You walk into what appears to be an ordinary house, but looks can be deceptive. That candelabra by the fireplace? It makes the hearth swivel 180 degrees, revealing a speakeasy bar. “White Noise” by Don DeLillo on the bookshelf? Pull it and the bookshelf swings to reveal a private theater.
This isn’t a movie set, it’s a living room. It could even be yours, if you have the space and the cash. Apparently, many people do. Secret passageways and rooms are surging in popularity in homes across the country.
“Secret doors have definitely become more popular in the past few years,” says Elissa Morgante, an architect and co-principal of the Chicago-based architectural firm Morgante Wilson Architects. “We’ve been in business for 28 years, and it’s only in the last five years we’ve seen them requested more often.”
Designers can’t quite pinpoint the reason for the rise in demand (it’s mysterious!), but they say secret rooms have been on a steady uphill climb, and market factors haven’t affected their rise.
Whatever the reason, the secret’s out. Here’s how you can create a secret room of your very own:
Get ready to unlock your wallet
First off, a secret room will likely be expensive. If you’re budget-conscious, pick a room, measure the doorway, and start looking for clandestine door options. The Murphy Door offers several types of bookshelf-style doors—with real bookshelves. The cheapest one, an unfinished 24-inch version, runs $879 before tax and shipping. If you want extras—like a cherry finished wine rack shelf with fluted casing and an electromagnetic lock—you’re looking at $2,744 before tax and shipping. Custom sizing runs an additional $500, and then there’s installation.
If you’re looking to go full-on Addams Family, you’ll be paying quite a bit more. And that’s probably when you give a company like Creative Home Engineering a call. Arguably the most well-known designers of disguised yet complex doorways to clandestine rooms, these engineers can make a wall—and a lock—look like anything.
Over the past two years of their decade in business, passageways to secret rooms have been “in really, really high demand,” Humble says.
Thinking outside the lock
Creative Home Engineering can custom-build pretty much anything, but they offer a few standard items for sale, including swinging fireplaces starting at $12,000, mirrors starting at $2,500, pool cue racks starting at $7,500, and fake stone walls starting at $8,500. They can pre-assemble entire walls and ship them to clients, who can have them installed by a local handyman, Humble says.
But the coolest thing about secret rooms might be the tiny details, like a well-made lock. Humble recalled a project where a fake Lysol can could be used to send an unlock signal to the door, by pressing the dispenser’s cap.
Humble says they’ve also installed “knock-knock” locks that will only open if you knock in a very specific pattern. One client with an expensive wine collection had an unlock code that could only be triggered by turning three custom-made wine bottle switches in a certain combination.
The average cost for Humble’s team to set up a secret door is between $10,000 and $15,000. For a high-end product, you’re looking at around $45,000. And, of course, for expensive jobs, they’ll fly to a client’s home.
Making mysteries with limited space
But what if you don’t have room for your own personal Batcave? Try working with what you have. That’s what Welmoed Sisson and her husband did 16 years ago when they decided to make a secret theater in the basement of their Germantown, MD, home. The basement was divided into three rooms, so they removed walls to make one large room hidden behind a bookcase. They spent between $15,000 and $20,000 in 1999, including wiring for surround sound, framing and structural work.
If you don’t have the space or the know-how, consult with an architect. While bigger houses make it easier to carve out secret space, Morgante says “a skilled architect can find creative solutions to incorporate this type of feature in many different scenarios.”
Cost depends on several factors, including the type of wall treatment surrounding the door, the cost of the door and lock themselves, as well as extras, like concealing the door on both sides.
“Finishes are one of the main things to affect costs, since you need to layer them in order to create the hidden elements,” Morgante says.
So who’s buying into the not-so-secret-anymore secret room trend? It’s split 50/50 between those who want security and those who want to have fun, Humble says. Secret rooms and passageways can serve as storage or panic rooms, but for others, it’s “childhood fantasy.”
“Sometimes [owners of hidden rooms] have kids and they want to share that fantasy with their kids,” Humble says. “It’s more for fun.”
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