Turn a Bookcase Into a Play Kitchen in 7 Steps

What You'll Need
Medium grit sandpaper
Table saw
Cabinet hinges
Cabinet handle
Wall mounting kit

Is your toddler or preschooler interested in cooking? Does your child always ask to help you cook dinner? Maybe it's time to consider a "play" kitchen.

Play kitchens are a great way for kids to use their imaginations. They can also help to keep little ones busy while parents prepare meals, while making the kids feel like they're doing the same thing as mom and dad.

There are many different types of play kitchens available for purchase, however, you can also make your own by upcycling an old bookcase or other piece of wooden furniture.

Step 1 – Find Your Bookcase

An empty wood bookcase.

To make a play kitchen, you'll need a bookcase to use as your frame. Find a used one at a salvage yard, yard sale, or flea market. You can even repurpose one you already have at home.

Bookcases are a great frame for a play refrigerator or combo unit, while nightstands can be turned into play stoves and ovens. Old entertainment systems also make a great base for a combo unit.

You'll want your bookcase to fit the size of your child. Two feet wide by three feet tall is a good place to start for a basic play kitchen. You'll want to go larger for a more complex kitchen design.

Solid wood bookcases, as opposed to laminate, are best for this type of project as they are sturdier and hold paint better.

Step 2 – Prepare Your Bookcase

If your bookcase is unfinished, you'll want to prepare the surface for priming and painting. Lightly sand your bookcase inside and out, with medium grit sandpaper. Then wipe clean with a damp cloth and wait for the bookcase to dry.

If you are using a bookcase that has already been painted and is in good condition, you can move on to step four.

Step 3 – Prime Your Bookcase

A bookcase getting a coat of primer before paint.

Unfinished bookcases should be primed. A good primer bonds to the wood and helps to keep the final paint finish from peeling. Follow the directions on the primer label and wait the recommended dry time before painting.

If you are using a laminate bookcase, look for a primer that is made specifically for laminate.

Step 4 – Paint Your Bookcase

Once the primer has cured, you can paint your bookcase.

If you are turning your bookcase into a play refrigerator, paint a base color then add on details later with a contrasting color. Consider painting the inside of the bookcase a different color.

If you are turning your bookcase into a combo unit, divide the bookcase by color to make it more fun and help the individual "stations" stand out. One side can be one color and the other side a complimentary or contrasting color.

Step 5 – Prepare, Paint, and Prime Your Plywood

Use plywood to make doors for your bookcase. You'll need to have the pieces cut to size at a home improvement store, or cut them yourself with a table saw.

For a refrigerator, you could make one single door or two side-by-side, for a French door style. For a combo unit, put a door on one side of the bookcase for the refrigerator and leave the other side open to use as a stove or prep surface.

Once you've cut your plywood pieces to size, follow steps three and four to prime and paint your plywood doors.

Here is where you can get really creative. Consider using chalkboard paint so that your child has a surface to write and draw on. Magnetic paint can also be used to hang magnets and pictures.

Step 6 – Attach Your Doors

A hinge being secured to a pink cabinet door.

Following the instructions on the package, attach your plywood door/doors with cabinet hinges. Then add a cabinet pull or handle to the front.

Step 7 – Mount Your Play Kitchen

Bookcases are heavy, but a child could still easily pull one down and injure themselves. Make sure to mount your play kitchen to a wall using a wall mounting kit made specifically for bookcases.

Additional Tips

Search the Internet (under images) for “Play Kitchen” or “DIY Play Kitchen” for color and design ideas. You'll find a wide range of ideas and styles that will inspire you.

Consider a multi-door bookcase. A small door in the upper left corner can serve as a microwave, while an oven door can fit beneath that. The right side can house a refrigerator or sink.

Refinish a bookcase as a refrigerator and a night stand as a stove or sink, and then place them side-by-side, to make your own one-of-a-kind play kitchen.

Add hooks and baskets to the inside and outside of your play kitchen. Hooks can hold oven mitts and utensils while baskets can hold food items.

Place additional wall shelving near your play kitchen to hold kid-sized dishes, pots and pans, and other play kitchen essentials.