Affordable bookcases: Sauder or Ikea Billy?

Helena2013July 25, 2013

The remodeling budget has dictated that I'll have to go with one of the assembly-required MDF/fiberboard/particleboard brands for my collection of books, CDs and DVDs. I need the equivalent of 20 ft of bookshelf space for everything. The two most popular such brands seem to be Sauder and the Billy line from Ikea.

The room is traditional and will have a desk that has a medium cherry finish, so I'd like to approximate the color (both Sauder and Billy offer some shade of medium brown) and would like something that at least gives the appearance of a dressier piece of furniture rather than just a plain box with shelves in it.

The tallest Sauder bookcases are either 72 1/4" or 72 1/2" tall (I'd like to get as much height as possible) and range from 31" to 36" wide. They are "prettier" but the downside is that no more than 3 of the shelves are adjustable, and I don't know if additional shelves can be purchased.

The Billy bookcases are 79 1/2" tall and 31 1/2" wide. Definitely a very basic look (no trim) but every shelf is movable. I'm assuming that extra shelves can be purchased.

Pricewise the Ikea bookshelves are much more affordable (the large Sauder bookcases described above are about $150 each, versus $80 each for the brown version of the Billy). I've read rave reviews here about the durability of the Billy bookcases but nothing one way or the other about the Sauder ones.

Would love some user reviews/input/etc from anyone who has had either or both of these brands as bookshelves (preferably heavily loaded with books! LOL) for any appreciable length of time. Thanks!

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Sorry, meant to say that I need 20 linear ft of bookCASES.. not just 20 ft of shelves. Sorry! :-)

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 7:08PM
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I see that your follow-up post mentions that you need 20 linear ft of bookcases so part of my answer won't apply but...

I was going to suggest if you needed only "a" bookcase, to swing by your local resale shops because you might come across a real find.

We were looking for a nicer-than-plain bookcase and were looking at the Sauder Heritage Hill 5-shelf unit at Amazon. We ended up finding one that is kind of a cross between that unit and the Sauder Orchard Hill Library version. I didn't think I would care for the immovable shelf in that it kind of sticks out visually, but it really does make the whole bookcase much sturdier and you really don't notice it when the bookcase is loaded with books (it stands out more when you see the product photos of bookcases with empty shelves).

Whereas new bookcases like the models mentioned above are $97 or $140 online, we found our used bookcase at a local Goodwill store for $45 (they were having a 25% off sale on their furniture that week, and it was marked at $60 originally).

The crown style molding at the top front edge and the baseboard type molding at the bottom front edge really gives an overall "classier" look over a plain-Jane bookcase like the IKEA Billy. It looks more like "furniture" IMO.

Plus, since you need 20 linear ft of bookcases, if you get these with with the front moldings, it should look rather nice in a "finished furniture" sort of way lined up side-by-side-by-side...

BTW, I don't recall if our resale shop find did say "Sauder" on the back, but I did notice that it said "Made in the USA." Yes, it did have a minor nick or two here or there but nothing really drastic. It had a nice feature that I'm not sure are on all bookcases - there was a screw in/out leveler foot at both front corners so you could adjust for unlevel floors (or for tilting the bookcase slightly back for safety reasons, which I did).

Finally, we have our bookcase fully loaded with binders of reference papers with no shelf issues (although it's been only a few weeks now, I don't anticipate any problems because the shelves seem very sturdy). The binders weigh less than large size hardback books or old-school encyclopedia-type of books but definitely more than paperbacks to give you a reference.

Go online and read some Amazon and other real-life user reviews.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Sauder bookcases at

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 1:55AM
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We have around 32 feet of Billy bookcases and have owned them for about 10 years, moved them halfway across country once and the are loaded down with books.

We have a more modern style and they fit in well.

Very hard to beat for the price and are pretty easy to assemble once you get past the first one.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 4:35PM
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I would not recommend Sauder as I believe they are merely particle board with a printed simulated wood facing, inferior craftsmanship, and too low in height. The IKEA Billy are not deep enough for any art type, oversized books and have an overall inexpensive appearance IMHO.

My recommendation for versatility and quality would be the Besta series from IKEA. The come in a variety of finishes & frame heights which can be stacked and can be customized with accessories, like closed storage at the bottom and open shelves at the top. The option of hanging them directly on the wall without requiring the use of the floor for support allows for infinite height adjustment, clean-ability & flexibility. I have used them for residential installations and also commercial store installations with great success.

