Updated: Mar 19
See how I transformed a closet into a fantasy portal by taking the back off a vintage wardrobe and attaching it to the door frame! What's inside? Why, The Fairy Forest, of course! Watch the step-by-step transformation here.
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!
Now let’s see how I transformed this basic bedroom and turned it into a portal to an enchanted world by adding a secret wardrobe door into a magical fairy forest!
This room became not just a fun escape room, but also a popular spot for unique bookish events like storytelling and tea party events for kids, a place to practice Riddikulus spells on boggarts at our Harry Potter summer camp, a spot to interview suspects at our live murder mystery nights, and more.
This room is located at the top of the stairs of the house, just off the second floor landing. When I bought the property, it was just a bedroom with a very normal closet just off the side, and this odd little cubbyhole left over from the creation of a bathroom on the other side of this wall. What was interesting, was that this closet actually had another door at the back, which connected it to another long room that had been used as an office.
I decided to create an escape room in this space, specifically because the infrastructure was already there for two secret doors into unexpected spaces. As you have probably gathered, the theme of The Storyteller’s Cottage is living inside your favorite books, so I thought it would be really fun to create a secret wardrobe door from the bedroom to the closet space, just like the Pevensie kids found in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe!
Once I had that thought, the backstory for this escape game just about wrote itself. If you go back and watch the fourth video in this series, “How to Create a Hidden Bookcase Door to a Secret Castle Room,” you’ll see how I transformed the office space that I just mentioned, the one that the closet in this room connects to, into a room that looks like a medieval castle. So since THIS bedroom connects through two secret doors to THAT room, I wrote a game where the players start in a real bedroom, as if they’re staying with their grandparents for the summer, they find clues to unlock the secret wardrobe door, they walk through to an enchanted forest where they find more clues, then walk through the second secret door to the amazing castle room, where they find the items they need to solve the mystery and win the game.
I’ll explain exactly how the game works at the end of this video, but first, let’s talk about how I decorated this space and created the secret door.
This was actually much easier than it looks. Since this closet didn’t even have a door, all I had to do was measure the doorframe opening, then I went on Craigslist and without too much trouble, was able to find a freestanding antique wardrobe that was just a few inches bigger than the opening to the closet. And it was just $100!
We took the back off the wardrobe, which was just a bunch of narrow boards, and nailed the whole thing right onto the doorframe. You can see that the cabinet has a very narrow profile, so it blends well into the room, and even though we left the original white trim around the door and you can see a little peeking out from behind the cabinet, no one ever really noticed it, not even the players in the escape room who were actively searching for unusual things. The wardrobe itself catches and holds your eye, so it’s still a great surprise when you open it up and realize that you can walk through.
I attached a short tension rod across the top of the inside of the cabinet, and hung a simple curtain right at the back that I made out of black velour fabric. The curtain serves two purposes -- one, it blocks the light from the closet from shining through the gap in the doors of the armoire and giving away the secret, and two, it provides a great “waaaiiitttt a minute” moment when someone opens the cabinet doors, then realizes that there might be something behind the curtain! In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the kids had to push past some hanging fur coats to exit out of the back of the wardrobe to Narnia, but this cabinet was so narrow, a standard hanger wouldn’t actually fit if I had wanted to hang a row of coats, so I went with the black curtain instead. It makes for a great “ta-da!” moment.
So to fit the backstory of my escape game, I decorated the rest of the bedroom as if it was in a vintage farmhouse, furnished over decades with items from all the generations of kids who had stayed in the room. I wanted the players to feel like they were coming home to a sentimental space, someplace that maybe they visited every summer, just like their parents and aunts and uncles did when they were young, filled with things they remembered from their childhood.
I started with the background, as I always do, and hung a very traditional wallpaper with a tiny ivy print on a pale yellow ground. This sort of mini floral print was popular for many decades, and forms a great background for all the banners and artwork I wanted to hang on the walls.
I hung simple green curtains at the windows, and added a braided rug in shades of green, a style that’s very homey, and could actually have been homemade by the fictional grandmother who lives in this house (it’s not). There are a lot of green and leafy motifs in this room, not only to preview the green in the connecting rooms, but also to suggest nature and the outdoors, since the heart of an old-fashioned summer is all about spending all day outside.
For the large furniture in the room, I chose these classic twin headboard/footboard sets that I found on Craigslist for just $40 for the pair. The “kid’s room” always ends up having lots of small beds, and I dressed them with these modern bedspreads that look like handmade quilts. I also found these on Craigslist for just $20.
I filled in the corners of the room with these matching bookshelves, which gave me not only space to pile up a whole lot of vintage children’s books, but also some good surfaces to hide clues. We’ll come back to that!
