The lipid composition of cellular organelles is tailored to suit their specialized tasks. A fundamental transition in the lipid landscape divides the secretory pathway in early and late membrane territories, allowing an adaptation from biogenic to barrier functions. Defending the contrasting features of these territories against erosion by vesicular traffic poses a major logistical problem. To this end, cells evolved a network of lipid composition sensors and pipelines along which lipids are moved by non-vesicular mechanisms. We review recent insights into the molecular basis of this regulatory network and consider examples in which malfunction of its components leads to system failure and disease.