It’s high time I do a bit of show and tell on the play kitchen I made for Finnabee as a Christmas gift. You might be thinking, “yeah, Christmas was a while ago, Deirdre! Why have you been keeping this from us?” To which I reply: I’m referring to Christmas 2015.
But it if takes a lot out of me to make/give a gift, then it only follows that I probably won’t be the most efficient at sharing about said gift.
I am not naturally a gift-giver. I’ve taken the quiz, so I can tell you that “giving presents” is the lowest-ranking of my love-languages.
“Therefore if you, evil as you are, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11
This verse has been a challenge to me since I’ve become a mother… what if I don’t know how to give good gifts to my children!?
But I’ve been learning in recent years that being someone without a gift for gift-giving (if you will) can’t be excuse for doing a bad job of giving gifts. It just means that I have to put more thought into it and try a little harder, perhaps, than some people do.
However. In the case of this play kitchen, God pretty much handed it to me and walked me through it. “Here, let me show you what you should give your daughter. I will make this simple.”
By which I mean, sometime in the fall of 2015, around the time that I was starting to feel defeated about the upcoming gift-giving season and how I had no inspiration… a little piece of furniture showed up as a curbside pick-up on my street. Some kind of bedside table or kitchen cart, it presented itself as an ideal size for toddler play.
It had one door on the front and the other one was missing. It looked a bit messy here and there, but otherwise in great condition. And on wheels! So I wouldn’t have to commit too much to giving away any one part of my preciously scarce floorspace.
[Sadly, I seem to have lost track of the ‘before’ photos of this project! Just close your eyes and picture something very sad, colorless, unloved, and dingy that conjures no inspiration whatsoever; then feel free to supply reactions along the line of ‘oooh! ahhh! Such an impressive transformation!’ in response to the enclosed ‘after’ pics.]
Somehow we kept the little cart on the DL until we were able to pop it in the trunk of our car and bring it to my dad’s garage workshop at the LMLD homestead, where I finally got around to tackling it in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I didn’t get a chance for the finishing touches until Christmas Eve, at which point I had pulled it upstairs into the rec room (yes, that same room where I’ve had my last two babies and which, during Christmastime, becomes a staging/gift-wrapping room) and spent the hours working on it until well after midnight.
It was my most Santa’s Elf-esque moment to date. At every step of the way, I consulted with my parents, who lent goods and expertise.
I will walk through the steps but, unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the names of most of the fancy tools I used. So if you’re very curious about a particular step, you can ask and I’ll contact my dad for reference and get back to you.
[Prepping step: removed remaining door from the front and cleaned the whole thing.]
- Cut a piece of board to size and fastened it to the back. The cart was originally backless.
- Using a saw, I trimmed off a few inches of overhang that were originally here. I figured having the overhang would make it slightly harder to access the kitchen and trimming it back would also let more light into the space.
- Cut and fitted this piece of trim onto the raw edge I just sawed back. Trim courtesy of the scrap pile in my dad’s workshop.
- Power-sanded and then painted the whole cart. If I am recalling correctly, I did a coat with spray paint and then went over it again with this teal color.
I had picked up a small sample-sized can of paint in the sale bin at Home Depot a while ago on the basis of the fact that this is a) a favorite color of mine and b) very close to the color we used for other nursery furnishings, so I knew it would come in handy at some point.
- Drilled holes and put in these adorable knobs that happened to go perfectly. The knobs are courtesy of my mom, who just had them around (as one does). I put washers in between the knobs and the wood so that they would spin easily, and put another washer underneath with the bolt holding it in place.
- Drilled holes for the sink fixtures. The biggest expense of this project was probably the hardware that I bought at Home Depot, including the soap dispenser. I used a fancy attachment on the drill to cut a big hole for the dispenser (more on this below). I stacked washers on top of each other to make the knobs turn and look more “sink-like.”
- Cut a large hole and used aforementioned fancy drill attachment to smooth out the shape. Inserted perfectly adorable enamel dish to be the sink.
I had ordered a metal dog dish on Amazon, thinking that it would be the right shape (having a lip to hold it up above the hole), but when it arrived I realized it was sadly too small. Again, my mom stepped in with *just the thing* — this enamel pan truly steps it up a notch, right?
- Made a little set of curtains, trimming them with biased tape. Slid them over a dowel I had trimmed and painted.
Once again: Auntie Leila for the win. She had this fabric in her stash!
- Fixed dowel into place with a nail on each side.
