By Amy Watkins HBJ Freelance Writer
MONROE — Kent and LaVonne Clark were trying to make money for Christmas gifts when they made their first play kitchen.
They bought several nightstands from a Goodwill store two years ago to convert into the kid-friendly stations and sell at their church gift show.
“I had friends come over and help paint them because we were running out of time,” said LaVonne Clark, 43. “We went to the church with five of them and sold four and a woman called me later wanting the fifth one.”
After the holidays, she and her husband continued building the little kitchens and selling them one at a time on Craigslist. It was more like a fun hobby then, LaVonne Clark said.
Things started to change last August when the Clarks were again looking for nightstands to transform into kitchens and sell during the holiday season. Kent Clark, 55, noticed a pile of plywood in a garage at a yard sale. A carpenter by trade, he spoke with the homeowner and learned that excess wood was either put through a chipper or given away to various individuals at Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. in Monroe. He’s since made a couple trips to the company to pick up excess oak, cherry and eastern hard maple wood scraps.
“It’s usually a pretty fair amount,” he said. “I just went over there a couple weeks ago, and this guy comes out with a pallet load of eastern hard maple and cherry wood. I don’t have to mill it or sand it or anything. It’s ready to go.”
The hunt for nightstands ended when the couple began building the kitchens with recycled lumber. They named and licensed their business, Recycled Playtime, started a Facebook page, had a logo designed and continued taking orders for the custom-built kitchens.
“Our little hobby is turning into something,” LaVonne Clark said.
They’ve sold more than 40 kitchens and have four customers waiting for orders to be completed. The kitchens start at $200 and individual retro-style refrigerators start at $100. A kitchen can be customized with different colors of paint and curtains and typically takes about three and a half weeks to build.
LaVonne Clark, who was diagnosed in 2007 with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, takes responsibility for marketing the business through Facebook and Craigslist. She also shops at thrift stores for fabric to sew into curtains for the kitchens.
“The sales side of it is my thing and he does the building side of it,” she said. “Between the two of us, we make it work.”
Kent Clark said he initially searched the Internet for ideas on how to create his kitchens that are either 22 or 32 inches wide and include an oven with a window, a sink with a wood faucet and a stove top. Repurposed closet racks are the shelves in the ovens and refrigerators.
“I figured out some pretty unique ways of making things,” he said. “I don’t take shortcuts in building them. I have a standard that I go by and I just don’t go below that standard. It’s going to last for a few generations at least.”
Kent Clark suffers from memory loss and fatigue. He added that working with consistent measurements has helped him during the building process.
“Every nightstand is different so I basically had to gut the whole thing and custom do everything,” he said. “With my memory loss, what works the best is I can make everything the same.”
The Clarks wrote Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. a thank you letter for the wood scraps about a month-and-a-half ago, said Cindy Draper, marketing manager for the company. The letter piqued her interest and she contacted the couple to learn more about Recycled Playtime.
“I like how all their little play kitchens are made out of completely recycled and repurposed material,” she said. “It’s a neat alternative to the mass-produced plastic kitchens that cost a lot more.”
The Clarks plan to make a kitchen soon for their almost-2-year-old granddaughter, Tala. They like that their kitchens are sturdy, environmentally-friendly and inspire young imaginations.
“Toddlers don’t need to be playing Angry Birds and they don’t need to be staring at the TV,” LaVonne Clark said. “I want kids to play the way they used to. I want creativity.”
For more information, call 425-350-5368, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.facebook.com/pages/Recycled-Playtime/160894487353045.