Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite books? All it takes to transform a basic room into a literary-themed oasis is a few key pieces, and I'm here to show you how! This is part five of my How to Live in a Book series, and today I’ll illustrate the theory behind immersive decorating by showing you exactly how I transformed a traditional bedroom into a portal to 1940s Britain.
If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on YouTube (with lots more photos!) instead of reading through this whole, long post, please click here!
Just a quick review if you missed the earlier posts … I launched the Storyteller’s Cottage in 2017 to create immersive events based on my favorite books. The commercial property I bought was built in 1891, and I redecorated it so each room had its own distinct theme that could serve as a backdrop for a variety of bookish activities. The living room became the Victorian-themed Jules Verne Steampunk Library, the dining room was transformed into the Regency-era Jane Austen Salon, the sun room became the whimsical Alice in Wonderland Tea Room, an upstairs office became the Magical Common Room, and we even built a bookcase wall with a secret door into a Medieval Castle Keep. Two bedrooms were transformed into escape rooms that were themed to Agatha Christie and time travel, and within months, the whole house was filled with delighted book nerds enjoying enchanted activities like Harry Potter parties, Great Gatsby jazz supper clubs, masquerade balls, Jane Austen tea parties and even live murder mysteries.
In this series, I show you how I used the same strategies that I normally use to create literary-themed spaces for parties … to transform an entire house. I’ll share all of my secrets so YOU can also create magical, otherworldly spaces, inspired by your favorite books, on a very tiny budget.
Now let’s see how I transformed this simple bedroom into an eye-catching 1930/40s inspired space that became the backdrop for some great murder mystery parties, as well as a really fun Agatha Christie themed escape room!
Be sure to check the links at the end of this post to view the rest of the series to see how I transformed each of the other rooms at The Storyteller’s Cottage.
This room is located on the second floor of the house, as most bedrooms are, and when I bought the house, it was being used as a typical master bedroom, with a small closet and bathroom through two doors at the side.
I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie, and mysteries in general, so I decided to create an escape room in this space that looked as though it could have been the bedroom of Agatha herself. It’s decorated so it could actually be used as a bedroom, so if you’re here for tips on creating your own Agatha-inspired bedroom you will find everything you need. But there are also clues and secret compartments hidden all over this room! If you're a fan of escape room games, jump to the 10:30 mark in my video about decorating this room to see all the details about "The Dame Disappears" escape room and all the puzzles hiding in plain sight :)
Agatha Christie is one of the most famous mystery writers of all time, and many of her books are set in elegant British manor houses between the 1920s and 1950s. Although she wrote over 66 novels, there are a number of common detective-story tropes that readers will find repeated in more than one of her stories -- for example, the monogrammed handkerchief conveniently dropped by the culprit, or the partially burned letter in the fireplace, or clocks stopped right at the time of murder, this sort of thing.
So there is a lot of great source material to draw from for inspiration not only to decorate in a recognizable Agatha style, but also to set a murder mystery game in this room. In addition, Agatha herself disappeared in real life, for 11 days at the height of her fame. She claimed she had amnesia, but other sources seemed to show that she was actually mad at her husband for cheating on her … the exact details were never completely explained.
But, I thought it would be fun to think up my own ending for the story, and let the players of this game figure it out! So this room became The Dame Disappears mystery room, and teams of up to eight players had an hour in the room to find the clues that Agatha left behind and figure out where she went, and if she was ever coming back. You can see all the details about the game at the end of my companion video to this post, but first, let’s talk about how I created the vintage 1940s British atmosphere in this room.
If you’ve seen my previous Before & After posts, you know I address decorating a room in layers, starting with the background. Clearly, the most eye-catching element in this room is this very vibrant wallpaper. Big prints like this are not for everyone, but for this purpose they really contribute a lot of bang for the buck. There is NO DOUBT that this is a vintage room when you walk in the door, and I love how the print is floral, which would normally represent modest femininity, but it’s a great big strong floral, which actually represents the opposite concept, the hidden strength of a female. You can actually draw a parallel between this imagery and Agatha Christie herself -- she was actually a reserved-looking woman who was actually hiding a head full of poisons and murder and evil characters. So this unexpectedly assertive wallpaper subconsciously sets the tone for the activity in this room.
I chose to decorate this room as if it was June of 1944, for reasons that will become obvious later on. If this had been Agatha’s bedroom, from which she disappeared, she would have purchased her furniture before the 40’s, probably in the 30’s when she was coming into the height of her fame and would have had money to spend. So I decided to go all in on the Art Deco vibe for this room, and to layer some pieces from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, as if Agatha had collected her favorite things over the years to build herself a beautiful bedroom retreat.
Because the trim on the windows and doors would have been stained wood at this time, and because it had already been painted white, I chose to paint all the trim brown so it would fade into the background.
The older homes in Britain during this period were heated by their fireplaces, even in the bedrooms, so I went to Craigslist, my go-to source for vintage furniture, and found a cute little faux fireplace to bring some vintage authenticity to Agatha’s room. The bumpout here between the two doors is actually the chimney from the real fireplace on the first floor, but it was too narrow to form the right size backdrop for my fake fireplace, so I had our carpenters box in this empty space on the left, and then the fireplace fit perfectly.
