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Conversation Pits: Reviving Retro Design for Modern Times

By Nicole Wearstler


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Once the talk of the town in the 1950s and 60s, conversation pits are finding their way back into our homes and hearts, but this time with a refreshing modern appeal.

Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, when families were looking for new ways to connect and recreate the intimacy they craved, the conversation pits increased in popularity.

It is a well-known fact that what once was in style has a way of coming back to become trendy again. This applies to fashion, home decor, and so on. Conversation pits are no exception.

Before we delve deeper into the specifics, let us give you a fresh introduction into what conversation pits are, in case you weren’t sure.

Conversation Pits: What Are They?

Conversation Pits – What Are They
Dreamy conversation pit in Athens, Greecee

Conversation pits are architectural features that contain built-in, cushioned sitting that is constructed below floor level, and typically in a L- or U-shape. Although there are some circular or square conversation pits as well.

They can be accessed by a few small steps, usually not more than 5, and typically without a railing to hold on to.

This retro design is creeping back into our homes as a way to entice conversations and intimacy. These conversational pits are super cozy and allow you to lounge, read, relax, and unwind with those closest to you.

And because they are the main focus of the room, they help you avoid having a cluttered living space. That was the main objective of the designers: to eliminate too much furniture, therefore simplify the living spaces.

History of Conversation Pits

History of Conversation Pits
Cozy Conversation Pit by Carla Venosta

Conversation pits were created back in the 1950s when the traditional American way of life started to become the norm.

But the very first one was actually constructed all the way back in 1927 by architect Bruce Goff. He built this new creation in a house he completed in Oklahoma, and it was well-received by his peers.

However, it was architect Eero Saarinen and the Miller House he built in 1952 that popularized the trend. The house strived to create a welcoming space, bright and intimate, and that enticed conversations.

The conversation pit is a refined, open space that is inspired by Japanese architecture.

Some believe it took its inspiration from European enclosed areas that used to surround fireplaces all the way back in the 1100s AD. Its origins are up for debate, nevertheless the conversation pit is still a desired architectural detail in contemporary homes.

Just like in the old days, some of the new constructions are built around a hearth, or a fireplace that is modernized for today’s standards. But the idea is the same, just slightly upgraded.

During the 60s and 70s when they were at their peak in popularity, the conversation peaks served mostly as efficient functions in the home.

Villa Amsterdam by Marmol Radzine
Villa Amsterdam by Marmol Radziner

At the time, people considered their houses their forever homes, hence this structural detail was very sought after.

As entertaining at home was very popular during those decades, the conversation pits were the perfect solution that allowed for guests to connect on a more intimate level.

Although there were some incidents where guests would trip and fall once they consumed some alcohol, safety was not a major concern until a few years later.

A little bit later on, as television and movie watching became the norm, the conversion pits waned out of homes around the 80s.

An increased sense of safety started to worry people that small children and the elderly could trip over the steps and hurt themselves, therefore the conversation pits were slowly removed from new constructions.

But now that we’re trying to balance our home lives and reintroduce the focus on communication and intimacy, they are becoming popular once again.

They can be dressed up with colorful cushions and cozy rugs, and create a focal point in the living space.

Conversation Pits: Differing Opinions

Conversation Pit Imagined by Anthony Authie, Zyva Studio
Conversation Pit Imagined by Anthony Authie, Zyva Studio

People don’t generally feel lukewarm about conversation pits. They either absolutely love them, or they couldn’t care less about them. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.

We embrace the resurgence of the conversation pit from the connectivity point-of-view. Being able to sit across from your loved ones and tune out the outside world for some intimate conversation is something we strive to achieve in our personal lives.

Aesthetically speaking, there are ways to get creative and build your own conversation pit. It may pose a bit of a challenge for those who rent or those who live in small spaces, but there are ways to work around it.

There are many ways to make a conversation pit your own, and we gathered a few ideas you can draw your inspiration from. Revive your home with any of these following conversation pit designs made for modern times.

Whether in your home or in airport lounges, for example, the conversation pits are once again a sought after architectural detail. They are great for the outdoors as well, especially if they are surrounded by a swimming pool.

The outdoor conversation pits are actually becoming increasingly popular with some newly built homes. It is something to definitely keep an eye out for.

Let us take a look at a few examples of conversation pits you might find interesting. Reviving this retro design for modern times might just be what your home needs.

Eggplant-Purple Conversation Pit in the US

Eggplant-Purple Conversation Pit
Pam and Paul’s House in Silicon Valley / Photo by Darren Bradley

This is one of the most eye catching and colorful conversation pits we found for a modern home. Designed by architect Craig Steely, this sunken pit is 13-square meters.

The Tufty-Time purple sofa comes from B&B Italia, with cushions made out of a plump purple velvet material for the seating area. The sunken lounge is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors, which open up to a steep wooded area.

