The new BILLY bookcase is a beloved friend born again
In the more than forty years since its launch, BILLY has been no stranger to change. Now, it’s in for quite a big and exciting one. New, elegant expressions in paper foil and improved assembly are set to make the new BILLY bookcase more circular and affordable. We spoke to Bonnie Yu at IKEA about the journey the iconic bookcase has been on and what it means to keep it forever young.
At first there was VIRA. And TIGA. And REGAL. And perhaps a few more bookcases in different heights, widths, depths, and constructions developed by IKEA throughout the early 1970’s. In an old memo, engineer Arne Hall notes that it was on the factory floor in the summer of 1975 that he drew from all the above to sketch the first-ever product description for one sturdy bookcase that would eventually rule them all. A bookcase soon to be known to the world as BILLY.
“We talk about BILLY being forty years old, but BILLY isn’t old to us. It’s a dear friend that is forever young”, she says, smiling as she notes a clear example of it changing with the times: “It used to have a CD tower!”
We talk about BILLY being forty years old, but BILLY isn’t old to us. It’s a dear friend that is forever young
When Bonnie first met BILLY in 1996, it wasn’t by chance. On her first business trip with IKEA to Älmhult from her base in Shanghai, a store visit was a must – and with it, a good look at a product she’d already heard a great deal about.
“When I started working for IKEA, we didn’t have a store in China. I’d hear about these legendary products and names – and BILLY was one of them”, she recalls.
“BILLY is one of our most important products. So, we ask ourselves: how can we keep it young? How can we let BILLY meet more young customers, while still meeting the ones who treasure it as a friend today?”
These are the questions now being answered with the biggest BILLY redress yet. One that is set to boost the bookcase’s circular capabilities, according to the IKEA circular product design principles.
A beloved friend sporting more than a new look
The big shift towards a more circular BILLY is made up of three main parts. First, the new BILLY will shed the wood veneer to be dressed in high-quality paper foil using the latest printing technology for elegant wood expressions.
“For many years, we’ve worked with wood veneer. But natural resources have become more and more scarce”, says Bonnie. “Shifting to paper foil, we’re using already mass-produced and less scarce material. We harvest less trees, while customers will see the product looking better with a more competitive price.”
Of course, BILLY being as beloved an IKEA product as it is, this kind of shift involving every point in the value chain has been far from a simple achievement. Looking back at the four years since she first embarked on this journey with the icon product, Bonnie recalls the care and collective effort from everyone involved with fondness.
“Working with BILLY was like meeting a new person. It has its own history and personality, and it’s been dressed up in different colours in the past. It felt like, ‘I want to know this person more’. The whole team took BILLY in as a dear friend and we did a lot of work in first really understanding BILLY”, says Bonnie.
“There was almost a year of seed sowing, getting feedback, and painting the future together with people all across IKEA.”
Change for changing lives and homes
Looking to the future of BILLY together also inspired another key design change to improve the durability of BILLY: assembly. With big city and small space living being a reality for an increasing number of people, making BILLY easier to bring along through different stages of life became a central part of the new take on the bookcase.
“Living situations constantly change, and people move to new homes for different reasons. But if you want to move BILLY with you, the bottle neck is you can’t disassemble the panel – which means you need to move it as it is. This creates potential waste of a good quality BILLY”, says Bonnie.
Setting up production of a new BILLY meant being able to get the whole construction up to date; the expression, the automation, and the technology of the back panel, used in other storage furniture as well.
“When there’s no choice of buying new, you always try to look at what you have, taking care of it, and reusing it. By building disassembly into the new BILLY, we make it easier for people to take it with them in every move and to enjoy it for a longer time”, says Bonnie.
The new BILLY will have a nail free back panel set to snap in and out of place more easily, thus enabling disassembly and reassembly of the bookcase.
An ongoing journey towards circularity
“Using only 60 centimeters of edge band is already very little, but we want to go further by replacing the plastic with paper edge bands”, says Bonnie. “To engage a new innovative material like this, we need to do a lot of tests. Can they last through the tear and wear? We’re in a very positive place to make it happen.”
There’s still a road ahead for the new BILLY, but the movement is already making waves at IKEA – marking a big milestone in the journey towards becoming more circular.
“The new BILLY will be smarter about resources, even better for thin wallets, and beautiful,” says Bonnie. “I think that’s amazing.”
The new BILLY will launch in Asian Pacific markets in July 2022, and in other markets starting January 2024.