Review of IKEA Billy Bookcase System

IKEA Billy bookcase in a study

Adrian Carey/Flickr/CC By 2.0

IKEA's Billy bookcase is a staple of budget home decorating. It is an inexpensive and versatile, easy to expand with additional units and add optional glass or wood doors.

We remodeled our living room and welcomed the addition of three Billy bookcases into our home. These units are 70 1/2 inches tall and have one fixed center shelf and four adjustable shelves. We added the optional glass half doors to the center unit.

Pros of the IKEA Billy Bookcase

  • The nearly 80-inch height holds a lot of stuff.
  • Adjustable shelving.
  • Super affordable price.
  • Ease of assembly.
  • It endures daily use in a kid-filled household extremely well.
  • Surprisingly sturdy.
  • Easy to customize to fit almost any space.

Cons of the Billy Bookcase

  • The fixed center shelf requires all the other shelves to adjust to its stubbornness.
  • These bookshelves could be a little deeper; 12 inches (instead of 11) would be much better. Often, several books will still hang over the edges
  • As a stand-alone bookcase, the Billy has a cheap look about it. The fake woodgrain laminated finish looks like what it is and doesn't fool anyone.
  • The optional doors stick out from the bookcase and look a little awkward.
  • Particleboard construction.

The Billy is so ubiquitous that there was a minor stir in 2011 when IKEA announced they were changing their shape to increase the depth of the shelves. People weren't necessarily buying them to use for books, but rather to display and organize other items. IKEA's idea was that the new Billy dimensions would have space to house more than just books. And the media's interpretation was that "books are dead."

It's true that the old Billy's dimensions seemed too shallow at 10.5 inches deep. The newer dimensions were a minor tweak at 11 inches deep. That still was not deep enough for many of my books.

The Bottom Line on the IKEA Billy Bookcase System

These are great bookshelves for the price, as long as you recognize that they look like what they are​—budget shelving. However, once the Billy is filled with items (or overstuffed with them, as you can see in my photo), it tends to fade into the background—which is a good thing.

IKEA's Expedit bookcase is aesthetically superior, and also has a deeper shelf that easily holds coffee-table sized books. It evolved into the Kallax in 2014. However, the Billy bookcase's additional height makes a lot of difference. The Billy also lacks the vertical bracing of the Expedit and Kallax, so it holds more items per square foot. Plus, the Billy is easy to customize to fit space requirements.

In all, we've been happy with the Billy system and plan to keep it on for the next decade, proving that print books aren't dead yet. May the Billy last as long as books do—and then some!