It’s No Secret: Hidden Rooms Make Homeowners Feel Like Kids Again

It’s No Secret: Hidden Rooms Make Homeowners Feel Like Kids Again

  • Sarah Paynter
  • 10/5/22

In the 1946 Hardy Boys novel “The Secret Panel,” fictional child-sleuths Frank and Joe Hardy discover a hidden room behind a secret door in a mysterious mansion.

The late James Ring, one of the countless young Hardy Boys enthusiasts enthralled by the book, grew up to be a real-estate developer. While building his own home in Calabasas, Calif., in 2008, his memories of the book inspired him to create a secret room in the house, said his widow, Raina Ring.

On a bookshelf containing the original Hardy Boys series, a Mr. Magoo doll covers a secret button. Press the button, and the motorized bookshelf swings open to reveal a roughly 530-square-foot office where Mr. Ring worked, Mrs. Ring said. 

Her husband built the secret room with “the excitement of a little boy,” said Mrs. Ring, 70.

Hidden rooms have been built into homes for centuries, whether for hiding valuables or avoiding persecution. But they have seen a resurgence in recent years, as examples on the internet rekindle widespread nostalgia for the amenity, said California-based architect Todd Mather, who has designed several secret doors for clients. Sometimes these concealed spaces are built for safety or aesthetics, but often it’s “just adults feeling like kids again,” said custom-home builder Shane Harr of PureHaven Homes in Utah. “People love the idea of a surprise, of ‘Check this out!’”

Since his death in 2018, Mr. Ring’s friends have continued to come to the house and visit the secret room to remember him, his wife said. The space has a 12-foot-high ceiling with a fireplace, and glass doors leading to a private terrace that is hidden from view from the home’s exterior. On the other side of the room is another secret door, this one hidden behind a motorized panel. Together, the doors cost around $200,000 at the time due to their custom carpentry and mechanization, Mrs. Ring said. 

Inside the room, model airplanes hang from the ceiling, and antique advertisements cover the walls. The room is decorated with a vintage car door, old games, sports memorabilia, a jukebox and an antique Coca-Cola machine, said Mrs. Ring, who said she hasn’t changed the room’s décor since her husband’s death. 

She is now selling the roughly 13,000-square-foot house because she plans to travel more often. The property is listed for $17.995 million with Rochelle Atlas Maize of Nourmand & Associates, who said secret rooms can add value to a home.

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