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 Over time, older versions built with wood have been replaced by ones using metal wire and/or plastic.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

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 (may 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.”

    1. 99pi

      I assume a bottom-draining container placed on the shelf but not sure!

    2. Andrew Conkling

      Dry it and put it right away. Don’t need nicks in the cutlery or the skin!

    3. Hannu Jaakkola

      You can have a small cutlery drying cylinder/cup on the lowest shelf or the countertop.

  1. Paul

    Better yet. Plant an herb garden under the rack to collect the drips. Free and effortless watering of your herb garden.

  2. Francesca

    These are also widely spread in Italy! I also find it frustrating that they do not exist in Switzerland where I grew up.

    For the cutlery you usually have a meshed container like you use on the countertop.

    1. Luca

      Yes, pretty much every house in Italy starting from the 70’s/80’s has one. But we don’t usually store the dishes in there for long. We let them dry and put them away soon after. Didn’t know it was Finnish design though!

  3. dave taylor

    My only concern with this design, moist items in a dark cabinet, would be the possibility of the growth of mold and mildew, especially in high humidity climates. Maybe a small fan to circulate air would solve that issue.

    1. Cliff S

      The bottom of the cabinets are open/wire shelves, it would allow air to circulate through the cabinet, and prevent any pooling of water. I can’t see it needing active circulation (a dishwasher with water that pools near the drain, and has a sealed door doesn’t need it or get moldy.)

  4. I love this! I totally had this ideas a couple of years ago, and I feel vindicated that it’s actually a thing, haha.

    Love the herb garden and small fan ideas.

    Small CPU fan would be perfect for a DIY version of this. Makes me wish I wasn’t a millennial and therefore never to buy a home or else I would totally want to make one of these.

  5. Alex

    I love these! My dad’s childhood home in Egypt has it and I always wanted one. As an architect, I may now have the ability to design a space with one!

    1. Sally

      Help! I need one in NYC.
      I’ve had one for 2 years and LOVE it! My building super took out the bottom two cabinet shelves and put in two wire shelves. Great ventilation and as far as silverware you place it crosswise on the wire. The problem is I’m getting a new kitchen and I want good design yet with the perfect fit. Does anyone know where I might get a few shelves that would fit the inside on a standard Echelon cabinet 30″ x 12″

  6. Ann

    Here in the US we installed the Ikea Grundtal open metal shelving over our large vintage sink with drainboard. Not closed but still really nice to put away wet dishes instead of setting them out to dry. At the same time, I’m really excited to be installing a dishwasher now!

  7. Camila Baum

    Wow, this story validated my interest and appreciation for these drying racks. I’m a native San Franciscan, I was on a two week study program in Finland last year and was blown away by the design and efficiency. Of course 99PI had already done a story on it! I’ve also found quite a few stories on 99PI that showcase Finnish design, which makes make me love the podcast even more. Kiitos!

  8. Ava

    This is standard practice for apartments that do not have dishwashers in Iran. I even remember both my grandmothers’ old houses having one, they have been around for a very long time in Iran. As someone else mentioned, people put them away as soon as they are dried. Some even have nicer designs for the racks and are open in the front as well. I hope these become more standard in US, I struggle with the non-sanitary counter-top ones everyday.

  9. Thisfox

    I suspect as often kitchens are designed by people who are not required to live in the house they are designing, just to sell it, this is never going to catch on in quantity. It’s the same reason I didn’t have anywhere to put my fridge in my last rental: The owners never intended to have to live there, and never really paid attention to what the kitchen needed.

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