Return of the Conversation Pit: The End of Our Digital Fixation?

 
 
Contemporary conversation pit by Craig Steely Architects. Photograph by Darren Bradley

Contemporary conversation pit by Craig Steely Architects. Photograph by Darren Bradley

If you wanted to keep up with the Joneses in the 60s, your living room would have featured a conversation pit. This quirky design concept was all the rage from the 50s to the 70s, and is essentially a sunken floor space with lots of cushions and seating – perfect for parties, family games and as the name implies, conversation.

A recent study carried about by PerfectHome found that Britons spend almost 10 years of their life watching television. That’s pretty depressing. Even worse, a report titled The Decade of Digital Dependency found that 54% of people look at their phones whilst talking to friends and family. Sounds to me like it could be time to go back to that old-fashioned living room activity called socialising.

Conversation pit in Don and Megan Draper’s apartment, Mad Men

Conversation pit in Don and Megan Draper’s apartment, Mad Men

Let’s take a step back from 2019 to 1927, when architect Bruce Goff designed one of the first known conversation pits in the Adah Robinson house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Following this in 1958, Modernist architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard designed one of the earliest widely publicised conversation pits for the iconic Miller House, Indiana.

Miller House 1958

Miller House 1958

Conversation pits went on to be installed on the regular in many Modernist homes up until the 1970’s - when they were very quickly dubbed unfashionable. An article from Time magazine in 1963 called ‘Fall of the Pit’ captures the end of their short-lived popularity:

But whatever the activity delegated to the area, there were dangers inherent in its design. 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.

However, 50 years on we’re starting to see the Conversation Pit crop up again. New York’s female-only co-working space ‘The Wing’ recently installed a jewel-toned pit, pictured below. 

‘The Wing’, New York

‘The Wing’, New York

And another example - this luxe carpet-covered pit in Middle Park House, Barcelona by KPDO:

Middle Park House, Barcelona

Middle Park House, Barcelona

So why are they making a comeback? Perhaps it’s just our fascination with eccentric design fads of the past. Or maybe it stems from a desire to get back to an age of real life conversation - which on a deeper level could signal a shift in our digital fixation and consequential lack of face-to-face socialising.

To me, conversation pits are representative of a time when living rooms weren’t oriented around a flat screen TV or families being glued to their phones. So whilst for most of us a conversation pit isn’t a realistic home installation, I think we could all adopt the concept behind the design and swap our screens for some real life socialising. Doesn’t that sound liberating?

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