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In my section devoted to design icons a place had to be filled by IKEA Billy, the bookshelf that most houses of the world count among the furniture.
Gillis Lundgren, designer of Billy, was the fourth person to be hired by IKEA in 1953. Apparently it was Lundgren himself to come up with the idea of producing pieces of furniture to assemble and disassemble. The story goes that in 1956 Lundgren was trying to put a table in his car’s trunk, he couldn’t do it and so he unscrewed its legs and had the idea to sell disassembled pieces of furniture.
The history of IKEA Billy
Back to Billy, Gillis Lundgren gave it this name in honor of Billy Liljendahl, who at that time was the company’s head of marketing. Liljendahl complained with the company’s designers because a shelf designed exclusively for books didn’t exist. Lundgren gave him what he wanted and drew the first sketch on a paper tissue.
It was 1979, and Billy was launched on the market, made in oak and pine wood. The following year the white version came out. 30 years later, in 2009, IKEA had sold 41 million of them.
But the history of Billy isn’t all cupcakes: one year after its release, in 1980, many clients complained because the shelves weren’t strong enough and bended under the weight of books. To solve the problem Billy shrunk from 90 to 80 cm.
In 1982 a German newspaper ran some tests on some IKEA Billy bookshelves and discovered that some of them didn’t meet the conformity analysis. Once again, IKEA took to Billy again with an operation that cost the company 7 million dollars.
Afterwards Billy kept on track and since then there haven’t been any other problems. In time Billy has found its place in the history of design, turning the noses of purists, of those who “if it’s not expensive it isn’t design” and of poor furniture.makers who had to reinvent their profession because “selling and assembling” isn’t enough anymore.
If you want to read other design icon stories:
The cover illustration is by fT