What Is a Conversation Pit?

Conversation pit in modern living area

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Conversation pits have made a huge comeback in recent years. From living rooms to pool areas, conversation pits are offering an intimate, welcoming area for real, face-to-face conversation and connection, something most people are prioritizing in the increasingly digital era we live in. 

The conversation pit was likely inspired by design features found in Japanese homes as well as British inglenooks. An inglenook is a small enclosed space positioned around the fireplace, with the purpose of providing a gathering spot. 

The first conversation pits of the modern era are credited to Bruce Goff in 1927. However, it wasn’t until 1952 that Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard designed the famous conversation pit in the Miller House, which made this feature a talking point in the design world. The conversation pit experienced its heyday of popularity from the 1950s to the 1970s but it hasn’t lost its appeal, as seen in the recent revival of this trend.

Fun Fact

The JFK International Airport is famous for its large, red conversation pit designed by Eero Saarinen, the same man who worked on the Miller House conversation pit.  

Conversation Pit Fundamentals 

The very foundation of a conversation pit is the idea of a lowered seating area for people to gather. The backs of cushions or sofas are generally at (or only slightly higher) than ground level, while the seating and floor of the area dip down into the floor, creating a pit or hole. A small staircase is used to descend into the pit. This gathering area keeps the rest of the space open and free from bulky furnishings. 

Within the pit, cushions or long sofa benches are positioned in L or U shapes, creating the perfect space to give undivided attention to whoever you are lounging and conversing with. 

Key Features of Conversation Pits

Besides its dug-out design, conversation pits are known for their cozy, cushioned textures and welcoming atmosphere. Soft cushions, thick carpets, and a plethora of pillows are used in these spaces to encourage a feeling of relaxation. Low-profile seating and small tables are used to create a grounded, connected atmosphere.  

How to Achieve This Look Without a Built-In Conversation Pit

Although adding a full, built-in conversation pit may be your ideal situation, it may not be attainable for your current home. Whether it’s the cost or simply the fact that you live in an apartment or condo where such a reconfiguration would be impossible, a true-to-type conversation pit isn’t the only way to benefit from the style and purpose of this seating space. 

Conversation pits aim to create meaningful gathering spaces where relaxation and real human connection are the goals. With that in mind, try arranging your furniture in a way to foster this same feeling, creating a conversation nook. Imitate the layout of a conversation pit by facing furniture pieces towards each other, such as in an L or U shape. 

Another way to create a grounded, welcoming space is by choosing low-profile furniture. Choose low-to-the-ground sofas, stylish poufs, and even floor cushions to really fill a space and invite everyone to take a seat wherever they feel most comfortable. 

Try using a large rug, such as a thick, shag rug, to make the floor inviting and comfortable for those who sit on it. Using a large area rug will also help to visually section off the space, making it feel like a separate conversing area.

Fun Fact

Conversation pits aren’t limited to the inside of a home. Conversation pits are also a popular feature to incorporate in outdoor gathering areas, such as pool conversation pits. These can be found next to or even in the middle of a pool, making it feel as if you are sitting in the water without ever getting wet.  

  • When were conversation pits popular?

    Conversation pits really took off after the construction of the famous Miller House in 1952. These unique gathering areas stayed popular through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

  • Why did conversation pits stop being popular?

    It is thought that conversation pits lost their popularity for a variety of different reasons. Some steered away from them for safety reasons, as the pit can easily be fallen into if you aren’t looking. Those with children were also worried about small children falling in. Another reason has to do with the way modern living spaces are set up. Now, most living areas have televisions or other electronics that the furniture is turned to face, rather than the furniture being turned to face each other.  

  • Are conversation pits expensive?

    This depends on whether you are building one in a new build or are adding one to an existing structure. Either way, you can expect to spend thousands if you are creating a true, below-ground-level conversation pit. Adding on to a new build will be easier than renovating an existing space.