Here is a link that might be useful: Besta Frames

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 12:14PM
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beverly, thanks for the info on the Besta. I just compared the Besta Shelf Unit with the Billy Bookcase to see what the difference in materials and dimensions are, as well as price. The Besta "shelf unit" is $150 compared to the Billy $80 (both for the medium brown). But I'm confused about the materials:

Billy Product description
Main parts: Particleboard, Beech veneer, Paper, Stain, Clear acrylic lacquer
Back: Fiberboard, Foil

Besta Product description:
Back: Fiberboard, Foil
Main parts: Particleboard, Fiberboard, Foil, Honeycomb structure recycled paper filling
Top panel/ Bottom panel: Particleboard, Fiberboard, Foil, Honeycomb structure recycled paper filling, Polypropylene

So both of them utilize particleboard and fiberboard. Sauder doesn't give the composition but if they are particleboard with a printed paper facing, then that is the same sort of thing that the Billy bookcases use.

The tall Besta unit is 75 5/8" high; the Billy is 79 1/2". So the Billy wins on height.

The Besta shelves are 15 3/4" deep, the Billy only 11"; so the Besta wins on depth.

I only have 8 feet of wall space to put these against (don't want to hang them from the wall). The Billy is 32" wide, so I could fit three of them there; the Besta is 47 1/2" wide, so that means two of those. The website just gives the overall width, although this unit is divided into 2 vertical sections, I am assuming each is 23" wide. From the standpoint of shelves bending over time from the weight of books, a 23" wide shelf is preferable to a 32" one and probably would not need the addition of a C-channel along the back as a preventive measure. Even so, I see that the maximum load per shelf is the same (66 lbs) for both the Billy and the Besta units.

Oh wow... I just used the zoom feature and noticed something that is REALLY important to me. The Besta units have the shelf-mounting holes continuous all the way from top to bottom, but the Billy bookcases do not!!! There are hole-free gaps in between, thus restricting shelf placement unless I want to drill extra holes which I would not want to do. Big functional difference!

Thanks, beverly -- that decides it in favor of Besta for sure. And the Sauder units, though prettier, do have that darned fixed shelf in the center. :-/

    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 8:06PM
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Helena, The Besta frames comes in two widths that you can combine to meet your dimensions. 23" & 47" +/-. but you're correct, you'll have two frames divided into 2 sections. So there will appear to be 4 sections on your wall. I like the shorter shelf length of 23" because it means there will be no sagging shelves over time, no matter what I load on the shelves.

I have used the Besta in both solid colors and the wood grain. In both residential and commercial applications for clients. I think they are a great value for the money. See pics attached. The wood grain has veneer on the frames and the shelves, but printed grain, for the panel in the back of the bookcase. When the units are a solid color, more of it is 'foil', thermofoil, so the color is more durable than just paint. Besta has doors and inserts so you can customize your installation.

Do not simply rely on the info from the IKEA website or the catalog. It's very incomplete. At IKEA, in the Besta department, there will be general instruction sheets with parts and pieces listed. I pick them up on my first trip to IKEA and study them before I make my purchase. I have also used the Besta Planner on-line which has helped me make my selections.

Don't forget that even thought the tall Besta unit is 75" high, there is an add-on unit that will provide an additional 15" height if your ceiling will accommodate this.

If you select units that are 75" instead of the lower 50" height offered, you'll have to secure the bookcase to the wall, especially if you are over carpet. No matter the manufacturer, it's a safety issue. A matter of stability. IKEA provides the simple hardware needed to secure the sections. The units come with adjustable glides on the bottom to deal with irregular floors. I hope this has been helpful to you.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 12:00PM
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beverly, the photos are awesome! Will post again later/this weekend as time permits but in the meantime, many thanks for your input!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 4:34PM
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My opinion save up and purchase something of a better quality that will last longer. Hardwood plywood with a nice veneer or solid hardwood if can affordit.

Anything with MDF, particle board etc is not going to last. I think you would be better off finding a good quality product and starting with a few pieces you could add to later. The first time MDF etc gets wet of somone leans on it, or it gets dented or gouged it will start to deteriorate. It's like buying a cheap set of kitchen cabinets they never really lood that good, The wood under the sink swells etc.

In the long run you will wish you purchased something nicer.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 9:35PM
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Freethinker99, the quality product you're describing is only available as custom millworker or semi custom using one of the kitchen cabinet manufacturers, at perhaps 10 times the cost of what we're discussing.

Have you seen the Besta in person? It's well made, sturdy & much better quality than much of the cheap quality particle board shelving offered by places like Sears, KMart, Best Buy,and the office supply stores.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 10:34PM
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Helena - To reinforce Billy shelves for heavier loads, take a shelf to Home Depot or a hardware store and find aluminum "C-Channel" that is barely big enough to slide over the shelves. Usually comes in 8-foot strips.

