BILLY first appeared in the 1979 IKEA catalogue. Since then it has become one of the biggest IKEA sellers of all time.
The official designer is Gillis Lundgren, one of the first IKEA employees, who worked closely with IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad for many years. However, lots of people were involved in the development of BILLY — and product developers are still working on making BILLY better and better.
Gillis himself recalls drawing the first sketches of BILLY on a napkin. The story goes that there was an employee named Billy who was asking for a bookcase that was just a normal, plain bookcase, nothing more. So when Gillis came up with one it was named BILLY after him.
BILLY-bookcase-in-old-IKEA-catalogueBut BILLY’s roots actually go back a little further. In the 1940s there was a bookshelf called Lundkvisthyllan (the Lundkvist shelf). It had a slogan: “books should talk; but the bookshelf should be silent.” IKEA designers were inspired by this and created a bookshelf called TIGA, (which means ‘to be silent’ in Swedish) and this was one of BILLY’S predecessors.
Over the years, there have been very few changes to BILLY. One of the earliest was to change the size of the bookcase. The original BILLY was 90cm wide, but customers complained the shelves bent under the weight of the books. In addition, at 90cm, the original didn’t quite fit on the IKEA transport pallets, so many bookcases were damaged during transportation. So, what did IKEA do? It changed the width of BILLY to 80cm where it has stayed ever since.
In 1992, IKEA faced a challenge surrounding BILLY bookcases. Journalists discovered that they emitted too much formaldehyde. Sales of BILLY were temporarily suspended and customers had the opportunity to return their BILLY bookcases. As a result, IKEA developed better production controls for particleboard and lacquer so today there’s no need to worry about formaldehyde emissions from your BILLY bookcases.
The reason BILLY has survived and become so popular is that it can be configured in so many ways, comes in different colors and is easy to customize to fit people’s different needs.