An antique dry sink was a staple in most households before the early 20th century. Dry sinks allowed people to wash hands, produce, or linens before most homes had interior plumbing. At the minimum, most dry sinks had a pitcher and a basin for washing. In addition, the front of a dry sink usually has a drawer or two and a cabinet for towels, linens, and other personal care items.
People placed dry sinks in kitchens, bathrooms, porches, and bedrooms. As people learned more about proper hygiene, dry sinks became more popular and elaborate. Eventually, these furniture pieces were replaced with sinks and vanities as we know them today. Learn more about their design history, view some examples, and get ideas for repurposing them today.
Antique Primitive Dry Sink
This is antique dry sink features a recessed basin top. The base has two doors with ceramic knobs that open to a shelved interior.
The first dry sinks had a more primitive look with a recessed top panel to prevent excess water from splashing on the floor or walls. During the Victorian era, most dry sinks had a flat top and tall backsplash. More elaborate designs were topped with marble or copper and had carved wood features.
In most cases, larger double-wide dry sinks were designed for the kitchen, usually painted with a recessed top. Homeowners typically kept smaller wooden dry sinks with more Victorian-style detailing in a bedroom.
Basic, rectangular basins.
Constructed from durable woods like pine or oak
Simple backsplash, shelf, or cabinet underneath
Ornate carvings and intricate molding
Introduction of marble tops
Elaborate hardware, painted or stained finishes
Transition to Modern Plumbing
Simplified, functional designs
Integration of features like towel rails, cutting boards
Start of decline in traditional use due to built-in plumbing
Resurgence for nostalgia and decorative purposes
Repurposed as sideboards, bar cabinets, plant stands
Emphasis on preserving historical value
Fusion of antique style with modern functionality
Commonly used in creative ways, such as bathroom vanities
Reproductions maintain historical design aspects
Antique 19th Century Ohio Cherry Dry Sink
This is a beautiful 19th-century dry sink cupboard with four pull-out dovetailed Chamfered drawers and original hardware.
Dry sinks are characterized by their distinct function. These antique pieces might have a spacious, rectangular basin crafted from durable woods like pine, oak, or maple and lined with waterproof materials such as copper or zinc. The lower section often has a cabinet or open shelving, ideal for storing essentials like washbasins and towels. If there is no basin, there is a flat surface to place a pitcher and basin set.
Dry sinks can also include:
- Tall backsplashes that connect to a towel bar
- Upper shelves attached to the backsplash
- Hand-carved, uneven dovetail joints
- Older style nails
Antique Victorian Dry Sink Wash Stand
This is an antique dry sink in a Victorian style. The cabinet is in good condition with what looks like an original finish.
Dry sinks are still popular today, even if their initial function is no longer required. Most people purchase dry sinks because the furniture matches their aesthetic, whether country primitive or Victorian. Here are some ways people have been repurposing historical dry sinks.
- Nightstand: Use the top for a lamp and books and the shelves or cabinet for storing nighttime essentials.
- Workbench: The sturdy structure is ideal for holding tools, with ample surface area for small projects.
- Kitchen Island: Add wheels for mobility and use the top for food prep, with storage below for kitchenware.
- TV Stand: The flat top of most dry sinks can support a TV, while the compartments below can house media devices and accessories.
- Bathroom Vanity Conversion: Fit a sink into the top and utilize the storage space for bathroom essentials.
- Dresser: The shelves and compartments can be used for clothes, making it a unique and rustic bedroom addition.
- Coffee Bar: Set up a coffee machine on top, with spaces below for mugs, coffee, and tea supplies.
- Gardening Station: A dry sink is perfect for holding pots, soil, and gardening tools, with a work surface for potting plants.
- Home Bar: Convert it into a chic bar area, with spaces for bottles, glasses, and mixing tools.
- Console Table: Place it in an entryway or hallway for decorative items and use the storage for keeping daily essentials handy.
Antique Victorian Marble Top Wash Stand Dry Sink
This luxurious dry sink has a raised burl panel and a marble top. The extra-tall backsplash features two built-in shelves.