Gilbert resident Jacob Clarkson doesn’t have to worry about his young children accidentally getting into his gun collection.
That’s because he has a unique storage space for his pistols and hunting rifles in his new home that only he can open.
First he slightly twists a vase that rests in a decorative niche in the living room wall. That causes a family picture hanging on the wall to rise, revealing an electronic fingerprint reader set inside the wall. Clarkson sticks his forefinger into the biometric reader, which scans his fingerprint, identifying him as the owner. Then a second niche with an identical vase opens up, revealing the guns mounted in their storage locker inside the wall.
It’s something right out of a Hollywood movie.
"We wanted to do something different," Clarkson said of his new house. "This was something neat to start with."
Clarkson also has installed a bookcase that silently swings open when you press the spine of "Gulliver’s Travels" (it’s the 12th book from the right on the second shelf). On the other side is revealed a secret sewing room for his wife, Christy.
"It’s a place to keep the kids away from the sewing machine," she said.
Most of this architectural prestidigitation is the work of Steven Humble, Clarkson’s buddy from their days at Mountain View High School in Mesa.
Humble, 26, has started his own business called Creative Home Engineering in his Mesa home, which specializes in the design and construction of secret passageways. He plans to work with high-end custom home builders to design interior features for clients who want something a little extra inside their homes.
"My market is . . . homeowners who want something to set their house apart from the others on the street," he said.
So far Humble has installed just the two features in Clarkson’s home, which serve as examples of what is possible. But he and Clarkson, who operates a framing business with his father in Mesa, are working on plans to build a $4 million speculative house, possibly in Paradise Valley, that includes other hidden passages.
"The one thing we would like to do is have a giant rotating fireplace," Humble said.
In doing research before starting his business, Humble said he was surprised that he couldn’t find any contractors that specialized in such work.
"The only thing that was available was bookcases on hinges," he said. "If you want anything that is motorized, it’s not available."
He also found that there was no specialized contractor’s license available from the Arizona Registrar of Contractors that covered that type of work. Humble, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University, was issued a newly-created speciality contractor’s license in private passageway systems.
Humble is the only contractor in Arizona to possess that type of license, said Marie Levie, assistant director of the registrar’s office.
"If he were a general contractor or a remodeler or a carpenter, he could already do it, but he would need the help of an electrical subcontractor," she said. "With this license, he can do it all himself. . . . It’s a very specific license for a specific activity."
Levie said the registrar will occasionally create such specialty licenses for contractors who want to perform niche services.
Special features such as rotating bookcases and wall pictures that move can be tricky to rig up, Humble said. As an example of their complexity, he said he designed the bookcase to be powered by a compressor that had to be located in Clarkson’s garage.
"It’s a tremendous amount of work to design something like this from scratch," he said, adding that he charges $5,000 to $50,000 per feature, depending on the extent and complexity of the project.
Humble’s long-term business goal is to produce specialty features for high-end houses across the United States and even in foreign countries. But predicting future sales is difficult, he said.
"This is a new business that has never been done before, so there is no good model to follow," he said.
More information on the venture is available at www.hiddenpassageway.com.