One day, Nyla and I were walking to our local grocery store and saw a worn-down wooden coffee table on the sidewalk. Taped on the front was a handwritten sign that read “Antique $40.” We stopped and looked at it. It was unusual with a large enclosed shelf under the tabletop and a door that ran the length of the shelf and opened downward. It seemed too big to go anywhere inside our house, but the door opened the same as an oven. I suggested it could be a good oven for the mud kitchen, but $40 seemed too much money to spend on our experimental mud kitchen that we had made from scrap materials in our yard and garage. So we walked on to the store. On our way home, the sign was now flipped over and had the word “FREE!” written on it. Nyla and I were both really excited. I told her that, if she wanted it, we would have to carry it back home together.
She excitedly grabbed one edge, and we began to walk it back a couple of blocks. It was slow going with many stops, but we finally arrived at our backyard and proudly put the oven into the mud kitchen.
Nyla promptly began cooking. She cooked mud pancakes on the surface of the table and then put mud pies and cakes (buckets of mud) into the oven. Periodically, she checked on the food in the oven to see if it was cooked.
Gathering Fixtures and Equipment
Over the summer, I found that one of the enjoyable aspects of the mud kitchen was sourcing fixtures like the oven. While you may want to purchase some new and used furniture for the mud kitchen, there is a romantic and charming quality in building it over time and through serendipity.
You can get fixtures and equipment from:
- Garage sales
- Free stuff on sidewalks or websites
- Stores or marketplaces
Garage sales are one of my favorite ways to find things for the mud kitchen. I started visiting garage sales with Nyla early in the summer. We would not make a special trip or go garage sale hunting. Rather, if we were out on the town and happened to see a sign for a garage sale, we would drop by. Sometimes we would go to a few in one day. We moved very fast, looking for specific things like a new table, chair, or bucket. It was really fun for Nyla because I would prompt and support her doing the talking and negotiating. After a few weeks of that, and ever since, Nyla gets very excited whenever she sees a sign for a garage sale. Like shrieking excited! I’ll ask her what she needs, and it is usually something for the mud kitchen. This makes for a pretty fun way to experience the city and interact with the community. It also allows Nyla to be the architect of the mud kitchen, which is something she doesn’t usually get to do around our home. And, of course, the cost of getting fixtures this way is very low, especially because you don’t need something of high quality. For example, one of the items we purchased at a garage sale was a narrow coffee table that we turned into a sink, and it cost only $5.
Free Stuff on Sidewalks
We keep our eyes out for whenever there is free stuff sitting on the side of the road, as we did with the oven. Like garage sales, this is a pretty fun diversion in the middle of our day. We’ll stop to check something out, and Nyla can be the judge of whether or not it is a good fit. You can also tell friends and family about your mud kitchen and what types of things you’re on the lookout for. They may have something they are no longer using that they’d be happy to donate to your mud kitchen. There is a plethora of websites these days that list free things (e.g., Craigslist.com or NextDoor.com). And never underestimate the value of organic material; sticks and branches make for great cookware, and stones and boulders can make for good pans or benches. These can be collected from your yard or forest service areas.
Both garage sales and free stuff add a rich tone to the mud kitchen experience because the creation of the mud kitchen happens in part by chance and good fortune. It adds a certain feeling of luck and magic to the creation, not to mention a bit of randomness to the space.
Stores or Marketplaces
Hardware stores, toy shops, kitchen supply stores, and secondhand stores are important places to source inexpensive equipment like buckets, shovels, spoons, various fixtures, etc. if you don’t have them already. I bought a couple of large, galvanized steel buckets to add to our collection of sand toy buckets, and these have been great for hauling dirt and water. I suggest you get buckets big enough for children to step into!
It’s fun to visit these kinds of stores with your child, but if you are pressed for time or trying to source something that your local stores don’t carry, you can purchase products online from Internet marketplaces. There are a vast number of stores that have online platforms. Places like eBay.com and Etsy.com are great to find vintage, handmade, and used products. On these sites, I’ve seen beautiful, custom-designed mud kitchens using wood pallets and reclaimed sinks, and outfitted with bowls and hose attachments. They are pricey (as is any custom-built furniture), but would make for a wonderful play space.