Cut it (with a hacksaw) to fit the back of the shelf, minus a couple of inches. I used 2-foot sections.

File the rough spots off, slide the channel over the back of the shelves and install them. It makes the MDF a lot more rigid by stiffening the back side

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 11:06AM
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I am pretty sure I will go for the Besta. Not only do they seem sturdier but with the shallow 11" shelves on the Billy, I would think the upper "wraparound" of a C-channel might cause a problem for my larger books. I have quite a few books (binders and photo albums) that are between 10" and 11" deep and would have their bottom edges damaged if they were to sit on that C-channel instead of a flat surface.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 1:35PM
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beverly, I have a silly question about the Besta. Your second photo shows a 23" (?) unit affixed to the wall (not floor standing) and I think I will probably need one of those as well, because upon remeasuring the room I will not be able to put two 47" units along the long wall and still have enough room at the doorway (may need handicap access in the future). Anyway, the short wall has a heating baseboard along the floor and so I would rather hang that fourth unit on the wall rather than block the heat.

I looked at the installation PDF on the Ikea site (oh how I hate pictures-only instructions!! I am a words person and need that extra guidance to understand what the heck I'm looking at, LOL) and it only seems to address putting the 23"x75" unit on the floor .. not the wall. How did you secure yours? Mine would be full of books and so quite heavy. :-(

Also I am completely at a loss to understand the diagrams on pages 7 and 9. Page 7 shows some kind of a box (?) affair being affixed to the inside corners; what is that? It looks almost like a hinge but that makes no sense. Is that the wall anchor unit? Seems awfully large for that. But then on page 9 there is a round element that is shown being put in the same location. So now I am totally confused. :-(

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 1:21PM
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You have to purchase the suspension rail to attach the unit to the wall. As I recall, because it's been longer than a year when I designed the pharmacy, you assemble the frame first, without the shelves, the plastic parts at the corners are some type of reinforcement for anchoring. The suspension rail gets installed on the wall, you should be able to either hit a stud or use suitable anchors, and then the frame is hung on the rail. Just like IKEA kitchen cabinets are hung off the rail. They will hold the weight of books. Screws go through the back of the boxed frame to anchor to the rail. It's really not difficult. You might want to check Besta Installation videos on You Tube for additional info.

Here is a link that might be useful: Besta Suspension Rail

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 1:48PM
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Went to Ikea yesterday to look at the systems in person and frankly wasn't impressed. Just couldn't get the "cheap disposable college-dorm furniture" impression out of my head. Then I ran the numbers for the elements needed for two rooms (computer room 15" deep and tv room media storage 8" deep, running floor to ceiling and 6 ft wide.

The cost for the computer room came to $425 including sales tax; for the TV room, $473. Total $898.

Then I turned to my Elfa (Container Store system) component and pricing guide and did the same thing using their pieces. For the computer room $528, for the TV room $317. Total $845.

The upside to the Elfa system is that it uses brackets, therefore the ends of the shelves are supported along their entire length, back to front, AND if I want to add an additional hanging standard (or more) in between any span I can do so and thus have additional brackets if and where they are needed. Unlimited customizable support as well as shelf positions.

The Elfa certainly doesn't look like "furniture" but on the other hand it doesn't try to. I think I'd rather have that than something that is frankly fake.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:31AM
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Some cool long walls of bookshelves from Ikea Hackers site - for more search their site for "built-in bookshelves":

Using Expedit:

Huge Expedit Wall


Brave New Upcycled Billy

French Country House Library (This one is AMAZING)

Old World Library

Billy for Beginners

Billy Built In Bookshelves

Built in Bookshelves with Window Seat

Billy Bookcases to Built-Ins


Living Room Built in Bookshelves

Big Best Built-Ins

This post was edited by chickieD on Sun, Aug 25, 13 at 3:34

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 2:59AM
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After sharing all those links, I have recently been exploring Ikea. The Hemnes looks much nicer than the Billy, as does the Besta. The Besta is more versatile - has options like doors and different colors.

I have also been researching a built-in option for my home that does not cost a lot. Having seen a lot of Ikea stuff in student apartments, it just doesn't last. Even though I love the Ikea hackers site, I have put time and energy into cheap furniture when I was young - I used to be quite handy with a marbelizing kit - only to have it sooner rather than later fall apart.

