Room and hoard
With banks and financial institutions collapsing and markets in a mess, it's not surprising that many people are returning to a traditional investment vehicle: that trusty old mattress.
Stashing cash and other valuables at home has never been viewed as a sound idea. But a growing number of savers think it's their best option given the uncertain financial climate.
Thankfully, furniture makers and designers are coming to their aid with innovative solutions to help keep their valuables safe at home. Some companies are designing luxury beds that fold over to reveal hidden safes, while others specialise in building secret rooms and nooks. Others still are designing beautifully burnished cabinets or bedside tables that contain safes, so buyers don't have to sacrifice on good taste.
Hollandia International, an international manufacturer of beds, recently launched its Executive Safe-T bed, which contains a hidden safe, for US$20,400. It was designed originally for customers who want to store a firearm, but Hollandia decided to capitalise on the burgeoning demand for safe storage of valuables.
The safe is 20.3cm by 26.9cm and about 10.9cm deep, enough space for plenty of cash and jewellery. It locks with a key and is covered by an additional piece of fabric to camouflage the door.
'We made sure to position the safe within the bed base under the mattress so as not to change the feel of the bed when sleeping,' says Maya Ben, Hollandia's vice-president of operations. 'Whether you want to store your jewels, cash or other valuables, the safe is a unique feature that should give our customers a different sense of security.'
Author and security expert Kevin Hellman, who runs livesafely.org, says there has been a surge in public interest in home safes recently. 'People are scared stiff of what is going to happen in these troubled economic times,' he says. 'They are worried about job losses, rising costs of living, but more so about their investments and whether their banks will go under. It is no surprise that sales of home safes have increased dramatically.'
Ben, of Hollandia, agrees. 'We have seen an increase in sales over the past couple of months,' she says. 'I don't know whether it is because of the economy or just because people like the idea of owning something different and useful at the same time, but this particular model [the Safe-T bed] has become increasingly popular among our customers.'
'Decoy safes' are booming, he says. A simple internet search yields hundreds of options, including common household items such as pillows, cookie containers and laundry detergent boxes.
'It's a great [and] lucrative opportunity,' says Hellman. 'For example, tables with hollowed-out legs would go a long way to help keep cash on hand. People are feeling a sense of increased vulnerability too about their reliance on ATM banking machines, which, of course, are useless if there is a power outage.
'For this reason, cash is still king and it makes sense to keep enough of it on hand to keep you going for a while in case of emergencies. This is where finding a safe spot for your cash is critical.'
The Safe Shop in Britain (thesafeshop.co.uk) has steel safes encased in walnut veneer and fake tins of Heinz spaghetti with screws at the base that come off to reveal valuables. InvisiVault offers its SecureLogic hidden wall safe, which is a watercolour canvas framed in dark wood that doubles as a remote-controlled door with a PIN password. False Bottom Productions in Farmington, Connecticut (greatstuff.com), has a selection of bookcases, columns, coffee tables and cupboards that have false bottoms and hidden compartments. Hellman says he has seen some ingenious decoy safes including a hidden compartment in a hot water heater.
Some homeowners are prepared to go a step further and pay for a secret passageway and door.
'People can't burgle a room if they don't know it exists,' says Steve Humble, owner of Creative Home Engineering in Tempe, Arizona, referring to the 'invisible' door he puts over an existing doorway, hiding the room behind it.
'The interest in secret doors is on the increase, but because the economy is on the decrease there are a lot of people who are interested in this but can't afford to do it,' he says.
His company creates hidden spaces in homes and flats, which includes installing safes beneath hardwood floors that are operated by hitting a secret button or building cavities behind bookcases and fireplaces. But it's not cheap - Humble says a basic job starts at about US$6,500 and the average cost is US$10,000, although he recently completed a project for a client that was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The home now has seven secret doors, one of which leads to a vault and another to a 'panic room' complete with plasma screen linked to hidden video cameras.
Adopting this strategy can be more effective than installing security cameras and burglar alarms, he says.
'People have no qualms about spending large amounts of money on surveillance packages, alarm systems and security gates - none of which affords you the same level of security as a secret door.
'The front of our secret bookcase might look like an ordinary bookcase, but inside it's like a bank vault, with doors that are bulletproof and with a stainless-steel four-point locking system,' he says.
Still, keeping cash at home has its drawbacks. In most cases, the loss of cash from a home safe is not covered by insurance.
Hellman also advises against telling anyone - not even family members - where the money is, and to pick the most unconventional hiding spot.
'And the best advice of all,' he says. 'Never ever put all your eggs in one basket. Not to sound overly alarmist, but we just never know what is around the corner.'