Finnish the Dishes: Simple Nordic Design Beats Dishwashers & Drying Racks

In the 1940s, inventor Maiju Gebhard calculated that the average household spent almost 30,000 hours washing and drying dishes over the course of a lifetime. Machines take less time but still require loading and unloading, cost money and occupy quite a bit of kitchen real estate. Sink-side racks add labor and clutter while taking up space on kitchen counters. What if you could skip these extra objects and steps and simply let your dishes dry in their own time in a cabinet?

Inventor Maiju Gebhard with vintage dish drying closet (left) and contemporary version (right)

“Being Finnish there are many designers and designs I can be proud of,” says 99% Invisible listener and reader Anton Häggman, “especially in architecture and furniture design.” But, he continues, “there is one Finnish design that I am more proud of than any other: the dish draining closet” (also known as a dish drying cabinet).

Typical Finnish drying setup with multiple shelves concealed above the kitchen sink

“That might sound strange, but stay with me because it’s the most quintessentially Finnish design ever — it’s practical, unobtrusive and cheap,” Häggman explains, and makes perfect sense once you use it.

Dish Drying Cabinet patented by Louise R. Krause (US patent 1860617)

An early “dish drying cabinet” was originally patented in the United States by Louise R. Krause (US patent 1860617) in the early 1930s, but it failed to gain traction. The idea was simple: position your dish cabinet above the sink and leave gaps in the shelves to allow water to drip down, letting the dishes to dry while in storage.

Early central draining variant using drip slots in the middle of shelves

In Finland, however, a version developed independently by Maiju Gebhard in the 1940s (in conjunction with the Finnish Association for Work Efficiency) was a huge success. Her basic design is widely used in Finnish kitchens to this day. Over time, older versions built with wood have been replaced by ones using metal wire and/or plastic.

Dish drying closet from below via Italehti.fi

Häggman reports that “in Finnish it’s called ‘Astiankuivauskaappi’ (beautiful language, isn’t it?).” Living in Sweden, he finds himself missing this essential system — “I have to dry my dishes on a rack that sits on the counter, like a barbarian.” He also speculates that Finnish modesty may help explain why the design hasn’t spread more readily to other countries around the world. In his experience, these are found in any Finnish apartment that does not have a dishwashing machine.

UTRUSTA dish-drying cabinet racks from IKEA (not be available in all countries)

The Finnish Invention Foundation has named the Astiankuivauskaappi one of the most important Finnish inventions of the 20th Century and the system has spread slowly and incrementally to other countries. Häggman, meanwhile, encouraged 99pi to share this everyday design wonder with global audiences “so that I can someday live in the US without having to suffer through a tabletop dish-draining stand.”

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