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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What I Did This Christmas...

When faced with seven days away from my daughter, including being away from her  on Christmas for the first time in her life, I decided that I could either spend the week sobbing into my pillow or occupy myself with building her the most beautiful play kitchen I could manage. 

Her room has been a work in progress for quite some time now.  I can only manage to work on it when she’s not with me, for a variety of reasons.  Not only does she want to help as soon as I bring out the tools and paint, when I start working on a project I don’t stop until it’s done.  For anything.  Literally.  No eating, barely sleeping, showering only when absolutely necessary.  It’s terrible but true, I have a one track, obsessive need to finish what I’ve started once I get going.  That’s probably because I know that if I put the tools away and it’s not done it could be months before I get a chance to work some more.  Combine that with the fact that I always, ALWAYS bite off more than I can chew and it’s amazing that I even manage to sleep, eat or shower at all.

My dream was to have her come home on the 27th to a fully completed apartment (bedroom).  It soon became painfully obvious that wasn’t going to happen.  I decided that if I finished the play kitchen itself I’d consider the whole thing a success and whatever else got done would be gravy (fixing the curtains, making a valance, building and painting a bed ladder, painting all the wood trim in the room and adding 1/4 round, painting all doors, building drawers in the cubby under her bed for her clothes, replacing her current store bought closet organizer with a custom built one, framing and hanging photos on her walls, sewing a bench seat cushion for her toy box/sofa, painting the toy box/sofa white, building, finishing and installing shelves for her kitchen area, building, finishing and installing a shoe rack and coat rail/shelf for her entry)  That doesn’t include all the little finishing touches for the decorating or the conversion of her once coffee table into a dollhouse stand with storage drawer.  Once I realized how crazy that list was I joked that I was attempting to complete an extreme home makeover in four working days, with only one person and zero money.  Put that way, it did seem quite silly.

$25 second hand store dresser before

coffee table mid-destruction

halfway through cutting the back off

Day one I cleared out her room, took the drawers out of her dresser and cut the back off it.  I also chopped the legs off her coffee table and stuck her dollhouse on it to deal with later.  Chopping up the dresser was a bit stressful, if it didn’t work or I made a mistake she’d be out a dresser and I’d have to build a kitchen from scratch.  Once everything had been taken off I started building it back up again, trying wherever possible to reuse the wood from the original dresser which was hardwood and plywood and much nicer than the building grade lumber I had purchsed.  The left side of the dresser was slated as the sink area and the right side as the stove/oven.  I wanted a drawer under the oven, just like a real one (storage is key) and since all the parts were there to have a drawer under the sink it seemed like a smart idea to build one there too.

I should say that the reason I decided to use the dresser for a kitchen was that it sort of evolved.  Earlier I’d posted about a beautiful play kitchen I’d seen on the Crafting Chicks blog, based on a design by Ana White.  Then I saw another blog post (sorry, can’t remember whose) about converting a night stand into a play kitchen.  Both these ideas were meant for children younger than my daughter, who is now eight.  They’d be way too short for her to use and enjoy.  I’d either have to modify the plans and build from scratch or think of something new.
 bare shell after everything was removed - from back

same thing, but from the front

after building the interior supports using salvaged pieces and scrap wood, from the back

same thing, but from the front and with the drawers put back

Day two I used up all the scrap wood I could find around the house, trying desperately to save as much money as possible.  I did a pretty good job, managing to rebuild the frame, cover the back of the cabinet and make a couple of interior walls out of supplies I already had on hand.  I then had to purchase more wood to complete the project.  This is where things get tricky because I notoriously overspend when I get to this point in a project.  I planned and re-planned and made drawings and then made a list before I went out to Home Depot.  That trip cost me $100 and got me three handy panels for the interior of the oven, a 1x6x8 to make the back-splash, doorstop trim to finish framing the drawers and oven door (I’d had a bit lying around the house and used it.  I ended up needing 33 linear feet more to complete the project.  Not terrible at $0.66/ft, but I could have saved money if I’d left it plain.)  I also got hinges for the oven door, nylon glides for the bottom of the cabinet, more 1x3’s, wooden knobs for the stove and what was going to be the kitchen faucet but ended up being a huge fail and a waste of money.

 Apparently this wasn't quite the fail I'd thought.  While I was taking these photos today my daughter said she loved the pretend faucet and wants me to install it.  who knew?  It's got a 1/2" threaded end that should secure without incident to the back splash.  I'll leave the other end plain and not add the shower head thing to save space.  If it works it will be about $10 for a pretend faucet, including the hand painted knobs I'll have to create.  

I’d bought a shower arm and flange ($8.00) thinking that I could attach it to the backsplash as the faucet and then paint wooden knobs and use those as the hot and cold taps.  The backsplash just wasn’t tall enough so the faucet would have ended up pointing below the top edge of the sink, making the bowl hard to get in and out of the cabinet for washing.  Thankfully I didn’t buy the $10.00 mini shower head that would have looked great as the faucet aerator.  The handy panels were also pretty expensive at $14.00.  I could have bought an entire 4x8 sheet of plywood for that, however, I don’t have a garage and must either use the portable table saw outside or work in situ, which in this case was my daughters bedroom.  Working outside in anything below zero, with snow or without was simpy not happening and there was no way I was putting the table saw in the bedroom.  A 4x8 sheet wouldn’t fit in there and besides I can’t maneuver 4x8 sheet goods through a table saw alone regardless.  Handy panels it would be. I finally finished construction sometime when it was dark and collapsed in bed for a few hours.