- Screwed in some previously measured-and-cut pieces of wood to be the interior structure for the metal rack.
- Screwed cup hooks into the underside of the top, for hanging utensils (this was harder than expected!).
- Put in a baker’s cooling rack (ordered from Amazon) as the oven shelf and affixed it to the wood with a staple gun.
- * Now that I’m thinking about it more, the order wasn’t exactly this way… painting happened later in the game and putting on the fixings like the bowl and knobs came after paint. But you get the idea. Sorry – it was a while ago.
I wanted to make sure that these would give a satisfying spin. How annoying are knobs that don’t actually turn?
I know there are dozens of more impressive DIY play kitchens out there. Rosie had an adorable setup [“not quite as cutely DIY as yours” — Rosie] in her Oklahoma house (the play kitchen tour was part of it!).
In fact, the Pinterest selection is so overwhelming that I wouldn’t even bother putting my rendition up here, but for the fact that I’m pretty proud of my innovation: the “running water” element:
I wanted the kitchen to have a real feel – I was envisioning a play kitchen with most of the elements being metal or glass for a fun tactile experience and toy longevity. Somewhere along the thought process, a soap dispenser came to mind. I went for it on the principle that children love games that involve water. This is getting close to combining the fun of a play kitchen with the fun of a water table. I also quickly learned that buying an actual metal faucet would depart from “thrifty DIY” territory, nor was such a thing likely to fit in this small space.
Now, it was a bit of a gamble, because I had to make an irreversible hole in the cart, custom measured to fit this particular dispenser. And I had to find a dispenser that tapered, getting every so slightly larger towards the top, so that it would sit inside the hole snugly and not fall through (I pondered building some kind of support unto the oven space to hold a dispenser up from underneath, but that was getting too complicated).
If this dispenser bites the dust, it will not be easy to replace the faucet.
But I think it’s worth the risk. Check this out!
Another upside to the fact that the cart is on wheels: when the play kitchen is in its place in the play room on the carpeted floor, no water is allowed. But on a hot day like the ones we’re having nowadays, I can move the cart out into my kitchen or the back hall or even out onto our porch and the kids can splash away, “washing dishes!”
All they have to do is bring a cup of water from the bathroom sink and fill up the soap dispenser and – voila! their kitchen comes to life.
This is why the enamel pan is so great: the truth is that it’s annoying to have the sink be too small. I was happy to allot a fair bit of the horizontal space to a good-sized sink.
So, you can see that basically I was given the backbone of the gift and then my parents contributed heavily (my dad in the workshop and my mom in that purveyor-of-fine-toddler-toy-goods manner of hers), and before I knew it, I had a properly exciting gift to present to my little one on Christmas morning.
What’s more, this is the gift that keeps on giving. I still have yet to make her an apron and oven mitt — I would love to get around to that at some point! And little brother enjoys this so much as well; he will need an apron of his own, too.
Christmas 2016, I expanded upon the theme and bought this set of dishes from Green Toys. I did a bit of research on felt food and ended up making a selection as stocking stuffers. Felt food, it turns out, can be a masterpiece and looking into it can be a rabbit hole – I made a Pinterest board which you can check out if you want to check out some different sources of inspiration. I wanted something simple and didn’t want to let myself get carried away, so I went ahead and just copied what this lady did (I didn’t print out pdfs, as it was easy enough to eyeball it). I bought this pack of felt from Amazon (it works – although it’s a bit more stiff than one would like ideally) and used cotton balls as stuffing where needed.
The metal tea kettle – just the right size for this kitchen! – I discovered in my neighbor’s recycle pile. Other utensils have been picked up here and there along the way in a similar manner.
My original plan was to create a stovetop space to the left of the sink there. My mom suggested finding round, cork trivets and painting them to look like heating elements before gluing in place. I couldn’t find any such things before the Christmas deadline, so I decided that I would add that touch later. However, as time went on and play proceeded, I decided that I would leave it plain.
The space is so small (budgeted for maximum water fun over in the sink) that I fear that I might just frustrate the little munchkins by putting in too much detail. When they want to “boil some tea” or cook something in a pan, their imaginations are up to the task of creating stovetop heat. Otherwise, it can function as a countertop. I have, on a few occasions, let Finnabee take a piece of real dough and roll it out in that little area before “baking” in her oven.
Here it is in action in the back hall, this week:
Sometime soon I’ll show you the other big gift (for giving) that fell into my lap not long after!