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Take a seat: Some say the 'conversation pit' is coming back

Some people know what a conversation pit is. People born after the 1970s may have no idea – unless they have been following what some trend-spotters have been saying.

Conversation pits ‑ think sunken seating areas ‑ are enjoying a moment.

Apartment Therapy this week posted a story about conversation pits with the headline: “This Beloved ’70s Trend is Back & Better Than Ever.”

A story in New York magazine in January carried the headline: “What’s a Conversation Pit (and How Can I Fake One?)”

A purple sofa pit in a California home made the cover of Dwell magazine last fall.

And months before that, Curbed, the real estate blog, reported on the return of the conversation pit. Included was a description of a home designed in 1957 by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen that featured “a square depression lined with bright-red couch seating, pink carpeting, and patterned pillows by designer Alexander Girard.” The home in Columbus, Ind., was designed for the industrialist J. Irwin Miller.

“This was an early example of the conversation pit, a shallow divot in the floor of a residential home, usually square or circular, filled with plush cushions and shag rugs,” wrote Kyle Chayka.

In the post this week from Apartment Therapy, senior writer Nancy Mitchell noted that “wildly inventive architect” Bruce Goff “worked a sunken seating area into a home he designed in Tulsa, Okla., in 1927.”

So it appears that conversation pits of various designs – residential or commercial, sunken or otherwise – have an interesting history. Now they are back – with mixed reviews, naturally.

They look mid-century cool, say some. They are a tripping/falling hazard, say others. They lower seating so they don’t block a nice view out the window. They are weird.

“I see myself breaking my neck or leg with something like that in my home,” one person commented.

One thing is clear; they are designed to bring people together – in the same way as people gather around a backyard fire pit or hang out on a large sectional sofa.

These days you can skip the shag carpeting of conversation pits of yesteryear - and even the idea of “sunken” and keep it ground-level.

The Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams collection has offered the Dr. Pitt for years. It’s described on the website as a “modern interpretation of a disco-era classic.” A seven-piece sectional includes two 96-inch sofas, one armless loveseat, two lower ottomans and two taller ottomans that can work this way: “Push the pieces together for a free-for-all slumber party of epic proportions or pull them apart to form intimate seating arrangements conducive to adult conversation and cocktails.”

As for all this talk about a comeback, Apartment Therapy’s Mitchell had this to say: “There’s something that feels suddenly very ‘now’ about the conversation pit, but also something that feels very retro about a setup that so clearly eschews the importance of the television. In a world where constant digital connection is the norm, having a spot to just sit and talk might be the ultimate luxury,” she wrote.

Just be sure to put your phone away.


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