"Who is nibbling on my house?"
September 25, 2011 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Recently, I've become a die-hard fan of the comic book series Locke & Key. This, for various reasons, has made me want to design my future house full of strange wonders and mysteries...

A bit of backstory: I've always been inspired by the idea of old houses with hidden things. Think the Locke & Key mansion with it's beautiful doors and strange keys, Narnia in the wardrobe, the Weasley's Burrow and Hogwarts with all of its hidden rooms and wild pictures, and even the witch's gingerbread house. At one point when I was younger, I lived in a strange old stone house that had a weird little gremlin type door in the attic which led to a small storage space; this both terrified and excited me at the time.

Obviously, I can't have a house with magic doors or creatures living in my garden, and I know that some of this comes from years of collection, but I can try to get as close as possible.

I've always wanted a library filled with many different, including old, books and things from my travels (and I definitely travel and love to read). A hidden room (of which I know there are companies that make these) and strange doors that seem to lead to nowhere.

Basically, I'm weird, I'm eccentric, and I don't plan to ever have children, so I figure: "Why not?" However, I want to design a house where adults can feel wonder and curiosity just as much as kids can, as well as this being a place where, if I were a kid or end up being Auntie Dog to the kids of people I know, children -could- explore places that adults might not care about or even get to due to their size. Note though that kids wouldn't be the primary focus of this; I'm not building a giant haunted mansion playpen.

Therefore! I'm looking for design ideas or objects to own, besides the old hollow book type thing. I'm looking for architectural, decorative, or even garden designs that would fit such a "theme".

Ignore the idea of price or difficulty of obtaining said thing, of house size or whether you think the idea might seem "childish". Just looking for all sorts of things that could be creative, strange, mysterious, even scary for a house of any size.

Also looking for any similar houses or similar buildings, real or fictional, that I could draw inspiration from. Thank you!
posted by DisreputableDog to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Here are a couple of links to NYT stores. I'm pretty sure that both have been discussed on the Blue before.
Mystery on Fifth Avenue
Built-in Fantasy.

These are real homes of rich people.

I will let you google "hidden doors" and "hidden passageways" yourself. There are companies that specialize in this kind of thing.

Also, from my own childhood: my parents built what they modestly called a "window seat" to cover the bay-window bumpout of a room in our apartment. This thing probably covered 6' x 12' and was raised up about 2'. The middle of it had a couple of doors for storage space, and the ends each had a tiny door that opened to a tiny crawlspace. I don't know if it was built that way for my sisters and me to crawl through, but that's exactly what we did.
posted by adamrice at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A false wall that moves side to side on a track of some sort that, when opened, reveals a whole other room. Kinda like the book in the bookcase that when taken out opens a secret, revolving wall into another (very 1960's Batman/tv). Or, cupboards behind what appear to be regular walls. Art work that opens to neat hiding space (a la the safe in many movies/etc). Room within rooms that once were a very Victorian thing in design--boudoirs/rooms for newborns right off master bedrooms--later made into walk in closets, kind of thing. Dumbwaiters. Bedrooms with a master bath accessible only through a closet/corridor. Hallways that are actually nothing but well hidden storage/shelving behind ornate wall/architectural elements covered with artwork, etc. Back staircases that are not obvious to the casual observer. Panic rooms. Windows within a house looking on to other rooms (allowing light into otherwise dark spaces). Houses that are built around a private courtyard that is accessible only though rooms in the house.
posted by marimeko at 1:42 PM on September 25, 2011

My wife got us a kit that contains a small projector that puts a star map on the ceiling, and a pot of glow-in-the-dark paint. Set up the projector, paint the ceiling, have a star map when the lights go out. Haven't repainted the bedroom yet, but that's on our list. Brainstorming on other things that could show up under different lighting conditions, I wonder if you could do a room that looked different under black light without going the "Pink Floyd posters on the walls" route.

