Chromatin remodelling complexes evict, slide, insert or replace nucleosomes, which represent an intrinsic barrier for access to DNA. These remodellers function in most aspects of genome utilization including transcription-factor binding, DNA replication and repair1,2. Although they are frequently mutated in cancer3, it remains largely unclear how the four mammalian remodeller families (SWI/SNF, ISWI, CHD and INO80) orchestrate the global organization of nucleosomes. Here we generated viable embryonic stem cells that lack SNF2H, the ATPase of ISWI complexes, enabling study of SNF2H cellular function, and contrast it to BRG1, the ATPase of SWI/SNF. Loss of SNF2H decreases nucleosomal phasing and increases linker lengths, providing in vivo evidence for an ISWI function in ruling nucleosomal spacing in mammals. Systematic analysis of transcription-factor binding reveals that these remodelling activities have specific effects on binding of different transcription factors. One group critically depends on BRG1 and contains the transcriptional repressor REST, whereas a non-overlapping set of transcription factors, including the insulator protein CTCF, relies on SNF2H. This selectivity readily explains why chromosomal folding and insulation of topologically associated domains requires SNF2H, but not BRG1. Collectively, this study shows that mammalian ISWI is critical for nucleosomal periodicity and nuclear organization and that transcription factors rely on specific remodelling pathways for correct genomic binding.