I just finished an article called “Sunken Treasure” and in it they wrote about the resurgence of “conversation pits”. They say that what comes around goes around and in design it’s no different; trends tend to reappear. Recessed living areas known as sunken living rooms—and their cozier cousins, conversation pits—spread like wildfire during the 1950’s and 1960s, and they began appearing in newly built houses across the nation.
A conversation pit is an architectural feature that typically has cushioned, built-in seating and is constructed below floor level. The origins of the recessed seating design can be traced back to several different cultures, from ancient China to medieval Spain. These sunken living spaces were designed so that large groups could comfortably lounge together with cozy rugs and cushions. For nearly 20 years, they were the grooviest way to entertain guests or just kick back with the family. They abruptly fell out of fashion, with some homeowners remodeling to remove them (we are currently eliminating a sunken living room in a new remodel), but with so many homes built during that period featuring a sunken space, you’re still likely to see this fun and funky element on open house tours.
Over the past few years, architects have begun to experiment again with creating these recessed spaces, often incorporating modern materials, fresh color palettes, and outdoor settings to make the typology feel updated. They offer some positive design benefits but come with a few drawbacks as well.
Pros and Cons of Sunken Living Spaces/Conversation Pits
- They define and denote boundaries of space without obstructing sight lines.
- They offer increased headroom, which can create the illusion of an enormous amount of space.
- A conversation pit provides a cozy space that’s perfect for intimate entertaining. While it’s separate from the rest of the room, it’s not isolated.
- The recessed area draws the eye and breaks up the visual monotony that can otherwise occur in large rooms, adding character to the room.
- It limits accessibility for someone with mobility challenges and increases the risk of a fall or injury.
- A sunken living room located in the direct traffic pattern of a home can make it inconvenient to go up and down steps whenever walking from one part of the house to another.
- It can be difficult to rearrange furniture in sunken living rooms/conversation pits because many require custom-designed seating that follows the perimeter of the space.
- They can be dark if the lighting plan is not sufficient for the space.
A home addition is an ideal opportunity to incorporate a sunken space. While you might be able to accommodate a cozy conversation pit in the center of a new space, or tucked into a corner of the room, it’s more likely for the entire addition to be recessed in comparison to the existing main level of the house. Lowering the addition’s floor, in line with the exterior grade, provides a more seamless transition to the outdoor spaces and better connection to nature. If you are interested in adding a Zen zone into the design for your next remodel, give us a call and we can make that happen.