Manhattan Way Out Ahead in Panic Room Trend

The Wall Street Journal reports today on a bizarre home decor trend that appears to be sweeping the rural South.

More homeowners in small towns in places like Tennessee and Mississippi are installing safe rooms to protect themselves from freak weather, according to the article. It quotes a few homeowners who are outfitting their home offices, tool sheds and wine cellars to withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour and possibly the weight of a loaded tractor trailer. Names include “StormRoom” and “Iron Eagle II.”

Others take the hideouts even more seriously. “To me, the ideal location is the master bedroom closet so that even if you are bedridden, you could get that far,” says Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association, a nonprofit trade group.

Like most trend stories, this one consists of half-a-dozen people who’s home-decorating choices could be evidence of a pattern, or simply age-old paranoia. But there’s more evidence that safe rooms may be catching on. FEMA is advocating that homeowners in storm-prone regions consider installing one, while About.com and reno king Bob Villa both offer some tips for DIY types.

But before yet another weird trend story is commandeered by others, we’d like to point out that on this one Manhattanites were definitely there first. As Jodie Foster’s claustrophobic thriller Panic Room details, Manhattan is the true birthplace of the safe room (dubbed the “panic room” by Hollywood). Developers had reportedly been constructing the units for wealthy Fifth Avenue clients way back in 2002.

Of course, these were not to fend of tornadoes, but “burglars, stalkers, even kidnappers,” The Observer reported then. Nor were they mere hideouts. “It’s a very serious room,” said Karl Alizade, president of City Safe Inc., a Farmington, N.J., company that has designed and installed several safe rooms in the city. “It’s a command center and an attack room—it’s not a hideout.”

Since most homeowners are pretty secretive about it, there’s no way to tell if it turned out to be just a passing fad, other than to check out your friend’s wine cellar next time you’re over.

lkusisto@observer.com

Manhattan Way Out Ahead in Panic Room Trend