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.
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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.
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.
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be dangerous if someone accidentally fell in, it wasn’t always practical for families with children, and it simply felt outdated and no longer fashionable.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.
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.