The Conversation Pit Makes a Big Comeback in These Fabulous Modern Spaces

The Conversation Pit Makes a Big Comeback in These Fabulous Modern Spaces

By Kate Reggev
Follow us as we step down into the history of the conversation pit—from its heyday to its recent revival—with some prime examples of the groovy living room typology.

They say that everything that goes out of style comes back again, and the conversation pit is a prime example. Although it was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s, the design’s origins can be traced back to lowered platform seating in several different cultures—from ancient China to medieval Spain. These spaces were designed so that large groups could sit together and comfortably lounge with cozy rugs, cushions, and seating.

The conversation pit at the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, by Eero Saarinen with textiles designed by Alexander Girard. The home was considered one of the pioneers of the sunken living room.

Now fast forward to the 1950s and 1960s, when designers and architects including Eero Saarinen, Paul Rudolph, Alexander Girard, and Bruce Goff began developing conversation pits for both residential and commercial spaces. The first conversation pit is largely credited to architect Bruce Goff's 1927 design for a home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a sunken seating area. In the ensuing decades, the conversation pit, with its sunken couches and yards of cushions, became a popular living room typology.

Rudolph renovated this New Haven, Connecticut, townhouse for himself with a conversation pit, houseplants, and artwork.

The 1952 Miller House, designed by Saarinen and Girard, is often seen as the catalyst for the pit’s popularity. Located in Columbus, Indiana, the home featured a short staircase leading down to a sunken living room outlined with a single, continuous sofa. The home was very influential, and soon sunken living rooms could be found across the nation.

The Terrace Theatre, designed by Twin Cities–based firm Liebenberg and Kaplan, incorporated a sunken lounge into its design.

But by the 1970s, the conversation pit hit the pinnacle of its popularity. The reasons for the pit's subsequent decline are varied—it could be dangerous if someone accidentally fell in, it wasn’t always practical for families with children, and it simply felt outdated and no longer fashionable. Homeowners filled in sunken areas of living rooms, and design trends moved on.

Today, the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, is a National Historic Landmark that is open to the public as a museum.

However, over the past few years we've seen conversation pits pop up in new projects. Architects are experimenting again with creating intimate spaces through a simple level change, often incorporating modern materials, fresh color palettes, and outdoor settings to make the typology feel fresh and updated. Here, we've gathered  some exciting projects that feature the first beloved, later shunned, and now celebrated conversation pit.

An Eggplant-Purple Conversation Pit in an Ultramodern Cupertino Home

This Cupertino home features a conversation pit outfitted with a 250-square-foot configuration of Patricia Urquiola’s Tufty-Time sofa for B&B Italia. Overhead, flush-mounted LED strips demarcate the lounge area.

This poolside conversation pit is oriented around a fire pit at a vacation home in Coachella, California.

Taking cues from this home's Japanese-influenced slatted screen, Hufft Projects applied a ring of ipe wood around the perimeter of this outdoor fire pit.

The swanky mid-pool conversation pit was added by new owners during the renovation of a 1970s Brutalist villa in Sardinia, Italy.

A sunken velvet conversation pit is located in the heart of The Wing's new location in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

Located a few steps down from the kitchen, this dining room nook features U-shaped seating, subtle materials, and elegant lighting solutions.

This mini conversation pit is set around a pebble-floored hearth and a steel fireplace. The warm, textured seating area reinforces the fireplace as the central feature of the room.

A waterfront conversation pit brings a touch of midcentury glamour to this modern oasis in Miami Beach.

A sunken conversation pit surrounding a fire pit sits adjacent to the pool in this semi-outdoor space at a home in Atlantic Beach, Florida.


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