our oven wouldn’t close if they weren’t flush) but also kept the nuts from spinning too, which made attaching everything really easy.

Final attachment of the knobs wouldn’t happen ’til after painting, but here’s a preview (check out the assembled one on the left). John used some of the leftover craft wood (that he had from the Plan B oven window frame) to cut some little arrows that would later get glued over the bolt head on each knob. But back to these in a minute.

Now that everything was constructed, we snuck it upstairs to the sunroom after Clara was asleep and primed the whole darn thing (after patching some holes with wood putty). It was actually not that bad since we were in priming and painting mode for our real kitchen too. Then it was painting time, and we did all those finishing touches like gluing in the oven plexiglass and adding hardware over the next 48 hours.

The rest of the finishing touches are easier to explain while looking at the “after” kitchen, so through the magic of the Internet we’ll fast forward a bit:

We primed and painted it using leftover paint that we already had. The top is our kitchen wall color (Sesame by Benjamin Moore) and the base is the same stuff we used for our office cabinets (Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint in Decorator’s White in a satin finish). We painted the inside of the pantry Sesame also, but did the oven in a medium grey thanks to a test pot of paint that we had leftover from grey-washing our living room beams (in Benjamin Moore’s Shaker Gray). It’s sort of hard to see in the pics, but in person the gray oven and the grellow cabinet are fun little details to help each side feel more defined.

To dress up the inside of the oven we used heavy duty velcro to hold up a simple tap light, so Clara can actually “turn the oven on” just by pushing it. We also found this black wire shelf (it’s actually one of those bottom-of-the-sink drying trays) at Target for $5. It definitely helps things feel more oven-ish in there.

Oh, and here’s what the plexi-glass looks like from the back. We just used some clear silicone caulk to adhere it to the backside. That keeps it in place, but is totally invisible from the front thanks to the blessing-in-disguise frame that John had to add. Three cheers for happy accidents along the way.

We also whipped up a last-minute shelf on the sink side when we realized that most of the play food Clara was getting from her grandparents (they sweetly offered to give play-kitchen-themed Christmas gifts, knowing what we had up our sleeves) would be dwarfed by one big open cabinet. She’s got the basics covered… soup, cereal, crackers, pasta, tuna, sugar, milk (oh wait, maybe this girl needs a fridge someday…).

We opted not to add a stovetop so that she’d have more flexible-to-use-for-other-stuff-too counter space (you know, for mixing and setting out dishes, etc). It has already been a handy choice because there’s room to house the play toaster her Grammy and Tom-Tom bought her for Christmas (yes, it’s kind of the cutest thing we’ve ever seen). But I did make her a makeshift hot plate of sorts, so she has one burner to play with (instead of four space-hogging circles). What does she use it for? To fry sandwiches, apparently.

All that little DIY hot plate entailed was buying a $5 trivet from Bed Bath & Beyond and a $4 round of wood from Michael’s (which I painted teal with leftover paint from this project) and then drilled into it  in three spots (to allow the feet of the trivet to “sink” inside the wood round so it was nice and solid). Then I used a flat washer and a screw to hold the trivet into the round of wood from the center. Voila: instant burner.

Oh and I used little felt furniture feet on the bottom of my burner (to lift it up ever so slightly to keep it from scratching the counter) which you can sort of see in the picture below.

Here’s a closer look at the final oven knobs too. I sprayed them with leftover spray paint (Rustoleum’s Titanium Silver that we bought to test on our old kitchen hardware). It’s not a perfect match to the new shiny chrome door hardware ($5 each from Home Depot) and our sleek sink and faucet, but it’s close enough. And it sort of glitters, which is semi-adorable (new rule: every play kitchen should have at least one glittering element).

We actually bought three of those Home Depot door handles so that one could act as a towel bar on the side of the sink. Little details like that were kind of my favorite part. As for hatching this whole kitchen plan, John and I took Clara and Burger for a nice long walk and chatted about things we could add to “our kitchen” (didn’t want to spoil the play-kitchen surprise for Clara) which is how we came up with things like the towel bar, the wire rack, the oven tap light, all the other little details like those spinning knobs that we thought would make it Clara’s favorite thing ever. The brainstorming part of a project is always my favorite. So much possibility…

So now I think you’ve see just about every nook and cranny of this puppy (can you tell we’re proud of it?)…


So how about a budget breakdown?

