The mid century conversation pit: A photo timeline of that fascinating 60s and 70s living room trend

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

The mid century conversation pit

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Is this vintage decor trend poised to make a comeback?

Ever since the 80s, the iconic conversation pit — in all its campy glory — has seemed hopelessly out-of-date.

But if there was ever a time for this unique interior decor trend to make a comeback (against all odds!), now may be a good time.

Between our current love for the mid-century modern aesthetic and our screen time burnout, a sunken living room that centers in-person connection over TV screens is particularly suited for this moment.

Have a scroll through three decades of conversational kitsch — maybe it will inspire your next home improvement project!

ALSO SEE
125 vintage home plans used to build millions of mid-century houses across America

1951

An early curved conversation pit designed by Bruce Goff

The first modern conversation pit is credited to architect Bruce Goff, a Frank Lloyd Wright protege, who reportedly started experimenting with the concept back in the 1920s.

Here’s a sunken pit in the living room of a truly distinctive home he designed in the early 50s. (From LIFE magazine – March 19, 1951) 

Early conversation pit in LIFE Mar 19, 1951 Bruce Goff home architecture


1953

An early square conversation pit

This living room photo taken at the Miller house in Columbus, Indiana, is from the mid-50s, when the sunken pit fad started really picking up steam.

Miller house, Columbus, Indiana, 1953-57 (LOC)


1959

Fifties conversation pit with red wrap-around couches

This square convo pit is a sibling to the one above, and was built for in House & Garden magazine’s Hallmark House No. 3 back in the fifties. (PS: Don’t miss A mid-century modern show home: H&G’s Hallmark house for 1963.)

Here’s what the magazine said at the time:

A brilliantly cushioned well in the floor is a new kind of conversation center.

The vexing question of where and how to arrange a conversation group never arose in planning this house. It was simply built into the floor.

This idea with classic precedents is perfectly feasible when architecture and decorating are fused.

The unsightly tangles of chair and sofa legs, the ubiquitous end tables, the traffic barrier are all missing.

Instead, the architect’s exciting concept of fluid and closed space has created inside the open living room a smaller “room,” compact and inviting, with the seating capacity of four 15-foot sofas.

Rich, textured silks from all over the world cover seats and pillows (in summer, all covers and the rug are removed and replaced by cooler colors).

For entertaining, flexible groups of chairs and tables are set up near the fireplace, but it is to the colorful center oasis that guests naturally gravitate for after-dinner coffee and talk and where members of the family retire for a relaxing hour with a book.

red-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-mid-century-1959

Conversation center provides a raft of seating without blocking floor area or vista through window. Marble coping makes handy counter for ash trays, glasses.

Padouk wood steps to conversation center are laminated with rubber strips to make them skidproof.

Floor-level view is uncluttered by furniture; even the underside of the plane is lacquered dark-red so it won’t be distracting. Only ornamental plants, accessories meet the sitters’ gaze.

ALSO SEE
Tour the ultimate mid-century modern house: The Scholz Mark 58 Home of the Year

1960

Mid century modern lounging area

This sleek circular seating area is studded with orange silk throw pillows, and includes several tray tables in addition to a cylindrical table in the center.

conversation pit sunken living room mid century 1960


1962

Mid century conversation pit with groovy fireplace

This mod living room features a big fireplace and light green chimney right in the center of the action. We’re not sure how well the chat would flow with that flue blocking eye contact, though.

Bonus points for the green space-age tables that sit ready with big matching ashtrays. Fortunately, the room can get a little fresh air from the backyard’s adjacent low seating area.

green-mid-century-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-fireplace-1962


1963

Vintage sunken living room with a medieval flair

This room is proof that not all the mid-century trends were even remotely modern! (Those light fixtures look like they came out of a dungeon in the middle ages.)

We love the velvety red velour upholstery on the inset sofa that curves gracefully around the center of the room. The area’s so big that there’s even enough space inside it for a dining table.

