By Michelle Tauber
Updated February 25, 2013 12:00 PM

Nicholas Sparks’s home in New Bern, N.C., boasts everything from a bowling alley to a screening room to an office lined with his 16 bestsellers translated into 45 languages-but as a father of five, his most prized space lies behind a secret passageway. Designing the house a few years ago, “I fantasized about a napping room,” the Notebook author says of the medieval-themed basement bedroom, where he takes 20-minute power naps under a ceiling painted with mice peeking from trompe l’oeil cracks. “I always wanted a house with whimsy.”

And so the love-story juggernaut, 47, and his wife of 23 years, Cathy, 46, blended fun and functional in the “low-country” home they built to accommodate their six dogs, two rabbits and five kids: Miles, 21; Ryan, 19; Landon, 13; and twins Savannah and Lexie, 11. “I like the pace of life down here,” says Sparks, whose eighth novel-to-film adaptation, Safe Haven, hits theaters on Valentine’s Day. The wide porch and dock on the Nourse River are a setting straight out of his southeastern tales, which have sold 80 million copies and generated some $700 million at the box office. (He also recently launched the Novel Learning Series, featuring student-guide editions of his books.) Active in the community, he and Cathy established the progressive Epiphany School through their Nicholas Sparks Foundation; at home they carve out time for movie nights in the screening room. “This is a very welcoming home,” says Sparks-with plenty of room to grow. “By the time the girls graduate from college, our oldest will be 32,” he notes. “So as our youngest walk out, in could come the grandkids!”