Secret rooms and trap doors usually evoke images of mystery and romance. Perhaps scenes of creaky and cavernous mansions lorded over by wizened owners as in the Narnia tales. Or of political fugitives, hidden for years in cramped spaces underneath floors.
But what about a suburban home in Vinings? A year ago, when Tony Ventry and Jen Brock moved into their Vinings townhouse in the Paces Mill development, they discovered a patchwork kind of place – an odd mix of styles and decorative touches ranging from a wall covered in bamboo paneling to a circular bed in the master bedroom. They found the strangest touch of all behind an inconspicuous bookcase that swings open from daisy-printed wallpaper to reveal a secret room.
The couple hasn't yet figured out how to fully incorporate the room into their vision for the house as a whole. So it remains relatively empty, save for a towering suit of armor that stands guard in front of a print dungeon wall hanging. It all leaves an unanswered question hanging above the sea-foam green carpeting in the outer room: Why here?
Did you know about the room before you moved in?
Tony: Well, as the agent was taking us through the house, he pointed it out to us.
Was that a deciding factor in your choosing the house? What about other features?
Jen: When we first started looking for a house, location was our main concern. We focused primarily on downtown Vinings because it was an easy commute for both of us, as well as convenient to local restaurants. We looked at several townhouses in the Paces Mill development, but this one stuck out for several reasons – the wrap-around back porch, the large living spaces, the hidden room, the closet that was converted into a wine cellar. It just had a lot of fun features.
What do you use the room for?
Jen: Storage right now. We put this up [gestures to the dungeon wall-hanging] for Halloween, thinking we would do something with it for Halloween and we never did. Then we saw this [points at enormous suit of armor] and it kind of fit perfectly with what we already had. We haven't done much with it, obviously.
Tony: We've talked about making a shelter out of it and stocking it with supplies.
What would it take for you to get the most enjoyment out of the room?
Jen: Right now, the hidden room is within a spare bedroom that's not exactly our style – green carpet with daisy wallpaper. Ideally we'd like to restore the bookcases to a dark wood color, paint the walls red and replace the carpet with hardwood floors. A more traditional office or study would better showcase the room behind the bookcase, though we're still not sure what we would do with it.
How do you see this room fitting in with the rest of the house?
Jen: The problem is, this room is so ... I mean, it has daisies on the wall. I think we could make it cool if we made it more of a study or a library, and then the secret wall would sort of go with it. But now it really doesn't. I think before, the owners used to have their granddaughter stay here and they kept dolls on the wall, so it was sort of an innocuous wall, but with the secret closet. They kept Christmas stuff back there.
Is there anything else unusual you discovered about the house?
Jen: There's a closet that was converted into a wine cellar. I wish I could say that it's full right now, but it's not. There's a round bed in the master bedroom. And a wall covered in bamboo that the previous owners put up along with the wet bar in this room.
Do the walls and other features match up with your personal taste?
Jen: The wallpaper in the bathrooms is probably the only area that doesn't match our tastes. One bathroom has wallpaper with bunnies and cherubs and the other has a Cinderella theme. A third bathroom had bright orange striped wallpaper, but we've already stripped it down and painted the walls a light blue. If there's one thing we learned from that experience, it's that stripping wallpaper sounds much easier than it really is.
Have you made many changes to the room?
Jen: Mainly decorative changes. Mainly to all the wallpaper upstairs. Looking at "before" pictures, it has made a huge difference.
Do you see a future for the secret room?
Jen: It's kind of in an awkward space. We thought about putting someone in there to surprise people on Halloween, but the problem is that it's just sort of a guest room that nobody really goes into. So maybe we'd use it for something, but it's in sort of an out of the way place.
Do the other houses around here have hidden rooms as well?
Tony: We went through a bunch of them when we were looking to buy this one and there were no other ones that had this feature. All the buildings are different layouts, they're all unique, but none have this feature.
Have any of your neighbors or relatives seen the room? What do they say about it?
Jen: Our friends and relatives are usually surprised when we push the bookcase open to reveal the room. The reactions are great. But they're usually at a loss for what to do with the room. Using it for storage is the most common suggestion, though we've also been told we should decorate it as a torture chamber, a growing room and a bomb shelter.
Have you always lived in Vinings? What do you like about living in the area?
Tony: My parents live in Vinings. So I've been around here. We moved in here a year ago.
Jen: Convenience. We work on opposite sides of town, so living near 75 [and] 285 allows us both to have a relatively short commute. And downtown Vinings is only half a mile away so it's easy to walk and grab dinner or drinks.
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