Design Moment: Billy bookcase, 1979

Such is the ubiquity of the Ikea shelves there is an index for it to compare spending power in different countries

The chances are you have an Ikea Billy bookcase or know someone who does. And not just one – several. There are five in my house, white 40cm by 202cm ones all heaving with books and bits and pieces.

The contents very nearly (but not quite) make the white particleboard shelving units look less cheap than they are.

It’s estimated that since Ikea started selling Billy bookcases – the name being one of the less peculiar sounding ones in the Swedish giant’s catalogue – somewhere in the region of 60 million have been sold worldwide.

As a design it ticks many boxes – practical, smart looking, inexpensive, versatile and unobstrusive.


Despite the term “flat pack” nearly nearly a synonym for domestic frustration, the shelving units are very easy to assemble.

The Billy was designed in 1979 by Ikea employee Gillis Lundgren in 1979 and over the years the design has changed little although Billy now comes in a range of finishes, including birch and beech as well as different sizes.

In 2011 deeper shelves were introduced, acknowledging that many people don’t use Billy bookcases for books at all.

It’s possible to buy doors for them too and Pinterest is awash with people’s clever ways of customising and taking the functional Ikea look off the shelves.

Notionally it is possible to change the height of the shelves when you fancy because the four little metal studs that hold up each shelve are movable – though usually (in my experience) one proves stuck in place forever.

Such is the global ubiquity of the Billy bookcase that there is a Bloomberg Billy Bookcase Index to help economists compare spending power in different countries – for example the index in March this year showed the Billy cost €75.50 in Egypt and €32 in Slovenia.

A basic Billy in Ireland costs €30.