It's quite extraordinary the amount of air time and enthusiasm garnered by IKEA's self assembly BILLY bookcase which celebrates its 30th birthday this month. More than 41 million people all over the world (including myself) have bought the ubiquitous bookcase designed by the fourth employee for IKEA in 1979.
Such is its widespread appeal that the Bloomberg news agency recently pitted the BILLY bookcase (instead of the Big Mac) as the new economic scale. Economists are using the IKEA BILLY bookcase (and its differing prices worldwide) to judge the financial situation of various currencies. Just so you know - the shelving unit is most expensive in Israel and cheapest in Dubai, closely followed by Britain.
Unassuming, functional (and if we're honest, very dull), the BILLY bookcase has captured the imagination of shoppers worldwide. IKEA’s furniture factory in Sandhem, Sweden whip up 15 of them every minute. If we laid out all the sold bookcases in one line, they would be over 70,000 kilometres long (almost twice the distance around the world at the equator).
What makes this bookcase so special?
Much of the attraction lies in its no frills blandness and, of course, cheap price (£40). In truth, it is so plain, it is crying out to have a makeover. IKEA hackers swap stories of wallpapering the shelves, painting with blackboard paint or gluing fabric to the back. To pay homage to the BILLY bookcase, IKEA invited designers to create limited editions of it which were unveiled this week and will be in store until 31 January 2010.
The playful limited edition bookcases come in black, orange and green and covered in graffiti-style quotations. Designer Annika Bryngelson, who gave the bookcase a poetic makeover to create BILLY JADER, says "When I designed the pattern I had a young, romantic kind of guy in mind and that’s why I used quotations from William Shakespeare's love sonnets. There's plenty of strong emotions, love and heartache - yet the pattern is still cool with its graffiti-inspired look."
Meanwhile, BILLY BJASTE is inspired by Japanese manga with a "colourful, trend-conscious girl" in mind.
The jury is out as to whether IKEA's limited editions are collectors' items in the making.