One of the first — and chicest — conversation pits is in the Miller House, Columbus, Indiana, designed by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard in the 1950s
Yes I know, you think 'conversation pit,' you think of bad shag carpeting, questionable combinations of green, orange and brown, and maybe the occasional key party. But like a lot of things that were popular in the '70s (platform shoes, flared jeans, California cuisine), conversation pits can be great, when done properly…
For me, the appeal of the conversation pit is the sense of comfort and informality. I bought my purple velvet Chesterfield sofa because it's so pretty, but it's not exactly the place to cuddle up and watch TV. And my lifestyle doesn't really demand formal sitting/dining areas — I can even imagine dinner parties nestled in a conversation pit with a big wooden square serving as a tabletop.
Conversation pits were originally created by Modernist architects and designers looking to maximize space and horizontality in their interiors. Look at one of the first, and chicest, conversation pits in history: one designed by Alexander Girard and Eero Saarinen (images 1 & 2), warm and vibrant but also sleek, preserving the sightlines across the space. But from those lofty origins they seemed to go horribly astray, ending up in a fuzzy sea of shag carpeting (image 3).
But now I'm sensing the potential for a conversation pit comeback. The New Mexico architect Bart Prince has included conversation pits in at least a couple of his projects, creating a kind of organic, clutter-free futurism (image 4). And Maxwell often talks about the inspiration he's gotten from Terence Conran, whose House Book from 1974 emphasized liveliness and comfort over formality, and featured a few choice photos of casual — dare I say sexy? — conversation pits (image 5).
An actual pit is not really feasible for most of us, which is why my real object of desire is the Dr. Pitt sectional from Mitchell Gold Bob Williams — but it's roughly $7000 fully loaded, so for now it's just resting quietly in my Svpply, taunting me as my Chesterfield gently rejects me onto my non-shag carpet.
What do you think, ready for a comeback, or best relegated to history's dustbin?
1: Sarah Catherine Design; 2 Ouno Design; 3 Boing Boing; 4 Photo by Robert Reck for Architectural Digest; 5 Conran's House Book, via Apartment Therapy; 6 Mitchell Gold Bob Williams