Other than the flush-mounted LED strips that demarcate the lounge area the room is bare, making this conversation pit the focal point of the room.

Small Conversation Pit in Australia

small conversation pit
River House Australia / Photo by Damien Kook

This small conversation pit is located in the guesthouse of graphic designer Annabel Dundas and architect Simon Pole, in their home nestled alongside the bank of the Yarra River in Melbourne.

The couple designed their whole house themselves, and every detail is well thought-out. In order to complement their blackened cypress that can be found throughout the house, the couple used the same tiles to surround the sunken lounge.

It also boasts a fireplace and a kitchenette close by, for a fully functioning additional space that offers extra privacy from the rest of the home. It may be a small conversation pit, but a cozy area that entices intimate conversations.

Basement Conversation Pit in the UK

Basement Conversation Pit
Knightsbridge Mews home / Photo by Taran Wilkhu

This London house in Knightsbridge Mews is designed by the architecture studio Echlin. The conversation pit is located in the basement of the home, with an L-shaped gray sofa delineating the seating area.

Wooden cabinetry fold around the edge of the area, and the three steps to the side allow access to the sunken lounge. As part of a broken-plan layout, the space was introduced to loosely demarcate the conversation pit.

Without creating individual rooms, this layout allows for an open-plan living/dining space, with the kitchen situated at the back.

Curved Concrete Conversation Pit in Australia

Towers Road House
Towers Road House / Photo by Peter Bennetts

This circular sunken lounge is created by Wood Marsh for the Towers Road House in the suburb of Melbourne, Toorak. The area can be accessed by an opening in a narrow antichamber.

By using two small steps the lounge area is fitted with red sofas that are oriented towards a large suspended fireplace, while the floor is made from polychromatic carpet.

The large open plan living area is shaped with many arcs and curves that continue with the theme of the house. Overlooking the backyard, the large window wall offers a peaceful view.

Circular Conversation Pit in a Pool in Italy

Circular Conversation Pit in a Pool in Italy
Circular conversation pit / Photo by Julian Broad

We wanted to include this outdoor conversation pit from Italy just to give you an idea what else can be created other than the typical indoor sunken lounges most people are familiar with.

Designed by Turin-based studio PAT, this swanky mid-pool conversation pit is quite extraordinary.

Inspired by the Brutalist architecture style Ferdinando Fagnola was known for, he took over a few structures and transformed them into new era conversation starters.

This lounge is circular and can be accessed from the deck by walking on a few attached marble blocks, and its cushions are made from a water resistant material that is also great for the sun.

Modern Conversation Pit in Canada

Residence de I’Isle
Residence de I’Isle / Photo by Adrien Williams

This sunken living room from Residence de L’Isle is designed by Montreal-based firm Chevalier Morales. Featuring a multifunctional built-in piece of furniture that was created especially for this home, it integrates a television, sound system, and sofa as well.

On top of that, there is a secret door which hides a wine cellar. A mid-century ode to built-in workstations, the space is stylish as well as highly functional.

The area can be reached by going down three steps, with the lower one being the base of the sofa. A fireplace delineates the space from the kitchen/dining area, plus adds a touch of coziness.

Open Plan Outdoor Conversation Pit in USA

Gorgeous Sunken lounge
Shore House / Photo by Scott Frances

Located in Suffolk County, New York, on the eastern end of Long Island, the Shore House was designed by Leroy Street Studio. The homeowners love hosting events and large parties, and this open-plan lounge is truly gorgeous.

Sitting on an semi-open deck, the sunken lounge is surrounded by black ceramic tiles and a large masonry hearth, as well as a fireplace.

With lots of natural elements and plenty of textures, the sunken lounge offers the owners and their guests plenty of opportunities for intimate conversations. Overlooking Long Island Bay, the view is breathtaking while offering much needed privacy.

Wood-Lined Conversation Pit in Iceland

Wood-Lined Conversation Pit
Lake Thingvallavatn Holiday Home / Photo by Marino Thorlacius

Designed by KRADS for a holiday home in Iceland, this conversation pit is wood-lined. The wood gives the space a clean, neat look, and it separates the lounge area from the adjacent dining room.

This modern home contains this conversation pit which was added with the sole intention for the owners to exchange ideas and thoughts without any distractions.

The sunken lounge is lined with floor-to-ceiling window panels that offer amazing views of Lake Thingvallavatn. The conversation pit is fitted with pared-back leather seating, while a minimalist coffee table is placed at the center.

Around the lounge, the floor provides additional seating.

Bespoke Conversation Pit in the UK

Modern Conversation Pit with a Bespoke Sofa
House in Coombe Park / Photo by Nick Guttridge

Created by Studio Eldridge in London, this house sits on a verdant spot in Kingston-upon-Thames, southwest of London. The curved sunken lounge occupies one wing of the house, steps away from the kitchen/dining area.