The curvy pattern made with old-school two-tone inlaid vinyl flooring gives the space some extra verve.

red-mid-century-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-1963


1965

A cozy sunken 3-sided sectional, accented with huge glass globe hanging lights

By the mid-60s, magazines started warning homeowners off of the trend. For all of its socializing features, there were some obvious flaws — the risk of injury ranking highest, especially given that these recessed areas rarely had safety rails.

As you can see through the images below, despite the possible dangers, this fad still had another decade or so of life left in it.

DON’T MISS: Hide-a-Bed sofas from the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s

red-mid-century-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-1965


1966

A courtyard’s huge and super-dramatic patio-style sunken pit with fireplace

Randolph Wedding created this outdoor living room in the center of his circular house so he could control the view.

Each room surrounding it opens to the center with a covered deck. Below the circular rim is a sitting area with a fireplace and built-in benches. The glazed roof lets in plenty of sunshine.

Round retro seating area with fireplace inside

MORE: 47 vintage backyard ideas you’ll want to re-create for a relaxing sixties-style outdoor vibe


1966

Retro Chromcraft Commander furniture set in sunken living room

While this mid-century furniture brand still exists (it’s Chromcraft Revington now), you’ll only find the iconic Commander line on resale sites these days (where pieces in good condition can, ahem… command top dollar).

In this vintage ad, however, the awkwardly posed humans nearly upstage the slim retro sofas and chairs

blue-green-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-mid-century-modern-chromcraft-commander-1966


1967

Modern living room concept

Embedded in an area with faux-brick style vinyl flooring, this peek into a sixties living/family room offers a glimpse of middle-class style.

mid-century-brick-floor-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-1967

ALSO SEE
180 radiantly beautiful vintage table lamps from all through the 20th century

1968

Furs & cushions for a soft and cozy conversation space

While this one doesn’t feature a sunken space, we thought that all of the fuzzy and furry floor-level pads and pillows around the stone fireplace certainly qualified it as a hippie-friendly convo area.

rustic-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-stone-fireplace-1968


1969

Oh-so-avocado! Fully carpeted mid-century conversation space

The stairs here don’t just lead to the sunken area, they’re an integral part of the room. The throw pillows (and faux Roman style fruit tray) invite visitors to sit down and stay awhile.

ALSO SEE
Vintage shag carpets: The super-popular plush carpeting from the 70s

green-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-mid-century-1969


1970

Circle-themed 70s conversation pit

conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-1970

MORE: See singer/TV star Dinah Shore’s Beverly Hills home – including her living room, kitchen & guest house


1970

Early open concept living room with a sunken convo pit

This living room/family room seating area is nestled into a lowered area adjacent to the kitchen in this home.

The reddish/brown upholstery gives a nice burst of color to a room otherwise dominated by a charcoal-colored slate floor and grey/white palette. 

conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-kitchen-1970


1973

Retro reading pit with space-age curves

Embedded in a red home library — and heavily accented with white shag carpeting — this mod reading area shows that living rooms weren’t the only places these cozy sunken spaces could be found.

red-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-bookcase-library-1973


1976

Extra on every level! Deep and fully-tiled living room

This multilevel, multi-story hexagon-shaped sunken conversation space features a fireplace that echoes the hex shape, and is completely tiled, to boot. (Ever faithful to the theme, even the wall tiles are shaped like hexagons.)

This is a later example of the conversation pit trend in its waning days. This one definitely seems more dramatic than comfortable… and more drained swimming pool style than living room?

tile-conversation-pit-sunken-living-room-fireplace-1976


1979

Retro step-down two-tier carpeted conversation area

This living room was divided into three areas on separate levels: a reading cove with banquettes and shelves, a built-in seating area with display cases for artifacts and sculpture, and carpeted steps that serve as seating, surrounding a see-through prefabricated steel fireplace.

This series of small spaces within the whole gives a feeling of intimacy for day-to-day family living. (From House Beautiful magazine, January 1979)

Retro step-down conversation area home decor (1979)

DON’T MISS: A ’70s designer dream house: The American Home of 1974

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see exclusive retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Because the fun never ends!

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

See some of our books!