Kids & Pets

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?

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…



14 Months Of Breastfeeding

Yup, that’s what I did. Well, technically 14 months and three days if you’re really counting. And yup, this really is a post about breastfeeding, so feel free to skip it (you know, if you’re my brother for example). I never thought I’d be writing about it. But I actually get a lot of questions on the subject. And since I blather on about other random things (like cloth diapering) and this blog is really just a way for us to remember things that we might otherwise forget (like paint colors and vacation happenings), I figure that something I did for so long (around 425 days straight) deserved a post about the range of emotions that it elicited. So here we go.

My first emotion: grateful. I was just so thankful it worked. I was acutely aware that some moms try extremely hard but it’s just not possible. I was also pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as painful as I expected. I’d heard a lot about cracked and bleeding nipples (yes I just typed that) but thanks to genetics or a good latch (or some other random happening) I didn’t really have much pain at all (in the interest of TMI, I also never had sore boobs while prego, so maybe those things go hand in hand?). And I know the whole lack of pain thing might make you want to punch me (it annoys the heck out of my BFF) but I had a pretty frightening birth experience so I guess it’s always something (and not always the same thing) that throws you for a loop as a new mom.

Speaking of the whole birth thing, I was initially really stressed about Clara “taking” to breastfeeding because, due to our complications, I couldn’t nurse her until eight whole hours after she came into this world. I heard trying as soon as possible was the way to go, and I guess the whole scary birth experience had me fearing the worst (there was no baby-on-my-chest-to-snuggle-and-nurse-right-away occurrance, which is definitely what I pictured). But the sweet nurses pretty much just said to give it a try and it was miraculous. Clara got it right away. Such a relief.

As far as emotions go, after “grateful” and “pleasantly surprised” I moved into “exhausted and overwhelmed” territory. Clara was blissfully sleeping for 12 hours each night pretty much from the beginning, waking up for just one or two feedings most of the time (after we got the ok from the doc to let her sleep instead of waking her up to feed every 3 hours since she was steadily gaining weight).

But that meant that during the day she was feeding every two hours like clockwork (I fed her on demand, and at almost exact two hour intervals she screamed and wasn’t happy til she was nursing). So I really couldn’t get much done without having to stop and feed her. Which I actually loved for the bonding and the sweetness and the self-imposed break that it gave me from housework, blogging, and all that other stuff – but it was definitely exhausting and sort of all-encompassing in those bleary I-have-a-newborn months. I always joke that she let me rest at night, but during the day she made me work for it.

And when we went on a week-long family vacation when Clara was just six weeks old I remember sitting upstairs alone with Clara feeding her in a bedroom while everyone else was downstairs having fun together and thinking “I’m going to have to excuse myself and do this about eight times a day while everyone else hangs out – which adds up to 56 feedings that I’ll be doing over the next seven days.” That’s an overwhelming thought. At least it was to me. It was times like this that I actually wished feeding in public (or at least in front of your extended family) was more widely accepted. I tried to use a nursing cover but Clara wouldn’t have it. So up in my room I sat (with occasional visits from John who sweetly recognized that I’d rather be with the group and dropped in to keep us company). Back in these days feedings were pretty slow going (around 15-20 minutes per side for a total of 30-40 minutes spent sequestered). But we still managed to fit in some fun in the sun (or shade since she was so tiny).

I should mention that 1) pumping didn’t agree with me and 2) Clara never took to bottles (or pacifiers for that matter). You win some and you lose some. So every time she fed for the past 14 months it was directly from the source. Which was ok with me since pumping just didn’t work out and thankfully I have a job that allows me to be home with her. But it’s definitely sort of crazy as a concept because for over a year I was never away from my daughter for more than an hour or two. Ever.

But with a face like this, I was ok with that:

Around three months in I really got into the groove though. That’s where I’d characterize my feelings as “content and accepting.” I was happy to still be able to breastfeed and glad that it seemed to suit Clara. She seemed to enjoy it and I knew how to do it effectively and easily enough (in a parked car? check. in a dressing room? check). I even managed to sneak in a taping for the Nate Berkus show, nursing Clara in the green room right before we went on and right after (thankfully it was only a two hour process – or we might have heard her screaming for another feeding from on stage).