  • Secondhand cabinet (from the ReStore): $14
  • Secondhand faucet & handle (also from the ReStore): $10
  • Stainless sink bowl (from Target): $7
  • Oven knobs and frame (from Ben Franklin craft store): $5
  • Hinges for oven door (from Home Depot): $3
  • Pre-cut plexiglass and wood trim for oven window (from Home Depot): $4
  • Wire oven shelf (from Target): $5
  • Tap light for the oven (from Home Depot): $2
  • Wood counter, backsplash, and toe kick: $0 (already owned scrap lumber, but it might be $15 or so to buy it all)
  • Trivet (from Bed Bath & beyond) and wood round (from Michael’s) for hot plate: $9
  • Three hardware handles for oven, cabinet, and towel bar (from Home Depot): $15
  • Primer and paint for counter, cabinets, and hot plate: $0 (already owned, but a few $4 paint testers would do the trick if you needed to buy it)
  • Miscellaneous wood pantry items (by Plan Toys): $0 (Christmas gift from Grammy and Tom Tom, but they might cost around $15 if you were to buy them)
  • Play toaster (also by Plan Toys): $0 (another super thoughtful gift from John’s parents!)
  • Total project cost: $74

And as they say in the commercials, watching Clara play with what Santa brought her: priceless.

If only a certain larger kitchen were this easy to knock out. Oh well, I guess that’s the difference between one cabinet and 20 of them. But I gotta say that this little guy is getting a ton of action. Stuffed animals regularly get bathed in the sink, fake slices of lettuce and tomato get toasted, boxes of cereal and crackers get baked in the oven, and random cars, balls, and trains get stuffed into the pantry cabinet. It’s also really nice to have a little “Clara zone” shaping up along the living room wall right off of the kitchen (we moved it to the wall on the left side of her new desk after Christmas). Good stuff.

Oh and oddly enough, folks ask us all the time what we want to “parlay” this blog-thing into, and for the past few years we’ve never really known how to answer that question because we love blogging as-is (we don’t want a TV show or anything – ack, that makes us break out in hives – so, we’ve actually turned those opportunities down a few times). But I can honestly say that “designing” Clara’s desk and her play kitchen have been hugely amazing and fun projects for both of us. So for once I might have an answer the next time someone asks what sort of side projects we’d love to end up doing in a decade or two (right along with the blog of course, since YHL = our first baby). Designing cute and affordable kid furniture (which seems to be surprisingly hard to find for some reason) might just be the sweet spot. Ya never know, right? So I’m just putting that out there into the universe. Who knows where we’ll end up…


  1. Christi says

    Wow! I can cross an item off my bucket list: be first poster on YHL


    You guys are awesome! I want to buy one of these for every little person I know! Well done!

  2. Brita says

    The cuteness! THE CUTENESS!
    I happen to love this “creating cute kid furniture” in a few decades plan, because baby numero uno will probably be about five in ten years (as s/he is clearly not born, let alone conceived yet). Perfect timing for me, really :)

  3. emily says

    Adorable! And Clara’s turning into quite the little talker. Excited that you’re considering making kids’ furniture. I’m a couple of years away from having kids of my own, but I’ll know who to buy from when I do!

  4. Susan in va says

    The video of sweet Clara on Christmas morning is all the antidote I need for the post-holiday blahs. Permanent smile now installed in my heart — thanks for an extra special treat!

  5. Cate says

    It’s so cute! As a mom of a 2.5 year old, I know she loves it. We cook a sorts of things around here! And maybe she’ll get a matching fridge for her birthday…

    • says

      Oh yes, we had one of those door magnet things around that we used at the top to hold it up (they usually come in a pack of two and we had used one for the microwave cabinet in the real kitchen a while back). It was from Home Depot if that helps!


  6. amyks says

    That is the sweetest looking play kitchen ever. So creative, and it is amazing that you guys built it yourselves and so inexpensively. Love it, now you need to get busy on the fridge for her birthday :)

  7. Caity says

    I hope that someday my hubby and I are as good at being amazingly sweet parents as you guys are!! What a special little project for Clara :)

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