House secrets concealed in hidden rooms

Some homes hold secrets and conceal more space than meets the eye. A door hidden in plain view that leads to a secret room isn’t just the stuff of movie sets and spy novels, says Steve Humble, president and founder of the decade-old Creative Home Engineering firm, based in Gilbert, Ariz.

“I am a mechanical engineer by trade, and when I started this business, a majority of the openings to secret rooms we designed were fun by nature, leading to the kids’ playroom or a home theater,” Humble says of his business that has become an industry leader in the construction of secret rooms. “But, today, a majority of the secret rooms we design address home security, whether it’s a safe room for people or valuables.”

Secret openings can be concealed within a fireplace, a wall bookcase unit, cupboard or cabinet. The first of Humble’s trade secrets to an ensconced enclosure in a home is to use the “dead” space in a home. Whether it’s a passageway underneath a staircase or a doorway that leads to space originally designated as part of a furnace room, closet or crawl space, Humble says the key to having a secret room is that visitors don’t even know one exists within the home.

While a homeowner can retrofit a secret room into an existing house renovation, Humble says it’s easier to conceal contents in new home construction. Often designated on architectural plans as a home’s mechanical room or closet, builders won’t even know about a secret room installation.

“When we take a job, we build the opening to certain specifications, so it can be installed at the very end of construction — after all the workers have left — so the space remains a secret,” Humble says. “Some woodworkers think they can add a hinge to a piece of carpentry, but a quality secret door is a very precise machine that must maintain extremely tight tolerances.”

A secret entrance must pull double duty. It must not look like a gateway to a secret space, but when opened, it shouldn’t warp, rub, sag or drag. If improperly installed, the secret will be out on the concealed space. An opening can become obvious, especially when heavy books are added to a bookshelf’s secret door, or if humidity and temperature fluctuations aren’t taken into account.

Humble says a portion of his firm’s business is repairing and replacing substandard secret doors built by well-intentioned woodworkers.

“Creative Home Engineering secret doors contain hidden cavities with custom hinges and steel structural supports to keep the door strong and rigid,” he says. “Our secret passageway doors come prehung in their own frames, which simply slide into a specified opening.”

Although some might consider having a secret passageway in the home as a sign of status, Humble says the average homeowner can “step through the looking glass,” with a full-length wall-hanging mirror that is really an opening to a secret room. Creative Home Engineering sells a specially engineered mirrored doorway for $2,500, and it can be easily installed as the entrance to a secret room.

Humble says customized secret spaces average about $7,500, with a typical concealed bookcase opening costing between $10,000 and $12,000. As more security measures are taken, the costs escalate.

A vault or panic room door can feature a heavy-duty locking system that provides a strong resistance to forced entry and the ability to interface with an existing home security system.

“When it comes to protecting your most important assets — including your family — concealment is the first line of defense against intruders,” Humble says. “Doors can be plated for ballistic protection and can feature a locking system that has retracting 1-inch diameter stainless steel shear pins. The secret room might even contain a surveillance system inside, so inhabitants can monitor what is happening throughout the rest of the house.”

Secret switches to open the door to the hidden room can run the gamut from biometric access control devices — such as fingerprint and iris recognition scanners — to more whimsical keys.

“Secret doors can be opened with a remote, but secret switches add to the personalization of the space,” Humble says. “I’ve done a secret switch where specific notes need to be played on a piano to open the door. A car collector’s secret switch involved turning the steering wheel of a die-cast model Corvette.”

As serious as some of these concealed rooms are, there’s no hiding the intrigue that also goes along with having a secret passageway.

“A concealed room can also be a great place to house fun secrets, like wrapping and storing holiday gifts,” Humble says. “But no matter how a concealed room is used, the secret is safe with me.”

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