Words: Rachel Sullivan
Photography: Spiral Cellars
Secret passages, hidden rooms and priests’ holes have been used for centuries to hide valuables and smuggle goods. Once confined to ancient castles and stately manor houses, since Jodie Foster’s 2002 movie Panic Room there has been growing interest in building them into contemporary homes.
So how do you do it?
Hidden spaces can be anything from a niche concealing a safe to clever under-stair
storage areas, passages and whole rooms.
On the low end, converting a cupboard into a panic room with plywood reinforcement can cost in the low thousands or can even be done by a competent DIY-er. On the upper end, panic rooms, popular with the wealthy (and the paranoid), can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $500,000.
In Australia, builders, carpenters and manufacturers are all starting to muscle in on the act.
Underground wine cellar with a twist
Spiral Cellars, a UK company that recently added distribution to Australia, has created an inground cylinder with spiral staircase accessed by a trapdoor. Promoted as a wine cellar, it can also store treasured objects on shelves around the walls. Prices start from around $30,000 for installation into an already-dug hole.
Buyers tend to be those undertaking a new build or major renovation, says Neil Smallman, the Australian distributor of Spiral Cellars.
“They’re home builders or renovators looking for a stand-out feature in their house. They want something top of the range, the ultimate item in their home, and that’s what we do.”
Hidden doorways and moving bookcases
“If you really want to create a hidden room, there can’t be any trace from outside – no wires and no joins in the woodwork that might give it away,” says Peter Illings, a Brisbane-based cabinetmaker and owner of Illings Own Fine Furniture.
He says he is usually asked to make one hidden doorway a year, and that price depends on materials and how elaborate the doorway is. They start from $10,000, with a cedar bookcase doorway costing around $12,000 to $13,000.
Illings says that while people can build their own moving bookcase, safety needs to be considered, from devising an exit strategy to adequate ventilation.
Hiding the thing can also be a challenge. “DIY-ers can certainly make a revolving bookcase that hides a room, but whether it looks right is a different story,” he laughs.
The other challenge is keeping it a secret. Once you start showing it to all of your friends, it’s not really a secret anymore.
This is a condensed version of the feature article Secret Rooms, a story that first appeared in www.lighthome.com.au/magazine