(these are some of the only photos I thought to take during the craziest part of construction.  I used the rotary cutter to make the hole for the sink (stainless mixing bowl) so that I'd have a better chance of getting it the right shape.  One slip up and I'd have to buy and install a new top for the project.  This only worked because the top is 1/4" thick.  In the one spot where there was bracing to cut through I thought the tool was going to blow up.  I don't own a router, but I'd guess that's what you'd use if your material was thicker than this.  Also, partway through the first cut I realized things were going all wrong.  I must not have tightened the nut enough and the tool slipped.  If you'll notice the many penciled in circles, I finally gave up and traced it out of paper and folded to find center.  Much easier.) 


Day three was one of those days that I dread.  By now it was a couple of days before Christmas and I had to go to IKEA, Canadian Tire, WalMart and the Dollar Store.  It didn’t end up too badly but it sucked up quite a few hours of my day.  I now had an area rug, handles for all the drawers and door, an unplanned throw cushion and matching throw blanket, small organizer buckets for storing assorted goods once the shelves were built, wheels for the bottom of the dollhouse table, a magnetic catch and chain stops for the oven door, a wire closet shelf for the oven rack, a bowl for the kitchen sink, mirror clips to attach the plexiglass for the oven door, pink plastic drinking glasses, a plastic water pitcher, pot holders, pink tongs a green plastic serving tray and tea light holders with battery operated tea lights.  I also had a headache and anxiety over finishing this project while also trying to complete the homemade Christmas gifts I was giving...all in one day.  I set nails and filled the holes, caulked gaps, sanded, primed and put on three coats of paint.  Thankfully I have a lot of primer in the house and I use white semi gloss in every room so I didn’t have to buy more paint.  Sometime this evening I realized it would be a good idea to start thinking about the stove knobs.  I loved the faceted glass knobs I’d seen on other people’s play kitchen builds but was unable to find large enough ones that weren’t $20 each.  I also liked the idea of having realistic looking knobs since my daughter was already hoping that when she got a kitchen it would acutally be functional.  When I’d mentioned it months ago she said “So when I turn on the taps water will come out?”.  Um, no.  My sleep deprived idea was that I’d design knobs in Photoshop and then cut them out and decoupage them onto the painted wooden kobs and save myself the hassle of hand painting them.  I started in Photoshop but quickly realized I was in for more work than I’d bargained for.  I use Ps on a daily basis but I use it to edit photos not to design graphics.  My friend came over and thankfully designed what I asked for.  When I remembered to cut out and paste the knobs, sometime around midnight, I realized I’d rather have the text pink instead of black.  This required two hours of trial and error in Ps and ended up with me completely redesigning almost every element of the design.  When I finally printed and cut one out to try, the ink ran all over the image.  I had the wrong paper or the wrong ink or both.  It was now 2:00am and I pulled out the paintbrushes and in half an hour I had four cute, though not that professional looking, stove knobs.

hand painted knobs (I used two of each design on the stove because I couldn't decide between them)
In order for the drawer under the sink to be operational I had to cut a hole for the sink to pass through the middle as the drawer is opened. 

This is the stuff I had on hand and used instead of a tension rod.  Leftover from when I lived in the UK.

Day four was actually Christmas Eve and I was supposed to be finished by now.  I’d lost a full day on the day my daughter left because she didn’t leave until lunchtime and I’d wasted the rest of the day cleaning and watching a movie (gasp!).  It now meant I was cramming before trying to get ready for a family dinner an hour’s drive away in the afternoon.  I dragged myself out of bed at 7:00am and started the finishing touches on the kitchen.  I cut the plexiglass (leftover from another project) and fixed it to the door with the mirror clips, installed all the handles, the stove knobs, the hinges and the oven rack.  I also installed the curtain “rod” for under the sink.  All other builds I’ve seen use tension rods, which is a great idea.  I happen to have tons of this springy wire stuff that is held in place with a bracket on each end.  I didn’t have to buy a rod, but it was a pain to install.  I gave up and cried sometime around lunch when I accepted the fact that there was no way I was going to have a finished room, clean the house, wash a weeks worth of dishes, do the laundry, clean the animal cages and manage to pack my bags for two nights away from home.  I called my mother in desperation and begged her to come out and help me on Boxing Day so that the house would be ready for my daughter’s return.  I made it to Christmas Eve dinner exhausted and drained but clean and dressed presentably enough.

