Design Trends

The Comeback of the Conversation Pit

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “conversation pit”? Swank 1960’s and ’70s pads covered in bright patterns and textiles, with large comfy cushions strewn about the floor? Or continuous, curved seating arrangements designating a self-contained area? If that is what you envision, you would probably say the conversation pit is kitschy and outdated. But we see it making a comeback, with the sunken style being used to create modern and intimate conversation and lounge areas.

Conversations pits are a sunken space—either round or square—designed to facilitate socializing. Most often you will find them in the living room of the home, but conversation pits can be created anywhere and in any size. From outside spaces to media rooms and even bedrooms, the design of the conversation pit can be an oasis from today’s modern distractions of streaming television and computer screens, motivating us to engage in real human interaction.

After all, when you’re sitting across from each other and have nothing to look at besides each other, things won’t stay silent for long. As an added bonus, in today’s modern open floorplans, the conversation pit can create a space within as space. Here are a few of my favorites:

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This conversation pit is a wonderful mix of classic mid-century modern and contemporary style. I like how they chose to include an individual lounge chair instead of building in sofas on all three sides. The large wood coffee table adds warmth to the cool gray color palette. And by placing the television and stereo within view, this conversation pit is also the perfect spot to host friends for a movie night or TV binge-a-thon.

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I love the clean, minimal feel of this conversation pit. The cool, neutral tones evoke a sense of relaxation and calm. The wide step-down located at the corner of the arrangement combined with the integrated low lighting really make this a show-stopping design. Top it off with all those plush cushions, and who could resist lounging the day away in this comfy spot?

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I love the circular design of this conversation pit. The dark wood creates a visual border around the area while the light, neutral tone of the cushions and floor keep the space feeling light and open. A fireplace in the center was a common design element when conversation pits were in their heyday. This sleek and modern version offers wonderful balance between classic lines and contemporary fireplace design.

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Warm and inviting, this design uses the backs of the sofas to create a low barrier wall to frame the space. The large and open floor area provides plenty of room for the two featured lounge chairs and wood coffee table. The final touch of the stone faced fireplace ties all the elements together. All the natural elements of this space make me just want to curl up on the sofa and gaze out the window with a hot cup of tea.

Noyes House, Vassar College. Image via

This eye-catching oval conversation pit adds extra seating at key points around the surrounding frame with integrated cushions. Large in size, this conversation pit could definitely host a big social gathering. And the central coffee table provides the perfect spot to set up an impromptu bar.

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Designed by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard in 1957, this classic example of the conversation pit is lively and full of color. Definitely one of my favorites, this pit has eclectic pillows that were collected by the homeowners during their travels and add a personal, bohemian touch to the design. The almost completely enclosed space–with only a small staircase located at one end–was a typical design feature for conversation pits at that time. The light-reflecting tables complete the look, and the smaller ones can easily be moved around the pit as needed. This conversation pit is a perfect spot to spend the day with friends while partaking in some classic cocktails.

Everything that goes out of style eventually finds it’s way back to being fashionable again. With a modern take on the conversation pit, this architectural feature is easily at home in today’s large, open floorplan spaces.

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Nicole Tatem

Nicole Tatem

Nicole is the Sr. Site Merchandiser for Accessories, Kids, and Textiles at YLiving. She is obsessed with great design in all forms with a special love for jewelry, wine bottle labels, and tableware. When she’s not exploring the many museums and art galleries of the Bay Area, Nicole spends time looking for and visiting obscure and unusual destinations (locally and abroad) while practicing her photography skills.

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