Design Inspo

5 Ideas To Create a Modern Conversation Pit

The conversation pit is making a newsworthy (and cozy) comeback. Discover five ways you can make this design trend work for your home.

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Did you find yourself watching Mad Men (even when it was clear there were no redeemable characters on the show) to admire the interior design of the sets? Or maybe reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show are more your style. If so, chances are you’d love to create a conversation pit in your living room but aren’t sure the look will fit your modern home’s style

We have five ideas to get your creative juices flowing and give you the push you may need to make this retro take on conversational seating a reality in your space.

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What Is a Conversation Pit Anyway?

The conversation pit, or sunken living room, was a mid-century interior design trend. It was first credited to architect Bruce Goff in the 1920s, but another architect and interior designer launched this feature into the limelight in 1957. 

We can thank Eero Saarinen for the conversation pit’s big break, as seen in his design of the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. Eero Saarinen wanted these living spaces to encourage intimacy through the architecture and design of the home. 

As we spend more time in our homes than in years past, making it a nest that encourages and supports our lifestyle has again become a priority in home interiors — as has the conversation pit. Let’s look at five ways to create a sunken space (or something similar) to make your living room a more intimate space where everyone will want to hang out. 

1. Break Up Your Open-Plan Layout

The open floor plan may be here to stay, but as homeowners spend more time at home, they’re looking for ways to create separate zones of activity. Enter: the conversation pit. It can be part of your living room/dining room combo but still feel like its own little world when it comes time to relax and visit with a friend. 

If you’re up for the challenge of adding a conversation pit to your space, expect to pay a contractor to change your home’s fundamental floor design. However, there’s more to creating a functional conversation pit than simply dropping the floor a level. 

Let your sunken living room designate that part of the house for relaxing conversation. While keeping to your home’s color scheme, add some elements to your conversation pit that will give it an anchoring presence, like a rug that fits the area well and is a deeper shade than the one under your dining table nearby. Coordinate your built-in sofa cushions and throw pillows for a feeling of a room within a room.

Arrange Furniture Carefully

While few of us have a home that boasts a perfectly square rectangular pit of sofa material (though we may wish it were so), most of us can find a way to section off a lower level with furnishings or bookcases. Try to keep a boundary or wall that is about a foot high around at least two sides of your sunken living area. 

Make use of shelving for plants to enhance the relaxation with a green wall, or create a low railing that is in keeping with your home’s architectural style to back your sofas against.

Keep It Out of the Way

One critical consideration when creating a sunken living room is ensuring the flow of traffic won’t be impeded by the placement of your conversation area. If you’re designing your dream home and want a conversation pit that sits between two other areas, make sure there is room to walk around it. 

Consider the mobility of everyone who will be living in, and visiting, your home. The conversation pit is only awesome if you can easily get into it.

2. Make Use of the Split-Level Floor Plan

Since they were all the rage in the mid-century southwest (and in many other locations as well), there’s a very good chance you own a split-level home, and setting up a sunken lounge may just be a matter of rearranging your living area or adding built-in seating. 

You may have thought about raising that seemingly dated sunken living room (which costs anywhere from $5000 to $25,000), but we’re here to tell you to hang onto it! Everything eventually becomes new again — and sunken living rooms are definitely back in a big way.

Let the Lower Level Create a Sunken Feeling

Just having your living room at a lower height of a few inches than the dining area or kitchen may be enough to create a feeling of intimacy. If so, congratulations! Your work is done. You only need to furnish your “pit” with comfy furniture, particularly sectionals, that encourage a feeling of closeness.

Build Sunken Seating Into the Wall 

If the difference in height between the upper level and lower levels of your home is significant enough, build a sofa into the wall created by the upper level. Make a banquette-style sofa sectional that runs along your upper level’s wall and an adjacent wall of the room. Your conversation pit doesn’t have to have four walls like Saarinen’s to feel cloistered and retreat-like. 

