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The Ikea cult shelf that I can’t quit

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It’s basically the perfect piece of furniture

Yellow shelving unit made up of cubbies arranged in a 2x4 grid on a blue background.
Ikea’s Kallax shelves come in a range of colors and sizes. This one goes for $64.99.
Ikea

Unless you’re very lucky, living in New York City means living in a series of apartments of varying sizes and configurations—an itty-bitty studio one year, a super-narrow railroad apartment the next. That makes furniture shopping really difficult; who knows if that amazing couch you bought when you were living in a great one-bedroom will fit in the tiny space you downsize to next year?

This reality is on my mind every time I’m jonesing to buy furniture. I’ve lived in New York for 17 years, and in no fewer than eight apartments in that time, which has led me to seek out pieces that fit certain criteria: Functionality and looks are obviously important, but the biggest factor for me is whether or not something will fit into multiple spaces. And the ability to serve multiple functions is a plus, too.

Which is why I felt like I struck gold when I stumbled on Ikea’s once-ubiquitous Expedit shelving system, which has since gotten a slight makeover and is now known as Kallax. I was looking for a bookshelf that would hold more of my (admittedly, way too big) book collection, and my previous storage system—Ikea’s Billy, because what else do you buy when you need cheap, efficient shelves?—wasn’t cutting it.

The Expedit, however, had everything I was looking for. The third-largest unit (a 2x4), when used vertically, was perfect for holding a lot of books, in part because you can stack them two-deep. The books you want people to know you read—in my case, my collection of vintage New York guidebooks and important feminist texts—can be on the outside; the ones you don’t—my collection of trashy romance novels—can be hidden behind, but are still easily accessible.

Plus, the Expedit doesn’t take up a lot of floor space, it’s sturdy, it’s easy to clean, it can be used to store pretty much anything, and it’s not very expensive. It’s basically the perfect piece of furniture.

Once I realized how well it worked as a bookshelf, I went a bit Expedit-wild: over the next few years, my husband and I managed to accumulate five of the units in various sizes, which have now moved with us to three different apartments. Two of the big ones are for books, and a third is for clothes, which, with the addition of a few storage cubes, works much better than a dresser or wardrobe. A smaller square shelf holds linens and off-season clothes, while the smallest unit is where I keep my record collection.

Those Expedits have served us well, which is why I was so bummed when Ikea announced in 2014 that it would retire that line in favor of the sleeker, more streamlined Kallax shelving system. It’s essentially the same thing, with perfectly square cubbies that can hold all manner of items, but something about it just feels different.

I doubt I’ll collect Kallaxs the next time I need to invest in new shelves. But it’s not just Ikea that changed; it’s me, too. As I’ve gotten older (and, let’s be honest, have been able to afford to live in nicer apartments), I’ve reached the point where I want to invest in higher-quality furniture, and not have my living space look like an Ikea showroom. I still think the Expedit is a perfect piece of furniture, but it’s also one that I’m okay with leaving behind—just as I’ve left the crappy studio apartments and ratty old futons of my twenties behind, too.