For parents of toddlers, selecting the right toy kitchen can be as fraught as choosing a new piece of home decor. It’s a plaything on display, usually as large as an armchair, and a place where your little ones are hopefully going to spend hours and hours of loosely supervised time cooking up cakes and stews, and pretend-microwaving wooden fruit.
Play kitchens can also be hefty investments as far as kids’ toys are concerned, so it’s important to find a durable setup that offers enough amenities to ignite the imagination. We asked a dozen toy designers, parents, artists, chefs, and kids’ shop owners to share the toy kitchens that both they — and their kids — love and that have stood up to countless creations and hours of play.
Toy kitchens get banged around — kids slam pots onto the stovetop, regularly fling cabinets open and closed, and twist stovetop dials with abandon — so many of the parents we spoke to said they looked for wood kitchen sets that can withstand hard play. For Leslie Price, co-founder of Gloria, the weekly newsletter for elder millennials, finding an investment piece that would stand the test of time was important, so she picked the Hape Gourmet Kitchen (her version comes in slightly different colors and is not widely available), a simpler two-burner-plus-sink design that has held up to five years of use by her now 6½-year-old daughter. “Every time I get the urge to pass it along to a family with younger kids, she’ll start playing with it again,” she says, and adds, “There’s something about the simpleness of the design that seems to invite play in a way that more convoluted toys do not.” They accessorized the kitchen with a set of Hape kitchenware and assorted wooden food.
Suzanne LaGasa, creative director at Dwell, had her kitchen work double duty as a place to cook and a place for storage. She inherited a larger kitchen, the KidKraft Uptown Espresso Wooden Play Kitchen, which comes rife with amenities like an ice maker, towel rack, chalkboard, and phone. “The phone was a big hit” with LaGasa’s daughter, who served her mom meals on the regular. “I also used it to store toys, which was great,” she says, for the limited space in her Brooklyn apartment.
The Ikea Duktig Play Kitchen with its light-up stove is an enormously popular wood option because, as Mollie Chen, a brand strategist and mom of two, notes, “It’s clean and modern-looking and can be tricked out as much or as little as you want.” Her family’s Duktig has held up to years of not-so-gentle play.
Stephanie Lemoine, toy design director at Sago Mini, gave us a pro tip for this play kitchen: “If it’s a little too basic for your taste, one quick Google will show you a plethora of Ikea hacks and Etsy stores dedicated to zhuzhing it up to fit your aesthetic.” She recommends adding on Melissa & Doug’s play food set and ice cream server set.
Karin Schaefer, owner of Acorn Toy shop, which offers a selection of ethically made, handcrafted toys, points to this portable stovetop cooker as her favorite for small-apartment living. It’s portable and compact, but offers two cooktops and all-essential knobs. “First, our niece and nephew, and now our granddaughter, has played with this for years,” she notes, as a testament to its quality. This stovetop cooker can be spruced up with very NYC accessories, like this espresso machine, a cash register, this felt pizza set, and sushi.
Eliza Blank, CEO of The Sill and mom of two, also looked for a solution “that was relatively compact, reasonably priced, and mostly wood.” This B. toys Wooden Play Kitchen has a playful color scheme, and its quality has paid off, withstanding two years of nearly daily play by her 4-year-old daughter. “She loves to put together pretend picnics or host pretend tea for the family. The fact that it comes with a complete dish set was a nice touch. And now, with a new baby sister, I know we’ll have this kitchen for another four-plus years and feel great about that,” says Blank. Many reviewers describe assembling this toy-kitchen set as easy, even though some note it takes a few hours. “The assembly took me about 3.5 hours but was honestly very simple (just had lots of pieces), and it was well-balanced throughout assembly, so I didn’t need anyone else to hold pieces for me,” one explains. Another user who made a pros-and-cons list only had notes about assembly on the positive side: “Every piece was clearly labeled with a number or letter and step-by-step picture instructions.
Claire Mazur, co-host of the podcast A Thing or Two and mom to a 3-year-old, picked this muted Kids Concept beauty for its combination of aesthetics and utility. “It’s got just enough functionality to make him happy — knobs that turn and click, utensils that look like the real thing,” she says. “And I like that I can shove all of his fake food inside the oven to make things tidy.”
Hillery Sproatt, a painter and blanket designer whose work is inspired by Japanese, Scandinavian, and Eastern European design, put a lot of research into selecting her almost-3-year-old daughter’s wood play kitchen, which lives in the largest and most central room of her self-described “tiny house.” She picked Elsa’s Kitchen, which is made with alderwood and enamel by a Polish maker named Drewart, then added accessories like flowered enamel pots and wooden fruits and vegetables from a German company, Erzi, and, she says, “I always keep my eyes peeled for little plates, cups, and teapots when I’m visiting antiques stores.” If Sproatt’s version is out of stock, Drewart makes another toy kitchen with a slightly different design.
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