I've always liked the idea of the portrait painting with the eyes that follow you around the room, where someone behind the painting can slide the eyes out and look through themselves. Doesn't require a secret passage, could just be behind a bookshelf or hidden compartment in another room.

Obviously there's the bookshelf doors and all that, I'm a big fan of dumbwaiters (my grandmother's house had a laundry chute, which rocked). On my list of things to build is a cherry bookshelf for the office, with a display case for a ship model that's currently in progress, and I'm wondering what I can do behind the display case, or, depending on the depth, have the display case two sided so I can put something else in and vary the scenery like that.

Another project on my list is a light that gives a dim soft glow to an area in the living room, I'm wondering if I can build a fixture that changes (e.g.: rotates in something from behind) for different lighting conditions.

A few months ago I tracked down a bunch of wireless power technologies for a woodworking forum question that asked about how to supply power to side table lamps without cutting holes in the marble table tops or ugly cords. Maybe you can do some of your sense of magic with things like that? There are dev kits that'll give USB charging power over moderate distances (a few inches), and modern LEDs can put out a hell of a lot of light on 5v 500mA.
posted by straw at 2:03 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about a spiral cellar, a bookcase stairwell, the double-helix stairway at Chateau de Chambord, a little phonebooth room with folding doors like the one in The Royal Tenenbaums. There's plenty of inspiration to be had from servants' quarters, which often had hidden staircases, hallways, rear access to closets, etc, too.
posted by bcwinters at 2:10 PM on September 25, 2011

Mrs. Thinman and I commissioned a custom bed from a talented woodworker friend. Each side of the headboard has a pair of drawers that can be removed by swiveling a stop at the back. Inside is a hidden catch that, when released, allows a hidden panel to slide down with a satisfying thunk. The secret compartments are practical—we keep emergency cash and credit cards in them—as well as amusing.
posted by thinman at 2:26 PM on September 25, 2011

I'm slowly building an Adventure Nook in my house. We have this blank piece of wall by the stairway, so I figure I'd hang objects d'imagination there. Currently, I have a harpoon, a ring-shaped amphora, a wrought iron dagger, and a bit of Lovecraftian art of a squid in Victorian garb I plan on making a frame with a plaque that reads "Great Uncle Caleb" for. I'm keeping my eye out for other appropriate objects - this is the sort of thing that needs to be built organically over time.

I've also hung a few skeleton keys around the house. Whenever a guest notices, I pretend I've seen them for the first time. "I wonder if that opens the little door in the basement?" I muse.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:35 PM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I re-read your question, and a thought about kids: When I was a kid I remembered the trolley from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. My dad had a friend who had an amazing train layout, and it was very very cool, but it was almost too much for a kid. The simplicity of a trolley and a track that went through a hole in the wall kinda made more sense.

I don't have that train that runs through the hole in the wall (yet), but we did do a fold-down train loop, using my dad's old S gauge American Flyer trains, that keeps the kids entranced when they visit. This one's a prototype, the intent is to build a nicer one, after some other projects get done.
posted by straw at 3:10 PM on September 25, 2011

How about a turret with a nifty library tucked inside? (Disclaimer: I'm acquainted with one of the former owners.)
posted by thomas j wise at 3:25 PM on September 25, 2011

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives in an upside-down house. A whole house upside down might be a bit much, but what if you designed one room that was. You could have the lip of wall coming up on the "ceiling"/floor, the lights (or a chandelier!) on the floor. You could even have chairs hung on the "floor"/celiing, if you have a ladder to climb to them with.

My favorite building, though, was from a short story by Orson Scott Card about a library where the rooms rearranged every night, so that the hundreds of rooms were reconnected in different ways, only some of them accessible or findable each day. I don't know how you could do something like that, but you could have a few rooms which get completely rearranged or redecorated (with the extra decorations in the basement) frequently.

