Make This Awesome Upcycled DIY Kid’s Play Refrigerator

You guys. I haven’t done a real project in so long that it seems now everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

At the end of this month, my nephew turns one and I’ve decided to follow suit with a million other bloggers and build him a bitchin play kitchen (also, apparently I’ve decided to start rhyming).

I’ve been working on the darn fridge for like a week and it’s still only halfway done… it should have taken no more than 2 days.

Because he’s just turning one it isn’t a completely age-appropriate gift yet, but I figure he’ll have it there when he’s ready. My goal is to give him the fridge by his birthday, then the cabinet and sink by Halloween.

Here’s what we started off with:

old brown cabinet

I picked up cabinets at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for about $40  (that includes this piece above and the not-shown sink area).

First things first, I removed all the hardware and took off the door. Next, I spackled and sanded the areas that looked rough, sharp, or cracked.

Once that was done, I brought out the Krylon Magnetic Spray Paint. Then things went horribly wrong.

diy play kitchen

I put three light coats of paint on the door. Nothing. Then I put another light coat…still nothing. Then I put an extremely thick fifth coat. NADA. Then I emptied the whole damn bottle on the door and let it cure up overnight…. it did not do a darn thing.

But it was a lovely shade of ashy gray? I tweeted Krylon asking for tips and advice and they just responded to call with the batch number because I must have gotten a defective can.

However, if you read the reviews it appears no one has ever gotten it to work at all. I felt like my best friend was talking about me behind my back… Krylon is a legitimate name with a good reputation. Whyyyyyyyyyy!!!

I panicked and messaged my blog friends because if this darn thing isn’t magnetic I’m basically a failure at aunt-dom. 

Emma directed me to Rustoleum magnetic paint because her mom had used it with great results, and Kenz backed it up saying Young House Love used it too (duh! how did I not remember that!).

magnetic paint review

The Rustoleum paint is THICK. You need to stir it for about 15 minutes, then give it a good occasional stir as you’re painting. I used a foam brush to coat it on, 3 coats about an hour apart each. I gave the frame an extra fourth coat too because the back is  exposed wood and it really seemed to soak the paint up.

I recommend you do this outside if you can. It smelled PUNGENT. I didn’t realize this until I had already set up shop in the kitchen so I just opened all the windows and turned the fan on.

Once it was dry I called Matt in for backup- he’s much better with hardware then I am.

I got a 5in. handle off Amazon (this one) then we measured, drilled pilot holes, and checked that it was all lined up (spoiler alert: it wasn’t. the door is now curing up some wood filler and we’ll try again tonight).

After failure #2 I moved outside to prime and paint the inside. And you know what kind of primer I got? Krylon. Which did nothing but sputter and spit everywhere. WTF. My best friend betraying me again? I was so hurt. I sanded down the drips and just went ahead with a light coat of leftover Rustoleum aqua paint from my DIY sunburst mirror.

Here’s where I’m at now:

cabinet spray paint

So here’s what I’ve accomplished successfully so far:

  • spackled, sanded, and primed with magnetic paint
  • sprayed the inside and shelves with one coat of leftover aqua paint

And here’s what I’ve got left:

  • 1-2 more coats of aqua spray paint on the inside
  • redrill the holes for the handle
  • spray paint the outside
  • add a touch light and door shelf
  • build up the confidence to create the rest of the kitchen


When we last checked on the play fridge it was a bit of a mess. Things have really turned around and I am so pleased with the final result:

diy play fridge

I just want to give you a loose how-to for this because I really think there’s a million ways to do it. So, in a nutshell, here’s how I turned a kitchen cabinet into a play fridge

  • Took off the knob and filled the hole, then removed the door and shelves to spackle and lightly sand everything. Wipe down with a damp cloth.
  • Prime the outside with Rustoleum magnetic paint, about 3-4 coats. Prime the inside, the inside of the door, and the shelves with regular primer (either spray or roll on)
  • Drill the holes for your new hardware- I went with a 5inch handle from Amazon.
  • Paint the whole thing- I sprayed Rustoleum Midnight Blue on the outside and Rustoleum Aqua on the inside (if spray painting, do the inside first).
  • Place felt sliders on the bottom so it won’t scratch your floor, I got a pack of about 20 at the Christmas Tree Shops for maybe $2.00 and use them all over my house. I also used 2 of them to cover the screw holes on the inside of the door (see below).
  • Reattach the door, place the shelves, and let it cure for about a week- it’s going to take quite the beating, don’t skip the letting it cure part! The paint really needs time to harden and settle.

Optional things to include:

  • Touch light- I found gravity did not care for me placing the light on the ceiling so I put it up against the wall. I used Velcro to attach it so it could easily be removed when the batteries need to be changed.
  • Storage bins- all bought at the dollar store, $5 total.
  • Food pyramid- I just googled it and printed my favorite, mounted it on colored paper, then stuck it on with double sided tape. The washi tape is just decorative.
decorative play fridge

I think the best part of this toy is that it can be a big huge mess, but then you just throw everything back inside and close the door.

For Christmas I plan to have a sink area done as well, I’ve already got the base cabinets for it. Because my nephew is only 1 I don’t feel too rushed, his main way of playing with this right now is to dump all the food on the floor and roll around in it.

kitchen cabinet to diy play fridge

I will say the magnetic part still ended up being kind of a downer, the Rustoleum paint works but really needs a strong magnet- the play letters were from the dollar spot at Target and I had to superglue stronger magnets to them to get them to stay.

Also, this thing ended up costing about the same as it would have to buy a good wooden one. It wasn’t really a money saver, just a lot of fun for me to build.

What do you think? Have you made any kids toys? What would you do to customize it more?