There’s an appeal to fake yet realistic food—perhaps because it perpetually evokes the moment when food is ready, looking perfect and so appetizing.
Play kitchens, by nature, are miniaturized, and there’s something in the scaling down of them that flares up the collecting fetish for some people (ahem, guilty right here). A play kitchen is completely controllable by virtue of its size, and by the lack of limitations on its power source: your imagination. Every meal can turn out perfectly, and unlike the aftermath of preparing edible food, the mess is easy to clean up.
I’m not a kid anymore, and as a chef, I feel in control in most actual kitchens. But I’m still drawn to the safety and idealized domesticity of play kitchens and their many, many accessories—enough that it takes real self-control when shopping for toys for my own young daughter (the kid’s section of IKEA is a very dangerous place for us). I put a hold on adding to my own collection of play food and miniature kitchens, because I refuse to share them with her…and what’s the fun in that?
Sara Bir is one of those annoying people who thinks making fake food out of felt is totally adorable. She’s the editor of Paste Food.
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Tin kitchens in various forms were common starting in the late 1800s, but today it's mostly the many post-WWII examples, like this circa 1950s set (marked "Mfd. by Wolverine Supply & Mfg. Co., Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A." ) that survive. I used to play with my mom's old one, the value of which she destroyed by spray-painting it. You can score this non-devalued set for $200 on Blackberry Market's Etsy store.
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Instead of a vintage kitchen, go retro with this cheerful cherry-red collection from Pottery Barn. Get the whole set on sale for $645, which I think is more than the total value of the crummy appliances currently in my actual grownup kitchen.
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IKEA is a dangerous place for any parent or lover of small and cute things. IKEA play kitchens grace many a casual coffee shop, but we covet the doll-sized IKEA table settings.
Stuart Webster CC BY
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This vintage Tupperware set is another long-lost childhood toy I probably ruined. What a sweet color scheme! I wouldn't mid a kid version and a full-sized one. You can bid for the mini one on Ebay now.
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Thrifty people who are good with box cutters can put together this adorable cardboard play kitchen with downloadable directions from Etsy. At $12, you'll have cash left over to splurge on that Tupperware set.
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If you'd like something more permanent and you're an ambitious hardware store junkie, Lowe's has instructions for a pretty impressive play kitchen project.
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Play kitchens repurposing ugly furniture from entertainment cabinets to end tables are a common trend among DIY parents. This one, from the blog Paint on the Ceiling, is an especially cute example.
Paint on the Ceiling
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This 1930s-style range by The Queen's Treasures is scaled for 16-inch American Girl dolls. It's $109.99 from Dear Little Dollies (tiny pies not included).
The Queen's Treasures
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Though a Snoopy snow cone machine is not really a play kitchen, it's too awesome not to include. Man, did I ever want one. You shaved ice in the snow cone machine and then filled the snowman-shaped bottle with fake Kool-Aid to squirt on top of your icy creations. Feast your eyes on this commercial to see how appealing this was to a 6-year-old in 1982. Or buy the real thing now for $11.95!
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Some of the most colorful and detailed miniature kitchens are creations of the cult-like online community of Blythe doll fans. This one, by Gushi Soda, is sans Blythe at the moment.
Gushi Soda CC BY-SA