Monthly Archives: November 2016
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 bookshelvesattached 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
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.
The term organizing tends to conjure images of color-coded labels, exhaustive filing systems, or strict, Kondo-style minimalism. But the truth is, even the houses of professional organizers aren’t always pristine. “One of the things we get asked most often is whether our own homes actually stay organized or whether our kids destroy them in a split second,” says Clea Shearer, who co-owns organizing company the Home Edit with Joanna Teplin. “Our answer is always the same: Of course our kids destroy it, but if you put simple systems in place, you can get it back to perfection in about ten minutes.” Here, Shearer, Teplin, and another industry pro, Marissa Hagmeyer, a cofounder of organizing service NEAT Method, share the secrets that make organizing a habit, not a chore.
They don’t buy a zillion bins
Yes, vessels are your friends, but don’t think a shopping spree at the Container Store will solve all your problems. Buying the wrong boxes can just add to your clutter. “Most home organization mistakes begin when bins, baskets, and other organizers are purchased before the actual organizing has been completed,” says Hagmeyer. Edit first, and then choose storage strategically. “You must know exactly what you have before the purchasing begins.”
They go with the flow
“We all have daily routines that are hard to break. . . . We walk in the house and set the mail down in the same spot, make our coffee in the same area,” says Shearer. “The key is to create systems that follow your daily patterns—a tray to collect the mail, hooks for where your kids dump their backpacks, a coffee caddy for your daily condiments.”
They make it pretty
Just because an item serves a function (say, corralling your bills) doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be decorative. “Organizing can be made beautiful with the right products,” says Hagmayer. “Acrylic, copper, and woven textiles are a few of our favorites.”
They make it easy on everyone
Shearer knows better than to expect her husband and children to share her high standards for neatness. So she makes organizing a no-brainer for them: “I hung hooks for each family member and gave everyone their own shoe basket.”
And, yes, they label
Both the Home Edit and Neat Method teams swear by labeling—not out of a desire for perfection, but because it automates good habits. “Labeling reinforces all of the systems you worked so hard to think through,” says Teplin, who also recommends color coding things like books and supplies for the same reason. “My home office has a label on every square inch so that I never need to remember where I put something—it’s clearly marked.”
A garage is a natural place to hide away anything you don’t want cluttering up the inside of your home, whether it’s a box of holiday ornaments or outgrown clothes. The problem is that over time, the space can start to look like a dumping ground. “If you can’t fit a car or two in the garage, you need to reassess what you’re keeping in it and how it’s organized,” says Amelia Meena, owner of Appleshine, a New York–based organizing service. She recommends doing a thorough garage reorg twice a year, as your storage needs will change seasonally. Here’s her five-step plan for getting the job done.
Put it on the calendar
While you can probably chip away at cleaning up your closet, tackling an organizing project like a garage is better handled all at once, says Meena. For most people, she recommends setting aside a weekend for the project. “If you commit to overhauling the space and setting up a system, any future changes become much more manageable.”
Consider your ideal layout
Before you start organizing, set your priorities for the garage, says Meena. “This will help you figure out how to best divide up the space.” For some people, the main goal may be to clear it out enough to park two cars inside; others may be looking to set up a dedicated area for tools or garden gear. Determine whether you need everything to be easily accessible or are okay with a stacking system that may leave less frequently used items difficult to reach.
Home in on a strategy
To kick off the project, Meena works with clients to determine how they work best: Some people prefer to start with the hardest organizing tasks, to get them out of the way; some people like beginning with the easiest job; and some choose to focus on the spot where change will make the biggest impact. “Figure out what would be most motivating for you and keep you going,” she says.
Sort, purge, repeat
Now comes the hard part: figuring out what to keep and what to let go of. “You have to differentiate between what really belongs in a garage and what’s just taking up space,” says Meena. For most people, tools, outdoor gear, bikes, and seasonal decorations all make sense in a garage. What doesn’t? Anything you put out there because you didn’t know what to do with it. “Often people decide they have too much stuff, box it up, and just put it in the garage,” she says. “Those items—books, old clothes, decor items—are typically ready to be put out to pasture”—i.e., donated or recycled.
Create a long-term system
Only after you’ve sifted through your stuff are you ready to buy any shelves, hooks, or bins. “Your approach to any organizing project should be to deconstruct and then reconstruct the space,” says Meena. While everyone’s needs are different, of course, Meena has a few favorite tools. To get things off the floor and onto the walls, she likes theContainer Store’s Elfa utility rack, which allows you to hang everything from gardening tools to bikes. She also recommends sturdy metal shelving (Rubbermaid and the Container Store both offer good options, she says). Before you buy anything, “make sure the product is really the right solution,” she says. “The last thing you want is to bring more stuff into the garage that’s not purposeful.”
When it comes to designing a room, we tend to think about larger elements like the sofa or the rug before turning our attention to window treatments, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, “they’re often the most complicated decision in a space,” says Ashley Gensler, founder of Loom Decor, a company that designs custom window treatments. To determine the perfect curtain or shade for your room, start by thinking about your practical needs, such as light and privacy, then consider the architecture. “If the focal point of a room is the window, you want to play it up as much as possible,” says Abby Rodriguez, vice president of Chelsea Workroom, a New York atelier specializing in made-to-order drapery. Here, the experts talk about what types of window treatments work best for various spaces and needs—and common mistakes to avoid.
For rooms that need darkness (or a dose of elegance):
Heavy drapes are a smart choice for bedrooms because of their light-blocking ability, says Gensler, and they also provide a luxurious feel in formal spaces, such as living and dining rooms. “If the molding around a window is beautiful, mount the treatment inside so as not to block this detail,” notes Rodriguez. “If it’s an ill-proportioned or small window, you may want to mount the treatment outside it to create the illusion of a larger window.” She also recommends hanging drapes as high as possible “to create a sense of grandeur.”
For showing off a spectacular view:
Opt for gauzy, dreamy sheers. If you want the best of two worlds—light pouring in but also the option for privacy—consider layering a simple roller shade underneath.
For high-traffic rooms:
Roman shades have structure, making them more substantial than other options. They are “almost like another element of the window itself, without being too fussy,” says Gensler. She likes to use the style in powder rooms, bedrooms, and offices, but they’re also a good bet for rooms with pets, kids, or radiators, where you don’t want window coverings that reach the floor.
For a minimalist look:
Prefer a window treatment that recedes into the background? Go for roller shades. “The clean lines don’t distract from the view or other decor,” says Gensler. “They tend to work well in spaces where function may come before form, like bathrooms or playrooms.”
For a tailored-to-you experience:
If it’s in your budget, choose custom window treatments rather than ready-made ones, which come in standard sizes that may not fit just right. When install time arrives, a pro will ensure they are hung properly. “To really make them lay nicely and hold their shape, you have to ‘train’ window treatments,” explains Gensler. Think steaming out wrinkles and hand-pressing the fabric into shape.