Transitioning from oak flooring surrounding the lounge to a soft gray carpet, the conversation pit is framed by a large bespoke sofa that follows the curves of the designated area.

The lounge is completed with two Flower tables by Swedese, as well as a gray Bertoia Bird chair by Knoll. Curves are the theme in this home, which are emphasized throughout the whole space.

The oak tree and the hillside slope the house is located on inspired the whole design of the place.

Minimalist Sunken Lounge in Spain

Minimalist Sunken Lounge
Minimalist Sunken Lounge / Photo by José Hevia

This minimalist home in Barcelona, Spain has plenty of personality. Designed by Arquitectura-G, this apartment has a light-colored monochromatic theme throughout the house.

The sunken lounge helps to break up the open-plan interior living space by adding some depth to the area. It contains lowered sofas that are custom-made to match the carpet and the cushions, and it takes three steps to reach it.

The sunken lounge is delineated by white painted shelves that divide the flat from the kitchen/dining area. In the corner, a black wood-burning stove adds a touch of coziness.

On the ceiling, a skylight is added above the existing roof beams for extra light. A cozy conversation pit that adds an interesting feature to the place, this is tastefully designed and gives the whole place an uncluttered, clean vibe.

Japanese-Inspired Outdoor Conversation Pit in the US

Japanese-Inspired Outdoor Conversation Pit
Curved House / Photo by Mike Sinclair

The brilliant Matthew Hufft, the person behind Hufft Projects, has masterfully used a circle of warm, durable ipe wood to encase a cozy fire pit. This splendid centerpiece adorns the patio of the elegantly Curved House, which is tucked away in the lush landscape of Missouri.

In this amazing Japanese-inspired outdoor space, an enchanting collaborative effort came to life with 40North, a renowned landscape architecture company based right there in Weston, Missouri. The result? An innovative ensemble of portable aluminum benches.

With a slick powder-coated finish, these benches are perfectly upholstered with Sunbrella fabric. This means you can cozy up around the fire pit and enjoy the stars, no matter the weather.

Concrete and Wood Conversation Pit in Mexico

Concrete and Wood Conversation Pit
Photo by Rafael Gamo

In the heart of Valle de Bravo, Mexico, architects Javier Sánchez and Carlos Mar designed a striking concrete home, drawing inspiration from the minimalist aesthetic of Donald Judd.

Nestled within this majestic three-part structure, you’ll find a living room that harbors a wonderful concrete and wood-clad conversation pit and library.

These spaces are tastefully adorned with sustainably sourced parota wood, showcasing an incredible blend of modern design with eco-conscious sensibility.

Super Cozy Conversation Pit in the US

Cozy conversation Pit
Concrete Guesthouse in Upstate New York / Photo by Ike Edeani

One of New York City’s most talented creative duos, David Leven and Stella Betts from Leven Betts studio, conjured up a unique backyard house for their dear friends in upstate New York. This fascinating bunker-like guesthouse, though seemingly a single story, cleverly mirrors the site’s natural hills and valleys.

In the heart of the house, the floor gracefully steps down into a living area. From there, it further descends into a cozy conversation pit. The pit is embraced by a custom sectional sofa – a proud result of the combined creativity of the clients and architects. Adorned in plush cotton velvet, the sofa adds a touch of luxurious comfort to the unique home.

Pink Velvet Conversation Pit in the UK

Pink Velvet Conversation Pit
Ritson Road House / Photo by Andrew Ogilvy

In the bustling heart of London, Gresford Architects masterfully crafted an extension to a charming Victorian house. The centerpiece? A snug, sunken seating area adorned with plush pink-velvet cushions that invite you to sink in and relax.

This lovely seating area is conveniently nestled between a lush winter garden and a refreshing outdoor terrace. Designed with a nostalgic mid-century flair, it offers an intimate space that exudes warmth and comfort.

Interestingly, the delightful pink velvet cushions reflect the hue of the uniquely coloured concrete used in the construction. This adds a splendid touch of cohesion between the interior and exterior, elegantly revealing the raw beauty of the material inside the extension.

Concluding Words

In conclusion, conversation pits are more than just architectural trends or nostalgic throwbacks. They’re cozy corners of interaction, fostering intimacy and connection in our living spaces.

From the minimalist designs that integrate seamlessly into modern homes, to vibrant, extravagant layouts that become the star of the room, these sunken living areas offer endless possibilities for customization.

So, whether you’re renovating your home or planning a new one, consider a conversation pit – it’s a timeless element that brings people together in a way few other design features can.

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About Nicole Wearstler

A DIY and interior design enthusiast, Nicole fuels her passion with a unique fascination for colors and unconventional shapes. She loves to turn complex design ideas into simple, inspiring guides, that encourage our readers to unleash their creativity at home. Learn more about HomeDSGN's Editorial Process.

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