Thanks to movies and novels, the very mention of secret passages is enough to conjure visions of mysterious castles, haunted houses and intrigue, but in fact, many ordinary homes once had -- and some still do have -- small secret spaces built into them. Often these were utilitarian places such as wine cellars, broom closets or tiny safe-like rooms for storage of the family silver. In 16th-century Europe, many wealthy homes had secret compartments known as "priest holes" for hiding politically persecuted Catholic clergy from Protestant authorities. Whatever the time, the place or the reason, secret rooms have been more common and less mysterious than Hollywood or popular fiction ever imagined.
Simple Secret Room Doors
If you have a dead-end space, such as a closet, utility room, butler's pantry or something similar, off a larger room, you may have an ideal setup for creating an inexpensive secret room. First remove all the trim boards, if any, from around the door to the space you want for your secret room. Keep the trim so you can reverse the process, if desired, at a later date. That leaves a smooth wall, so whatever you put in front of the opening will sit tightly against it. Then, choose one of these options:
Armoire or Free-standing Closet Ideas
- Obtain an armoire or free-standing closet -- the larger and taller the better, as long as it is appropriately scaled for the room. Cut a door-size portion out of the back of the piece of furniture and screw the remaining back to the existing door-opening leading to the secret room. The armoire will appear to be just what it is and can still be used as such; hanging clothing inside will hide the opening beyond. If the door to the secret room opens into that room, paint it to match the interior of the armoire. That will help disguise the opening when the door is closed.
- For an even simpler version of the armoire-disguised door, add wheels to an armoire and hinge it to one side of the original door opening. Access the secret room by pulling out the unhinged side of the armoire. A handle screwed to the center back of the armoire gives a place to grip it from the other side so it can be closed behind you. Due to the recess behind the armoire, the handle will not prevent it from setting flush against the wall when closed.
- An ordinary tall bookshelf -- homemade or purchased -- needs only to have a set of wheels attached to the bottom of the lowest shelf to make it mobile. Attach a board, crown molding or other trim of the appropriate length and height to both the bottom and the top of the shelf unit -- in the front and on each side -- to hide the wheels and whatever empty space remains above the unit. This will give the appearance of built-in bookshelves attached firmly in place, floor to ceiling. Put the shelf unit in front of the secret door and roll it aside when you want to go in.
- Like the simple armoire-door, a bookshelf equipped with hidden wheels, hinged on one side and placed in front of a hidden closet or room, makes a quick and easy hidden door.
- A more elaborate version of the bookshelf door, though still reasonably simple for a skilled DIYer, involves creating a wall of real built-in bookshelves around an existing door, then hinging another section of the shelving into the door frame leading to a hidden space in lieu of the original door. You can buy one of several hardware options specifically designed for this sort of arrangement.
Other Secret Door Possibilities
- Install a Murphy bed with its underside disguised as a wood-paneled wall, perhaps with genuine bookshelves on either side. Lower the panel wall to use the bed and the area behind it appears as an ordinary wall at the back of the recessed area that houses the bed when not in use. However, you could design that innocent-looking panel to slide to one side, revealing another room behind it.
- Hide a very short flush-mounted door behind a conventional dresser or mirror. You may have to duck to enter, but a small opening provokes less suspicion that the furniture hides a room beyond.
- Attach drawer fronts to a narrow hidden door built under an enclosed stairway. It will look like clever storage space under the stairs but will really hide a secret, if small, room.
Keep in mind that to be hidden, a room cannot be obvious from inside or outside your house. Windows and secondary doors are tip-offs that your home has more interior space than meets the eye, so try to use windowless centrally-located closets, utility areas, pantries, extra bathrooms, or even false walls built within larger rooms to make your secret chamber truly secret.
Deborah Stephenson is a homesteader, lifelong organic gardener, former zookeeper, naturalist, artist and anthropologist who brings an eclectic range of experience to her writings. When not writing she can usually be found puttering in her extensive gardens or exploring the national forest next door with her dogs.