I guess I had adapted more to it, and it didn’t feel like as big of a job after I got into the swing of things. And by about 6-8 months old Clara had become a lot more efficient, so feedings were only about 15 minutes total (and sometimes even ten). Interestingly enough, the introduction of solid food at six months old (which Clara loved from day one) didn’t have any bearing on her nursing. She still wanted just as much, just as often. And I was secretly kind of relieved because I worried a bit about my production slowing or even stopping if she suddenly dropped a ton of feedings. But that was not the case.

Up until Clara turned ten months old I was still feeding her every two hours during the day at her insistence (screaming until I nursed her = her insistence). That’s right, for ten months (that’s 300 days) I nursed Clara every two hours (except during the night). I was ok with it, and my doc was ok with it, but I heard from friends that only going two hours between feedings at that age was reallllly often (as in all of my friends were only feeding every 4-5 hours or so at that age). My doc explained that it made sense since Clara was such an unusually solid night sleeper (she segued from waking up for 1-2 feedings in her 12 hour span of night sleep to not waking up at all around 2.5 months in – I know, we’re insanely blessed to have gotten such uninterrupted sleep for such a long block of time). But it did mean not-as-long daytime naps and a whole lot of frequent feedings to “tank up” during her waking hours in exchange for such an awesome night’s sleep. Heck, I’ll take it.

Blissfully, after turning ten months old Clara started stretching her feedings to every three hours, which felt amazing. It’s funny how an extra hour feels like all the freedom in the world. It’s all relative I guess. At this point I was coming into the whole “I love breastfeeding” phenomenon. I still felt grateful to be able to do it, Clara was a thriving happy girl, it was saving us money, it gave me a moment to step away from the computer/paint brush/hammer and connect with the bean, and it helped me get back into my old clothes (even though I don’t think I’ll ever have my pre-baby body again, it’s fine with me because Clara’s so worth it). I should add that I’m a breastfeeding enthusiast when it comes to me and Clara, but I don’t judge anyone else when it comes to what they choose for their family. Whatever works for you & your ducklings = my mantra as a parent in general.

The next speed bump that we encountered was when Clara turned a year old we introduced organic whole milk. The problem? Clara wouldn’t drink it. She still wouldn’t really take a bottle so our doc recommended trying a sippy cup. It worked for water, but she refused to drink milk (and we tried about ten million different sippy cup varieties, tried slightly heating the milk, tried watering it down or mixing it with breast milk, etc). This is when I started fearing that she’d be 21 years old and still addicted to breastfeeding.

Next we tried almond milk at our doc’s advice, and she went for it (we think the thinner consistency seemed closer to breast milk so she was down). And slowly we mixed almond milk with whole organic milk and she made the transition to 100% whole organic milk at around 13 months. Yup, it took nearly a whole month to get her on board with it. She’s stubborn like her momma. Haha. Shockingly, that’s when her feedings dropped waaay down. From around five times a day to just two – once before bed and once in the morning. Which made me feel excited and free but sort of oddly sad at the same time. “My baby’s growing up, and she needs me less” was sort of how I felt. I know that’s not really true, but it’s the best way I can describe the feeling.

By 13 months and three weeks she just wanted a feeding in the morning when she woke up. Clara has always been the boss of this whole breastfeeding thing (since we opted to just do the “on demand” thing from day one), so who am I to argue with the girl? Just one morning feeding opened up a whole new world of evening fun for me and John thanks to his parents offering to babysit (we could see a movie or go out to dinner without Clara after over a year of not partaking in those activities – amazing!). Of course I thought about her the whole time we were out, but I guess that’s to be expected (picture me saying “I wonder what Clara’s doing right now” every ten minutes during our first movie together in over a year).

Two weeks later Clara wasn’t even interested in her morning feeding. Which was sad because that’s the one where we lie down next to each other and relax together. I know I sound crazy, but it was such a sweet way to start the day. To anyone who has yet to try it, nursing on your side while laying down = awesometown (they taught me that move at the hospital thanks to the whole c-section thing). And now it’s over. So my current feelings are sad (because I’ll miss it) but proud (because I can’t believe I breastfed for over 14 months) and grateful (because I know being able to nurse that long or even at all definitely isn’t a given).

So that’s my breastfeeding journey. Off to cry now (and I can’t even blame breastfeeding hormones for the tears). I know, I know, someone with a nickname that won’t stick like $herdog shouldn’t be such a wuss. But it was an awesome/exhausting/amazing/tiring/surprising journey that I’m grateful to have experienced. Love you baby girl. Even if you’re over me my boobs.