Day five was Boxing Day.  I got up at 7:15am (I’d slept over at my grandparent’s house after Christmas Dinner) had some much needed coffee and a quick chat and then it was out the door and back home for the final push.  My mom and her husband arrived at 10:30am and we all worked until 3:00pm cleaning, doing dishes, laundry and going through the boxes and bags that I’d dragged out of my daughter’s room when this had all began to sort out what we were keeping, giving away and throwing out.  She’s got more “stuff” than she knows what to do with and as a result I think it’s hard for her to enjoy any of it since it’s so overwhelming.  In her room I only kept the dollhouse and all it’s fittings, her books and whatever toys would fit into the toybox/sofa.  There is still one huge garbage bag full of dressing up clothes and another of stuffed toys that she has to filter through since I didn’t want to get rid of something that she was really attached to.  The boxes upon boxes of craft and art supplies moved to the living room to occupy one whole cabinet.  Some toys went to her dad’s house since she has sets of stuff over there that they went with.  Everything else was donated or chucked.  There ended up being three garbage bags of donations and two of garbage.  I couldn’t have got through that last day without help and I’m so thankful mom and Gene took time out to come give me a hand.

After they left it was time to sew the curtain for under the sink.  It was great that I had leftover bits from the curtains and sheets I used to sew everything else in the room since they came already hemmed.  However, it still took me hours to complete this project when it should have been something that I whipped up in under an hour.  It may have had something to do with the fact that by this point I was pretty much a walking zombie.  I think the curtain turned out great and I love it.  I’d toyed around with trying to make a curtain other than the one I’d seen at the Crafting Chicks, not because I didn’t like it but because every single play kitchen I’d seen since has the exact same one.  I guess there really is no point in trying to change something that’s already great.  I still need to buy some trim to gussy it up a little.  Once I’d put away all the sewing supplies the last order of business was to attach the burners that Gene had so generously braved Boxing Day shopping to buy the paint for and that mom had spray painted.  In no way did I want to haul out the pneumatic nailer and deal with filling nail holes.  I ended up caulking them to the top of the unit.  It took me months to find those pre-cut plywood discs (from Michaels - about $1.50 each) and they’d been sitting around my house since summer.  They were all warped and refused to lay flat.  It took a full paint can on each one plus all the books from my daughter’s bookshelves piled on top to keep them flat until they dried.

The Reveal.
  I’d had a full week to obsess over how my daughter would react to her new kitchen and tidied room.  I told myself that as long as she didn’t sneer and tell me that it was terrible that I should be happy.   Turns out she loves it.  The day she came home she had me over for tea in her new living room and washed dishes in her new sink.  She’s since hosted a full dinner for three and we’ve invited mom and Gene back for dinner and dessert in her apartment.  It’s all good (but it still not done).  :)

Just before getting the first look at her "new" room.

The moment I was waiting for.
First meal cooked in the oven - pizza.  The dog was hoping it was real.

Voluntary dish washing?  It was worth the effort for that alone ;)

The oven has a two position rack (like a real one of course) which is handy since my daughter brought an Easy Bake oven with her when she returned home.  If I drill a hole through the back of the oven for the cord she can actually cook in there.  There's enough space around the unit that it won't get overheated.  At the very least it makes a handy place to store this toy.

And here is the "living room" set up as a dining area in preparation for tonight's dinner party.  I hesitate to show this photo because you can see all the unfinished projects just waiting for my attention.  The dollhouse is sitting on it's new home.  I modified one of the leftover drawers from the dresser to fit underneath on the existing shelf to store all the dollhouse stuff.  The folding dining table is a $5 find from the second hand store that will need painting, the toy box/sofa was mine and then my brother's when we were both children.  You can see that the window trim needs painting and there's currently no baseboards in the room and of course the folding three tiered stand also needs a paint job.  It will all have to wait for another scheduled work break though, especially since there are still a few little things I want to finish on the kitchen....

Here's the "finished" kitchen one last time...still needs the faucet and hot/cold taps attached, oven "bake" and "broil" knobs and I need to find a suitable clock/timer to recess into the backsplash.  Other than that?  Perfect!

Note:  You can now see the faucet install here and with the hot and cold taps added here.


  1. WOW That is 1 beautiful piece of furniture for your little girl. She is so blessed to have such a talented mom! Great job!

  2. that is awesome!!! i am so impressed! it's gorgeous, functional, and your daughter clearly loves it!

  3. Truly fabulous. I'd like to try to make one for my daughter. Thank you for the post!

  4. What a great idea!!!! I am on a dresser re-purposing kick lately too. (So far I've done a kitchen island & I''m working on an apothecary cabinet) This is awesome!! I'm going to check Craigslist for similar dressers right now!

  5. Ding! A light bulb just went off over my head. Using a dresser for a kitchen island...GREAT idea! Thanks for sharing, I'd love to see photos.

  6. WHAT! That's repurposed! I'm and doubly impressed!

  7. WOWOWOWOW, so cute!!! I LOVE this. You rocked this kitchen and what a good idea to do it from a dresser. :)

  8. What awesome work! You did a really fabulous job and it looks like your daughter loves it. Congrats on a great project!!

  9. Just found your blog and wanted to say 1) this is SO amazing and 2) you're as OCD about things like this as I am!!! LOL! However, I know mine wont' be this grand

  10. Thanks! It seems like ages ago since that was finally completed. So glad to hear other people are as OCD as I am too:) I love seeing how each new person who builds one of these improves upon and tweaks the design.