To soften up the strong wallpaper and warm up the room, I added this vintage Chinese style carpet with an Art Deco design, and these long tasseled curtains in a soft blue. I purposely didn’t match them exactly to the wallpaper, to keep the space from looking like it had been filled by an interior designer.
To furnish Agatha’s bedroom, I found her this gorgeous vintage Art Deco bedroom set with a waterfall design on Craigslist with five matching pieces for about $700, including the headboard and nightstand, a short dresser with a beautiful round mirror, a tall wardrobe, and this amazing vanity with a huge round mirror. I found a matching vintage cedar hope chest with the same waterfall front for about $50, and this set really makes the room.
Craigslist is really the way to go if you want to furnish a room with vintage pieces, because you can find spectacular bargains at a fraction of the cost that you’d pay at an antique store, mostly because “brown” furniture like this isn’t popular anymore, and many of the people who inherit it just don’t want it and are happy for you to take it away and free up some space in their basement for them. I just did a quick internet search for new 5-piece bedroom sets and you can get a 4-piece set for about $700, but it’s not nearly as well-built as this one, and absolutely not as visually appealing.
So the third layer of decorating a room is the accent furniture, and as I mentioned, in this room I didn’t want absolutely everything to match perfectly. Instead, I chose a few small pieces that didn’t have the waterfall design to fill in some of the extra spaces and round out the room.
I found this vintage fan back chair at my local thrift shop for just $18, and it didn’t need reupholstering or any renovation at all. This tiny side table also came from the thrift shop for about $10, and it even has a leather top with gold trim. I really marvel at the things people throw away!
This beautiful item is a vintage travel trunk from the days before suitcases. It has a space to hang clothes, and four drawers to pack your smaller items, then it folds up and latches and is carried by handles at the sides. This is also a Craigslist find, and I set this up in the corner as if Agatha had been packing for a journey … or has she? Why did she leave without her things?
Now the last categories of items for this room are Lighting & Accessories. Here’s where the room really comes to life. I chose an array of small items from my local thrift shop to make this room feel as though Agatha really lived here, and just recently walked out the door.
We have some vintage books on the nightstand, and these cute little matching pink table lamps on either side of the bed because you know she did a lot of reading before she went to sleep! There’s her favorite chair, where she relaxed with her knitting and a cup of tea. There’s an old fashioned folding knitting bag on the floor at the side of this chair, full of yarn, knitting needles (and maybe clues!).
Here on the small dresser we have a very cool radio that’s new-made-to-look old, and it actually has a cassette player in the side here that really works. We’ll come back to that when it's time to talk about the escape room game! Here’s Agatha’s silver jewelry box containing an old locket, her hat ready to put on to go out, and a pretty old clock.
On this beautiful vanity where Agatha would sit to get ready, we have some silver brushes, a silver tray and some vintage glass perfume bottles, another silver box for her special items, and some family photos. All for just pennies at the thrift store!
Above the fireplace, I hung this pretty Art Deco poster of a chic couple getting ready for the winter season in Monte Carlo, and I dressed the bed with this vintage 1940s “Hollywood” style bedspread in a pale peachy-pink which picks up the colors in the carpet.
And the room was finished! Or was it? This room is actually full of secrets, hidden by Agatha herself before she disappeared! And as I promised, I’ll show you what she left behind. Just a note - these are not spoilers, because this game is no longer running. Because of the pandemic, we had to shut it down, and never reopened it.
Jump to the 10:30 mark in the companion video to this post, and I'll walk you through the entire game, complete with the secret room hidden off of this one!
When we weren’t using this room as an escape room, we held special Spy School programs in here for kids on school vacations, but our favorite use for this room was for our whole-house live murder mystery parties. On these nights, we’d have an actor in character in each room, and up to 40 guests would dress up in vintage clothes and play detective, roaming around the house to meet all the suspects and interview them to find out about their alibis, their relationship to the deceased, and what they knew about the other suspects. This room was where the beautiful-but-suspicious actress character would sit at the beginning of the evening, then partway through the night we’d invite everyone downstairs for food and drinks, and she’d secretly sneak back up here and be “murdered,” then another actor would find the body and scream, so everyone would come running back up to find Emily laid out on the bed with a bloody knife and a suspicious note. This was the perfect room to play those scenes, and everyone always had a fantastic time at those parties.
And that’s how I created an Agatha Christie-themed mystery room at The Storyteller’s Cottage!
If you ever visited the Storyteller’s Cottage and spent time in Agatha’s bedroom, tell us about it in the comments or email a photo to info at storytellerscottage.com! And if you decide to create your own Agatha Christie themed room, I’d love to hear about it.
Stay tuned for Part 6 of the How to Live in a Book series, featuring the renovation of this simple bedroom into an immersive fantasy room for fans of Narnia, complete with a secret wardrobe leading to a Fairy Forest and a hidden castle!