I just needed a few pieces of accent furniture in this room to make it feel really lived in. I knew I couldn’t just put beds in this room, because that would look more like a hotel room. I needed some actual, practical items that you’d find in a room where real kids live. I started with this vintage child’s desk and chair that looks a lot like something my mother had as a child. This was about $40 on Craigslist. I found this cute nightstand with a matching coffee table, and the coffee table was just $10 because it had a huge scratch across the top, but I didn’t care because I knew I was going to use it to hold this big dollhouse that my father-in-law built for my mother-in-law.
I was so happy to find a use for this beautiful piece, since my kids are all grown, and I ended up hiding some clues inside the dollhouse rooms, and attaching a piece of plexiglass to the front so the players in the game couldn’t move all the furniture around and disrupt the puzzle. I don’t know about you, but when I see a dollhouse, I want to rearrange the furniture.
There are plenty of overhead lights in this room, so I didn’t need to add lighting for practical purposes, but I did add a couple of small, mismatched table lamps, to add to the feeling that this room evolved over many years.
And now the fun part -- the accessories! I started with folding luggage racks at the foot of each bed, with mismatched old suitcases, since the storyline here is that you’re staying for the summer. These are actually locked with combination straps, and one of the first clues you find in this room gives you the code to open them.
I gathered up all kinds of pennants and banners that I had collected over the years - some of these belonged to my mother, some were my husband’s when he was a kid, and some were mine. It used to be a thing to bring home a pennant from places you went on vacation. These are really my favorite element in this room, since they really make ME feel like I’m in one of my childhood rooms.
I put an old globe here on the nightstand, along with an old digital alarm clock, and you’ll notice this chess set. This is actually part of the escape game, and when the pieces are in the right location, it will unlock this drawer in the nightstand and you can find a clue. I bought the whole chess prop online, and my husband cut out the top of the nightstand to attach it all -- which is another good reason to buy used furniture. It’s pretty nerve-wracking to cut apart brand new furniture!
On the walls, I added a framed collage of all kinds of old baseball memorabilia, an old calendar, this cool old puzzle that someone framed (this was $5 at the thrift shop), and check this out. I wanted to have some old family pictures in this room, of the generations of the fictional family members that supposedly have stayed here over many many summers. Emily and Alanna, two of the Storyteller’s Cottage staff members, posed for me in various outfits, and presto - we have pictures of the family from the 1950s, the 1970’s and the 1980s! The genes are strong in this family - every generation resembles the one before!
I also added some cool old toys, old games, old books, an old princess phone, and an old bulletin board with some cute vintage miniature license plates that came out of cereal boxes in the 1950s, plus my mother’s old ribbons from winning track and field meets in the 1950s. I wanted to include some outdoor or nature-based items in this room, since as I mentioned, old-fashioned summertimes were all about running around outside all day, either out in the yard or at summer camp. So I added these homemade terrarium jars, a bird’s nest that someone might have found, and a shell collection that looks like it was made by an enthusiastic child.
Now this brings me to this interesting door right next to our shell collection. I mentioned earlier that there had been a strange alcove here at the beginning of the project. I thought it looked like an old-fashioned dumb waiter, so I had our carpenters add a little cabinet door to close it off, and I stocked it with old dishes and fake food, as if it was still in use. If you look carefully, there are also some tiny pieces of furniture, sort of like some little creatures have been living here (you do remember reading The Littles, right?). But my favorite part of this cabinet is this cool dragon door handle. I found this on the Amazon warehouse store for something like $12. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to use it, until I tried it on this cabinet, and it’s perfect to hint at something special behind this door.
Now speaking of special things behind a door … let’s see what’s inside this mysterious wardrobe! Before we go through, let’s just look back at what it originally looked like. We have some shelves, an interesting window here, and some strange bump-outs in the wall, plus another door at the back wall.
And now … what?! … this looks like a mystical fairy forest! Pretty fun, huh?
I started with a self-stick mural for the walls from Amazon. These are actually described as removable wall murals, but that doesn’t mean that they’re easy to hang. Because this house was built in 1891, the walls are not straight, so I tried hanging this myself, because how hard could it be? Ha ha. It’s heavy, it sticks to itself, it sticks to you … I ended up having the wallpaper guys hang this too. Not my thing.
I painted the trim a dark green so it disappears, and I hung this cool printed fabric that looks like a secret forest door on top of the actual second door. This is listed on Amazon as a “fantasy tapestry” in case you are looking to find one yourself.
Now, every forest needs its trees, so I added a little artificial tree in this corner, and had someone build me this fantastic large tree out of paper mache around a sturdy frame. It fits right into the weird bumpout in the left hand wall, with some roots along the floor, and these realistic branches that reach up across the ceiling to make you feel like you’re really in a forest. I limited the 3-D trees in here to just these two, because I needed the floor space for a group of people to all come stand inside here at once to play the escape room game. If you don’t want to tackle a paper mache project as large as this, you can definitely get the same effect by just adding more artificial trees in pots, but I needed this particular setup with the hole in the tree for my special electronics, because in this game you need to put something in there, and it makes something else happen. More about that later when we talk about the escape room clues and props.