3. Create Your Own Split-Level

Unless you happen to be lucky enough to have a conversation pit hidden beneath your floorboards, you may need to get creative and build your own. No, we’re not talking about The Sims. We’re discussing purposely sectioning an area of your home off for a little remodeling to get a more intimate space than floor-level seating can give. 

Mock up your home’s layout in Spoak’s design suite of tools to work with a contractor for the best design for your space.

Create a Half Wall Around Your Sofas

Without changing the level of your home, encourage the pit-like feeling of your conversational area by completely encircling it with furnishings built for comfort. Creating half-walls to back built-in sofas is a low-cost and clever way to set up a conversation zone. The half-wall can double as a bookshelf or storage unit from the outside. 

Create a Level Up … Just To Step Down

Another option is to create a raised level at the back end of your living room that adds visual interest while allowing a conversation pit to be built on the far side of it. 

Imagine a raised area in your living room for setting plants near the patio windows. On the other side, there’s a sunroom-style conversation pit bordered by windows and greenery for an intimate stay-cation getaway.

4. Conversation Pits Aren’t Limited To Interiors

Changing the bones of your home may be more than you’re willing to commit to, but getting creative with outdoor decking is another story. The sky's the limit with your outdoor space planning, and a conversation pit could be in your future.

Make Use of a Terraced Patio or Deck

Create multi-level decking that leads to a ground-level patio if your home is positioned on a slope. Even if you don’t live on a hillside, construct a raised deck that allows for a lower seating area in the backyard. Consider building decking with built-in benches as seating on at least three sides.

Build a Patio Wall 

Make use of any existing walls around your backyard courtyard to create a backing for your seating arrangement. If you don’t have a patio, fashioning a brick built-in seating area around a fire pit can evoke the retro vibe you’ve been yearning for.

5. Have a Conversation Pit Without Sunken Seating

By far, the easiest way to get a sunken living room feel in a single-level home is to fake a conversation pit. Yes, it doesn’t sound as exciting, but it can have all the essential elements of a stellar conversation area, and it doesn’t require any contract work.

DIY conversation pit modern interior design
Source: Apartment Therapy

Create a Conversation Zone

Your first task when creating your conversation zone will be to … well, zone it off. Using furnishings like sectional or modular deep sofas can give the look of a “captive area” to the space. 

You may choose to use a piece of furniture, like a low console, to complete the boundary of your pit and further encourage a feeling of intimacy in your guests’ minds. 

Keep Everything Low

To emulate the feeling of being sunken as much as possible, choose furniture that sits very low to the floor. Think of those boho cushions and poufs you’ve been collecting. They’re the perfect seating or end tables for your relaxed space. 

Consider cutting down the legs of your favorite mid-century-style coffee table to get it to just the right height for your low seating.

Make It Comfortable

Exaggerate the coziness of your conversation pit by choosing sofas and poufs that are tufted, channel-tufted, or otherwise marshmallow shaped. (Think: big and fluffy!) You want the contrast between the hard lines and firmness of the rest of your decor and this extremely relaxed area to be sharp for maximum enjoyment.

The Backdrop for the Best of Conversations

With a little creative thinking, even the most obscure or architecturally niche modern design styles can rub off on your home decor. From 60s-style conversation pits to vintage lighting fixtures, check out Spoak’s design inspiration for everything you need from the past in your present.

Photo Credit: (Left) Apartment Therapy


Homeowners discover pink 1970s 'conversation pit' hidden under their floors | In The Know

What’s a Conversation Pit and How to Make One | The Strategist

What Is Split-Level Architecture? | The Spruce

Conversation Piece: The Sunken Lounge | Habitus Living

Miller House and Garden in the media spotlight | Visitors Center Columbus Indiana 

The History of Conversation Pits | Hunker

All You Need to Know About Sunken Living Rooms | Bob Vila

Join Spoak to access everything you need to bring your visions to life. 

Date Posted
July 26, 2023



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