IKEA's BILLY bookcase is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, so we sat down with its product designer to find out more about this enduring and iconic design.

ikea billy bookcase in white in a real home living room with sofa, coffee table and wicker chairs

Image: IKEA

A little birdy told us one of IKEA's most iconic designs, BILLY, has turned 40.

From a single bookcase to a wall-to-wall library, the BILLY bookcase system has made it possible to build an affordable library look. 

Simple and versatile, more than 30,000 pieces are produced every day, and this year IKEA have already sold 300,000. 

We sat down with product desigber Börje Lindgren to find out more about the ingenius design.

an ikea billy bookcase system in a living room in a real home

Image: IKEA

After 40 years, the BILLY bookcase designs just keep evolving. How do you continue to keep the classic design looking fresh and current?

“The key is taking a look at what’s happening in the world around us and making sure everything we do reflects this, so not only are we offering simple and practical products, but they’re stylish and solve genuine problems people have too.

“Whether looking at different colourways or adding glass doors, we’re always looking at what people need to ensure BILLY is fresh and in-demand.”

Why do you think this particular design has been so popular for so long?

“At IKEA, there are five key principles we live by: affordability; ensuring a product is a good price; function, making sure every product helps make people’s lives easier; form, designing products that look good - just because our products are affordable doesn’t mean we skimp on design(!); sustainability, making sure it’s sustainable at every part of the supply chain; and finally quality, fundamentally ensuring it’s a good product.

“The reason I think BILLY continues to prove so popular is that it encompasses all of these design principles. At the end of the day, people want a product that is simple, looks good and does a good job - which BILLY certainly does.”

ikea billy bookcase in black housing speakers and other sound equipment in a living room in a real home

Image: IKEA

What BILLY design updates should we be looking forward to this year?

“At IKEA we’re always trying to make things easier for our customers, and that applies to products like BILLY too. At the moment we’re looking at how we can make it even easier to assemble, using alternatives to screws and other fittings.

“Of course, this year marks BILLY’s 40th birthday and we couldn’t let such a momentous anniversary pass without celebrating, so we designed a brand-new limited-edition version in yellow. It’s available globally at the moment, but only until August.”

white billy bookcase system by ikea in a real home

Image: IKEA

What design advice would you give to customers interested in installing a BILLY bookcase system in their home?

“Work with it. Use the height of the room and build up so you get the most out of the space you’re working with.”

The BBC have described BILLY as “…a bare-bones, functional bookshelf if that is all you want from it, or it is a blank canvas for creativity.” With that in mind, what easy tips or tweaks would you suggest to anyone who wanted to be a little more creative with the bookcase design?

“One of the best things about BILLY is that you see people using it in such different ways. More and more people are displaying items on there like candles, vases and plants, so you can always get creative with what you’re putting on there.

“Lots of people also redesign it with their own wallpaper, which adds a really nice personal touch.”

ikea yellow billy bookcase in a living room

To celebrate this 40th milestone, the BILLY is available in a limited edition yellow, available until the end of August 2019 in the UK and priced at £55.

 

Have you got a BILLY bookcase in your home? Tweet us @goodhomesmag or post a comment on our Facebook page.

 

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