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Secret Compartment Area Under Stairs

SethFrankel's picture

I've got a small, but fun, project to make a hidden compartment under the lower portion of a set of stairs. I'd love a creative suggestion or two and maybe even a tip on hardware choice.

I'd like to create a false panel (in the shape of the available, formerly drywall panel) that attaches to a "drawer" that fits inside the hole, see the attached photo. The drawer is really a tray/shelf on glides with a vertical side on the tall side and flat bottom - maybe a very shallow drawer. The entire space is just under 3' deep and the sliding shelf should be as deep as possible.

I'd also like to be able to "push" the panel and have the whole unit come out to reveal the access.

Any suggestions on hardware or even techniques? The goal is to make is a secret area so putting a door and using glides on the tray area would reveal too much.

I could remove and relocate the studs supporting the stairs, but the spacing is actually quite good.

Thanks!

Seth

PS. And, no, I won't reveal the address of the secret compartment!


Edited 4/25/2006 10:35 pm ET by SethFrankel

(post #101074, reply #1 of 32)

In my town, we'd put a bathroom in there!  ;-)


But seriously, one thing you can do is make your drawer and use whatever slide is readily available.  Just install the slide so when the drawer is mounted, the drawer front will extend beyond the actual drawer (don't know how to exactly explain what I'm saying here other than make it just as you would any drawer, except the front of the drawer is triangular insetad of rectangular).


I can't see what you have there well enough but there are two good approaches given the "hole."


If you can (I can't see the elevations of the existing trim), trim the triangular "drawer front" so the trim is attached to the drawer front, and laps over the existing trim when the drawer is closed.  Since you have the whole triangle to work with, the added trim won't tend to look out of place.


If the drawer front can be recessed in the existing trim, you're pretty much good to go -- just make sure you have a very close fit of the drawer front.


My dad used to make stuff like that when we were kids.  Each kid's room had some secret compartments, some with compartments in compartments.  It was pretty cool.


 


"Let's get crack-a-lackin"  --- Adam Carolla

 

"Let's get crack-a-lackin"  --- Adam Carolla

(post #101074, reply #14 of 32)

would you put a full bath in there or just a powder room?

(post #101074, reply #15 of 32)

Powder room.  Plenty of room, just duck on the way in.


Would try to cram a full bath if at all possible though.  ;-)


 


"Let's get crack-a-lackin"  --- Adam Carolla

 

"Let's get crack-a-lackin"  --- Adam Carolla

(post #101074, reply #2 of 32)

Made many of these.  Hide it with non spring euro hinges, and put moulding around where the crack will be.  Use push magnetic latch release.  They'll never know where the dead bodies are kept!

(post #101074, reply #3 of 32)

Use push magnetic latch release


What is this and how does it work?


thanks


“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
 
 

(post #101074, reply #4 of 32)

I'm guessing here, but I suspect he means the type of latch used a lot on stereo systems with glass doors. There is a plunger with a magnet on the end that mounts on the inside of the case. The door has a small metal plate. The plunger clicks into place when the door is pushed closed. Then you push on the door again and the plunger comes forward to open the door a little, so that you can get your fingers behind it. Then you just pull it open.

Most woodworking supply places will have them. Used a lot with cabinet doors.

(post #101074, reply #5 of 32)

That's right, I wasn't thinking.


I'm not sure how "secret" that would be though. One little bump and the drawer would open up and reveal all of the bodies.  I would want something with a more secure closer.


“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
 
 

(post #101074, reply #7 of 32)

One little bump and the drawer would open up and reveal all of the bodies


Are some of the bodies still moving?  ;-)


For the magnetic catches to release you have to press pretty much directly on them. You could locate them along the botton edge.......


another thought.......


use self closing drawer glides and hide the pull in plain sight (a picture attached to the front).....


Edited 4/26/2006 11:10 am ET by pickings

(post #101074, reply #17 of 32)

Oh, for some reason I thought it was a door you wanted not a drawer.  In that case, a drawer is even easier. 


You know, this thread just jogged my memory to a farmhouse which I owned and lived in for several years.  There was a little guest cottage, about 800 sf, on the property which I gutted and redid and I put this really great hiding space behind a panel under the stairs just like you want to do.  I don't think I ever told the guy I sold the house to about it.  Damn!  I don't even remember if I had hidden anything there.  Double damn!


It's hell gettin' old.

(post #101074, reply #27 of 32)

One little bump and the drawer would open up and reveal all of the bodies.  I would want something with a more secure closer.


No sweat.  Amerock makes a "jewelry drawer latch" that uses a magnet in a white plastic "knob" which has fairly innocuous look to it.


Then, just use the most appropriate heavy-duty full extension guides that fit.


Now, a really clever person could amke a 'coaster' or the like into which was epoxied a rare-earth magnet, which would be really discrete, too.


Hmm, REM gives me another idea.  Install the REM in a tubular drawer pull, and use 'matched' magnets in the face of the door/drawer.


Occupational hazard of my occupation not being around (sorry Bubba)
I may not be able to help you Occupational hazard of my occupation not being around (sorry Bubba)

(post #101074, reply #28 of 32)

I wanted to follow up to this thread as I finally finished the job.

I ended up not being as worried about having it be truly "secret" but it's rather concealed and with no exposed hardware.

All the trim and framing needed to be removed and replaced in more favorable locations. I used Euro cup hinges, a magnetic spring catch and monsterous drawer glides from Lee Valley.

