Whether disguised as a bookcase or a tricked-out closet, the all-star safe room is your neighbour’s little secret
Most people don’t notice the bookcase in the Costa Rica hilltop vacation home, lined with popular biographies and thrillers by Clive Cussler, John Grisham and Dan Brown. Their eyes rest instead on the tropical views through the room’s windows. But like the adventure stories it holds, the bookcase also has a mystery at its heart: Its deliberately ordinary facade conceals a bulletproof steel door weighing hundreds of pounds, yet so finely balanced that a small child can easily open and close it. And behind that door lies a panic room.
Adam Carter, owner of the house and its hidden internal refuge, describes himself as “a very ordinary, nondescript 58-year-old, with a family, working from home.” A marketing consultant from the Southwest, Carter has “valuable possessions” to protect, but not “bars of gold or stock certificates.” Instead, he wants to ensure that his wife and children “can get someplace safe where there is literally no way that anybody can force entry,” he says. “That’s peace of mind.”
Peace of mind is what panic-room manufacturers sell. Carter, who asked that we not use his real name because of security concerns (of course), built his six years ago, when custom bunkers were still uncommon outside of celebrity compounds and doomsday cults. Today, purveyors of concealed armour-plated doors say demand has moved decisively from the fringes into the mainstream.
“We used to be the niche within a niche,” says David Vranicar, managing partner at Fortified & Ballistic Security, in Miami. “In order to be our client, you had to be really, really paranoid and you had to be really, really wealthy. That’s not the case anymore.” Demand is roughly four times higher than it was pre-2020, he says, and requests are increasingly elaborate.