How to Make a DIY Play Kitchen Part 1: Selection and Prep of a Great Entertainment Center

I was so excited to show you my DIY play kitchen earlier this week.  A project like this can feel pretty overwhelming if re-doing furniture is not something you already have as a part of your crafting repertoire so I'm planning to break down the process for you so you can follow along and end up with your own fabulous play kitchen as well.

Why make your own play kitchen?
In addition to saving money (brand new play kitchens start around $100, nice ones start at $200) making your own play kitchen allows you ultimate customization. Want a bright pink play kitchen with zebra stripe curtains?
Made by Denise at Stiches and Nails
You can do that! Got a little boy who needs something a little more manly?
Made by Britt from Britt and Her boys
You can do that, too!

One of the other reasons we chose to make our own play kitchen was control over the materials. Common play kitchen materials like particle board, normal paint and plastic all off-gas and release small amounts of toxins into the air in your home. Because I'm the one that made it, I know what went into making it and I don't have to expose my kid to toxic materials (even in small quantities).

Before you start shopping...
Before you start looking for an entertainment center, I would take a look at kitchens others have made. You can image search on Google for "DIY Play Kitchen" or check out some things on Pinterest. I conveniently have a pinboard with lots of great examples of play kitchens call "Play Kitchen Palooza" that you can look at as well.
Once you've seen some ideas, evaluate your space. Is your play kitchen going to have to fit in a particular spot? If your available space is small, you may need to look at a more compact solution out of a dresser. If you have more space, an entertainment center style kitchen might work for you.

Start Shopping
Once you've got an idea of what you're looking for, start shopping. Great places to look are Craigslist, thrift stores, or you may even be able to score something for free on Freecycle.
Don't just look at your local thrift store; get to know the "rules" that will help you save more. Goodwill has one color tag that is 50% off each week. Salvation Army gives you 50% off items that have been in the store for a certain amount of time. If you have a Goodwill Outlet near you, you can get even better prices. If you head to a thirft store, ask an employee if they have discounts on certain items or certain days when they have sales.

Things to look for
Regardless of which style of play kitchen you're planning on, you want to make sure the part that will be the "work surface" will be a good height for the kiddo you're making it for. If you're making a play kitchen for an 18 month old, you'll need a "countertop" lower than if you're making it for your 6 year old.

You also want to purchase something solid. Anything kids are playing with will take some abuse. Don't start with something broken or's not going to get any better and could be a safety hazard.

Materials are important, too, especially if you're planning on painting it. Laminate furniture, for example, is a little trickier to paint than something made of real wood. (if you end up buying something made with laminate, check out Lindsay's great tutorial for how to paint it)

Keep an eye out for details you can work with. For example, part of why I loved the entertainment center I picked was because I liked the layout.
(sorry the background photo is blurry....I took it straight from the craigslist listing)
The work station part was a good height. There was a cabinet I could transform into a fridge on the side and the detailing on the cabinets below was perfect for transforming into an oven.

Before you paint and prime
Once you've got your base piece of furniture home, you need to make a few decisions before you can jump into painting

Step 1: Remove anything that can be removed
Remove all hardware, doors, shelves, etc. I highly recommend putting hardware in baggies and labeling them (lower cabinets, side cabinet, etc) to make it easier to put everything back together later.

Step 2: Decide what you will do for your countertop
Are you going to just paint your counters or are you installing some kind of countertop material? If you're going to paint it, you will want to cut holes for your sink (and faucet if necessary) before the next step. That means you'll need to buy a "sink" first so you can cut the hole to fit. I used a stainless steel bowl with a bit of a rim. I've also seen kitchens with round or square cake pans.
If you're going to install some kind of countertop material like I did, I would wait on cutting your holes until the countertop is installed (please note: you will see a sink hole in my priming pictures because I cut my hole first and shouldn't definitely made things harder for me).

Step 2.5: Cut the hole for your sink
Remember: only do this if you are going to paint your countertop rather than install a countertop material.

Once you have the bowl or pan you'll use for your sink, flip it over and trace an outline with a pen. Then use your jigsaw to cut just inside the traced line so that you leave enough for the rim of your bowl or pan to catch on.

Step 3: Sand your piece
It is especially important to sand if there are rough spots, flaking paint or if you are using laminate furniture (see laminate furniture painting tips here). If you aren't facing any of the above situations, a quick once over with your hand sander will help the primer stick.

Step 4: Wipe it down
Once you're done sanding, wipe down the surface to remove any dust and dirt.

Paint and Primer
I mentioned earlier that materials were a big deal for us so we chose zero VOC paint and primer (not sure about the VOC thing? Read a quick primer on why VOCs are bad). We had some eggshell semi-gloss Freshaire paint (a zero VOC paint that's available in a variety of colors) leftover from painting the baseboards in our house. We also chose the "Clean Start" zero VOC primer from Kilz. It cost a little more than regular primer but I have a ton leftover and I'm sure I'll put it to good use! Both of these products are available at Home Depot.

You may be wondering if you really need to use primer. In an answer: yes. I hate additional steps as much as the next girl and am frequently known to skip priming if I can help it. Painting furniture (especially furniture that's going to get a lot of use) is one key time that you want to use primer. So suck it up, buy a can of primer and make sure you don't skip this critical step!

It's important that you're painting somewhere that's at least 50 degrees so that the paint and primer set up properly. It's the middle of winter, so I laid out a tarp in my living room and painted inside. That's another bonus of no VOC paint....there are no harmful fumes so you can paint inside. Winning!
I used a foam roller to do one coat of primer on all surfaces. I came back and added a coat of paint another night. I only needed one coat of paint since my primer was white and I didn't have to worry about show-through. If you are using a color, you may need to do a second coat of paint.

That's it for now! Come back in a few days so learn how to gussy up the fridge. Or better yet, subscribe by e-mail so that the new posts land directly in your inbox.

This post is part of a mini-series on how to make your own play kitchen from a re-purposed piece of furniture. The beginning of the series with photos of the finished play kitchen and links to all subsequent posts lives here.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I have been searching for good step by step on how to make a homemade kitchen for my daughter. Will let you know how mine turns out!

  2. Owe! Thank you for the idea! This is so cool! I will make one for my daughter. It''s awesome!


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