As I've gotten older I just won't put the money into Ikea furniture because I feel like if I have $80 to spend on a bookshelf, then I can find one on craiglist - if you think you can't find the quantity you need, look at the office resale people who list on craiglist.

Another built-in option I found is on Ron Hazelton's site

Furniture grade plywood is miles ahead of pressboard in quality and not much more expensive.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 9:30AM
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chickieD, that's exactly how I felt after looking at all the Ikea products in person: as someone said during the last Presidential campaign, "Even if you put lipstick on a pig..." LOL

Related to the Ron Hazelton site, it occurred to me the other day to wonder if simply using 21" or 24" wide doorless kitchen cabinetry, meaning wall cabs floor to ceiling, would be an alternative. I don't want any doors on my bookcases. The upside is that at least kitchen cabinetry is real wood; the downsides are cost, as compared to either Elfa or Ikea, and that I have never seen upper cabs that had the shelf bracket holes run continuously top to bottom, thus allowing infinite shelf adjustment.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 10:01AM
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If you are flexible on kitchen cabinets, you can look on craiglist for people who are remodeling and get their old ones. That will really cut your cost down.

They also get rip outs of cabinetry from contractors at the ReStores - the Habitat for Humanity version of Goodwill/Salvation Army store that carries all kinds of tubs, molding, cabinets, lighting, etc. It's a real mixed bag of stuff but if you shop it and you are willing to maybe repaint something it can be a huge savings. Also great if you are into retro look as they get some cool old things. They also get brand new items in from contractors who mismeasured/misordered/had a cancellation or customer that changed his or her mind or from box stores that are donating clearance items.

I just scored a 5 foot long cabinet on craiglist that matches my kitchen cabinets - a custom built overhead hanging cabinet with glass doors on both sides - for $200. It cost the original owner about $1000 to have this built. But you have to know your exact dimensions and when you see what you need, jump on it.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 1:31PM
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Regarding the infinite track, one of the things they show in that Ron Hazelton video is that there is a jig you can buy for your drill that will drill the holes exactly the right size and depth each time, and a template you can purchase that shows the spacing.

I believe you can also add in tracks to a cabinet.

So, there are options to add in infinite adjustments for shelves.

Here's another shelving option: Hungarian Shelves. If you look in the comments, you see quite a few nice versions of this.

I have really researched the heck out of this problem for myself and have just gone round and round on it because - exactly - lipstick on a pig to me putting molding on Ikea crap. People say the Ikea stuff can be nice at the upper end but, I've really never seen an Ikea item in person that really wowed me and held up - I feel like by the time you buy the tools and the items to hack Ikea, just buy something nice. On the other hand, that Ron Hazelton thing was just too over my skill level to execute well.

I don't know why good bookshelves are so hard to come by. My husband has a couple of nice ones he got at unfinished furniture stores and he is handy with stain and poly so they look good and are solid. Maybe since you have so much space to cover, it might be worth investing in doing a little work on the unfinished items and at least you do the work once and it lasts.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 1:42PM
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Actually I don't have all that much space to cover... the room is small, 9x10, and because of doorway access issues I can only really install 6 ft of bookshelves, in other words three 24" wide units if we were talking in Ikea-speak, LOL. The units would essentially go floor-to-ceiling (8 ft ceiling) and have a total of at least six 2-foot-wide shelves per unit. Thus, 12 feet of usable book shelves per unit, x 3 units = 36 feet of shelves for books. I currently have enough books to cover 20 of those 36 available feet, and since I don't plan to stop buying books in the forseeable future, I need at least 20 feet of shelving to house my current 'stock' plus more for future purchases. I don't do e-books, LOL.

The bookcases were originally going to go along both 10-foot walls but then I realized recently that something else needs to go along one of those walls instead *and* I need to leave at least 3 ft clear near the doorway on the remaining 10 ft wall for handicap access. One of the 9-foot walls has heating baseboard along its entire length, plus a window, so that one's no good; the other 9-foot wall is the room's doorway plus a closet whose trapdoor is the only access to the attic.

I went to an unfinished furniture store in my area and was surprised that the cost of them (after being stained or painted) wasn't too far from already-finished furniture. You don't want to put a paintbrush in my hand, LOL! a history of disaster.

Unfortunately I don't have access to any kind of vehicle that can be used to pick up large items, so would need to rent a van or something similar from UHaul, Budget, etc etc and then (and this is the hardest part!) find someone to help load and unload it when I need them to do it, rather than when they have the spare time to do it. I'm lucky if I can get "help" if I give at least a week's notice, 'subject to cancellation at the last minute' (which happens at least 50% of the time, LOL). :-(

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 5:31PM
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