My favorite feature in a house I've lived, was a room which had a window seat (and small window) in the closet. It was so surprising to find it there and so cozy to curl up back there to read. (Also, when you're reading there, people often don't know where you are, which is fun too.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:27 PM on September 25, 2011

Richard Garriott has a house full of secret passages.
posted by aidandoyle at 4:10 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Something I've recently been coveting: a bookcase under the stairs combined with a reading nook built there.
posted by librarianamy at 4:23 PM on September 25, 2011

Just a guess, but is it possible the mansion in Locke & Key is based on Stephen King's house, where the author grew up?

Something simple you can do would be to get the same carpeting that's used in The Shining. They did it recently on Doctor Who and just that carpet pattern brought back a sense of wonder and terror.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:31 PM on September 25, 2011

I'm also a fan of the series... and would suggest that you need a well of some sort, perhaps in a well house? You could design the surrounding building to have nooks and crannies to display outdoor statuary but also spots of various sizes to hide and spend the day reading or daydreaming.

If you backed two closets up against one another, perhaps cut a small secret door between the two. Or put a secret room between the two of them even, where you'd hide "treasures."

At least one fake/hollow brick per fireplace, if you're practical to store matches, or other secrets.

If property size allows, how about a boxhedge maze? Ohhh... with your well house in the middle?

Don't discount the importance of a treehouse either. Kids or no kids, there is something to be said about hanging out, outside, listening to the rain fall with a thermos of tea and a good book. Put in a storage space under a loose floor board to store things. I think with the right tree, you could go full on Weasley Burrow with hidden bits and bobs.
posted by librarianamy at 5:24 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

We once kept our cats' litterbox in the basement, which necessitated adding a foot-high doorway, complete with crown molding to scale, to the human basement door. Don't know if Auntie Dog is down with cats, but regardless, consider the possibilities of building-in pet-sized architectural elements.
posted by mumkin at 6:09 PM on September 25, 2011

Mine are sort-of practical. For some reason, the plumbing access (to the shower plumbing) for our second floor is behind a half-sized door in the hallway. All our doors are wood-plank doors with iron banding, and this one matches, but it's half-sized. We call it the hobbit door. Everyone who has reason to go upstairs in our house demands, "What's behind THAT door?" just because it's tiny. So you could also make some practical things look mysterious.

In the yard, separate it into "rooms." Even if you can see one from the next, following the paths to explore the garden is magical. Ours are separated by things like a flimsy fence, a 2-foot boxwood hedge, etc., but people are always like, "Oh, there's more? Is that part of it too?" We also have a very large oval/circular planting of tall prairie grasses that, when in bloom, you can't see over. It makes walking around it a mystery. The yard feels larger and it's a discovery to walk around it. (Where you will find things like an adorable robot sculpture, a hammock in the shade, a play structure for the kids, two apple trees over a gate, eventually we'll have a bench in one corner, etc.) There are many small and strange (or large and strange) garden accents you can get; our armillary sundial is always popular. I also planted a "black and white" garden with black flowers and foliage during the daytime, and at night it's full of night-blooming white flowers. Next to the patio so if you're sitting out having cocktails in the evening, it changes while you watch. There are plenty of strange and odd and fun plants to try too.

I also vote for a turret or tower or lighthouse lookout that's a sunshiney reading room that you have to climb up to get to in some mysterious way, maybe hidden in a closet. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 PM on September 25, 2011

I'm all for tall bookcases and rolling ladders to access them. Kits exist and should be something that 'may' increase the value of your home instead of making it more eccentric than buyers might be ok with. Just something to consider. Dumbwaiters are also fun additions if there's more than one story to the home.

How about a secret garden room a la Frank Herbert's Dune book? Basically it was an oasis type room on a desert planet. Or vice versa if you live in Florida or Seattle.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:07 PM on September 26, 2011

Response by poster: Great ideas! Thanks everyone!
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:49 PM on October 1, 2011

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