Photo attached.

Thanks!

Seth

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(post #101074, reply #29 of 32)

Nice!

Andy


"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." Robert A. Heinlein


"Get off your dead #### and on your dying feet." Mom

Andy

Senior Editor, Fine Homebuilding

(post #101074, reply #30 of 32)

I like it!

(post #101074, reply #31 of 32)

Appreciate the update! Looks very good.


 


 


 


 

"If you have enough energy you can solve a lot of other problems." - Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway.

We have an abundant supply of domestic natural gas. Let's get busy solving problems.

(post #101074, reply #32 of 32)

Looks good Seth.


Doug

(post #101074, reply #6 of 32)

Use full-extension heavy duty slides.


I don't think the touch-latch will work because if the trim/moulding overlaps the edge of the opening, then it can't be pushed in to activate thje latch.


 


"When asked if you can do something, tell'em "Why certainly I can", then get busy and find a way to do it."  T. Roosevelt

"Put your creed in your deed."   Emerson

"When asked if you can do something, tell'em "Why certainly I can", then get busy and find a way to do it."  T. Roosevelt

(post #101074, reply #8 of 32)

Is the intent more ease of access or security?

The most secure approach would be to have a latch that is activated from somewhere else -- adjacent room/closet, basement below, or maybe a small hole in the upper edge of a riser. This can be as simple as a sliding rod, or adapt something like desk hardware. (Actually, a cable-type hood release might be the ticket.)

For an easily accessible latch, either a push/push latch or the sort of magnetic latch where you have to place a separate magnet over a "hot" spot on the door would be the way to go.

Rockler has a good selection of latches.

Keep in mind that if the area is frequently accessed fingerprints and general wear will tend to reveal the secret. Also, the slides, etc, will tend to get out of alignment over time (and possibly even in response to seasonal changes). So design the area so that the paint scheme, trim, etc are tolerant of this.

(In this regard a door and separate drawer is probably preferred over a drawer with front. It's a lot harder to keep a drawer aligned than a door.)


If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. --James Madison


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #101074, reply #12 of 32)

I'm thinking,

Garage Door Opener - the type for swing up doors, not roll up!

Now that would be a hiding place.

(post #101074, reply #13 of 32)

Yeah, swing up the entire stairway!


If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. --James Madison


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #101074, reply #9 of 32)

Seth-

I just happen to be reading Sarah Susanka's "Not so Big House" this past week. She's got a photo in there of understair storage. It was like this situation but 3 raised panels under the stairs - like sloped wainscotting. The middle one was essentiall a tall drawer front with heavy duty slides. If you're near a library pick it up and take a look. Was real slick looking and seemed like it could be made to be fully hidden pretty easily.

The idea of raised panels all the way really hid it well, but it might be a lot of work for you.

(post #101074, reply #10 of 32)

I have gone one step further. When pouring the foundation stem walls, I pour four walls under the stairs, by installing a trap door, there would be a secure place under the house When pouring slabs, I insert a form to allow easy breakout of the slab for future breakout to install a floorsafe, etc.

(post #101074, reply #11 of 32)

Reframe the opening more to the left and rectangular. Then put a drawer on full extension slides and mount a drawer front that fills the opening, like a pull out for recyclebles. then just mount a piece of artwork to the front of the drawer and the overlap will hide the opening. Pull it open to get what is there. You can add additional pivoiting and slide out shelves which you can find in kitchen cabinet hardware catalogs if you want to utilize more of the space.

(post #101074, reply #16 of 32)

Lee Valley has a catch where a magnet, when put over the latch (behind the panel) opens the latch. The magnet is housed in a pull. So, just put the pull on the right spot (you have to remember where) and pull. check out www.leevalley.com It's called a magnetic secret latch item #12k80.01

(post #101074, reply #23 of 32)

A version of those magnetic catches from Lee Valley was in the child safety section at Lowe's.  They were clearance priced at the time, but I think they still have some on the shelves.  I think I picked them up about a month ago. 

(post #101074, reply #18 of 32)

I once built a revolving set of shelves like you see in the old whodunnit  movies that led into a tiny hidden back room which had a way out of the back of the house.  The guy had bucks and was a bit of an eccentric.  I never asked where the money came from, but it was fun doing.

(post #101074, reply #19 of 32)

Great tips, folks! I'll look at Rockler and Lee Valley for some hardware options. I'll also take a look at the Not So Big book as well at the library.

Really, no dead bodies...likely. Of corpse, one never knows when he'll need to repurpose such a space!

Seriously, it's more of a concealed space than a security area. I'm less concerned with how difficult it'll be to open than just having it hidden from plain sight. I'll be sure to post some updates once I start building it...

Seth

(post #101074, reply #20 of 32)

Something like this? But in your case, smaller.


Make it look more like wainscotting.


.


 

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(post #101074, reply #21 of 32)

Indeed, I'd say something like that! On yours the drawers go clear to the floor, but I'll fit this one within the trim work that exists.

Thanks for sharing. It's a great looking system.

Seth

(post #101074, reply #22 of 32)

Ralph's got it essentially the same, maybe even a bit better, than the pic in the No So Big book - no need to go to the library.

Nice stuff, Ralph.

(post #101074, reply #26 of 32)

remember some bags of lime in there, and weatherstrip the door to keep the stench of the decomposing corpses from tipping off the fuzz