I covered the window with some self-stick paper in a floral print that lets light in but blocks the view of the pizza restaurant next door. Then I hung a piece of white lattice on the ceiling and attached ivy vines and strings of tiny lights so you feel completely surrounded by the forest!
When the game was running, we had this interesting pedestal in here with a mysterious book on top where you could find an important clue, but sometimes we would take that out and cover the floor with a big quilt and use it like a picnic blanket.
I found this cute little wood table that looks like a tree stump, along with some fun pillows that look like tree branches and pieces, and I added a little picnic basket, some flowers and a little fairy to complete the enchanted theme. There are actually also sound effects in this room, so stay tuned to the end to hear more about those.
As I mentioned, when you open this door at the back of the forest, you find yourself in yet another large room, which I decorated to look like a medieval castle. Check back to my post about Creating a Hidden Bookcase Door to a Secret Castle Room, to see exactly what that room looks like and where I found all the items I used to decorate it.
And my room was done! This was used most of the time for an escape game called The Legend of the Fairy Queen, but it also became a great space for really unique bookish events like Fairytales in the Forest, and the Tea Party Club, which were storytelling and tea party events for kids. The wardrobe was also the perfect place to practice Riddikulus spells on boggarts at our Harry Potter summer camp, and even a spot to interview suspects at our live murder mystery nights.
Now, as promised, I’ll tell you all about how the mystery room game worked in this room. These are not spoilers, because this game is no longer running. Because of the pandemic, we had to close it down, and unfortunately could not reopen it.
This game begins when you arrive to stay at your grandparent’s house for the summer. Your grandparents are out getting groceries, so the housekeeper meets you and hands you a letter from your grandfather, who’s an incorrigible prankster, telling you that he’s locked your suitcases, and he set you a scavenger hunt to figure out how to open them.
You solve a few simple puzzles to open the suitcases right off the bat, but inside your suitcases you’re surprised to find a letter from the fairies that live in the walls of this room, asking for your help! It seems that the dragons that live in the next dimension over have opened a portal to this world and have been bothering the fairies. Your mission is to track down the details of the Legend of the Fairy Queen, which will tell you how to close that portal.
Inside this room, you find a series of puzzles - there’s a combination on the baseball poster that opens a box covered in old baseball cards, there’s a connect 4 game where the pieces have letters and numbers that open a pirate themed box, which you figure out is under the bed because the bedroom in the dollhouse is set up exactly like this room, and functions as a 3-d map. There are clues hidden in a wooden book, in a castle box, in an old photo album, and even here in the shell collection.
Can you see the blue numbers here? You find a clue that leads you to call the local pizza restaurant on this phone, and you hear another clue that opens a lock. You find a secret locked diary where the entries seem to be memories of a cross country road trip, but actually tie in to the old license plates and give you a code to open another box. The pegs on this old battleship game actually spell out a clue that leads you to open the dragon door into the dumb waiter. You find three chess pieces hidden around the room and solve puzzles to figure out where to put them on the gameboard and open the drawer, and the fairies even left you a message in the terrariums!
Finally, you find everything you need to use a map to get the combination to open the wardrobe.
Once you get into the fairy forest, you discover the Legend of the Fairy Queen here in this ancient book, and you learn that you need to find the statue of the Tree God and return him to his rightful place in the tree, and once that happens, he’ll close the portal.
To find him, you figure out that you can pass through this door to the secret castle room, which is always really fun to discover. Inside, you shine a blacklight into the helmet of the knight’s armor to see a clue written inside, you figure out how to open this ancient wooden treasure chest, and you find two swords that when you put them into this shield, will unlock the large treasure chest and reveal the Tree God inside.
At this point, the team all piles back into the fairy forest, shuts the door, puts the tree god inside the tree, and there are magnets in the tree and on the wooden figure that when they touch, complete an electromagnetic circuit and trigger a light and sound response. Little flashing lights start running around the outside of this door, and you hear the electronic sound of the portal being closed, then the birds start to chirp and the little twinkle lights start flashing light lightning bugs in the lattice on the ceiling, which is really the fairies telling you how happy they are that peace has fallen once again on their domain.
And that’s how I created a secret wardrobe door to an enchanted fairy forest at The Storyteller’s Cottage!
If you ever visited the Storyteller’s Cottage and spent time in the fairy forest, tell us about it in the comments or email a photo to info at storytellerscottage.com! And if you decide to create your own wardrobe door, I’d love to hear about it.