Is the Midcentury Conversation Pit Ready for a Revival?

culture / inspiration / Interesting

Midcentury design has established itself as the quintessential essence of modern interiors.

But Eames chairs and Nelson benches aren’t the only icons being revived in living spaces. A fascination with midcentury design has brought about a resurgence in architectural features such as sunken living rooms and conversation pits.

Ezra Stoller / Esto

The midcentury conversation pit made its debut when architect Eero Saarinen designed a home in Columbus, Indiana, featuring a depression in the middle of the living room with a few open steps leading into a carpeted square pit lined with seating. Most conversation pits portray seating facing each other in a centrally focused fashion, providing a more intimate setting for conversation.

Most conversation pits were used during cocktail parties as a place to entertain guests. Imagine putting on your favorite record and then sinking into a comfy sunken lounge to enjoy the art of conversation with those around you. The dawn of the conversation pit was in the mid 50’s and the trend peaked in the early 60’s right before a scathing piece by Time Magazine mocked the shortcomings of the architectural feature.

“At cocktail parties, late-staying guests tended to fall in. Those in the pit found themselves bombarded with bits of hors-d’oeuvres from up above, looked out on a field of trouser cuffs, ankles and shoes. Ladies shied away from the edges, fearing up-skirt exposure. Bars or fencing of sorts had to be constructed to keep dogs and children from daily concussions.”

The article finishes with “A few cubic-yards of concrete and a couple of floorboards will do the trick. No one will ever know what once lay beneath” which in fact is what happened to many conversation pits including the TWA Flight Center at the JFK International Airport which has since been restored. In retrospect, the conversation pit is a fascinating look at a time when a living space didn’t revolve around the placement of a massive flat-screen television but instead was oriented on encouraging face-to-face socialization with people. Isn’t that what an ideal living space should do?

John Lennon, Help! 1965

What are your thoughts on the conversation pit? We’d love to hear how this classic interior feature inspires you!