This Cozy Retro Home Feature Is My Roman Empire

published Dec 12, 2023
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collage with three photos of conversation pits in homes
Credit: Photos: Betcha Dela Cruz-Atabug, Getty Images

Over the past few months, the Very Online have noticed that an unusually significant population of men seem to ruminate frequently on — of all things — the Roman Empire. For uninitiated readers, this trend involves women asking the men in their lives if they ever think about the Roman Empire (and if so, how often). Their responses, recorded for historical record keeping and/or internet clout, have been downright shocking. Apparently, some people think about it multiple times a day! Perhaps something’s in the water, and that something is post-Republican ancient Rome. Wild! 

While ancient Rome takes up absolutely zero space in my precious brain, there is another thing that does. My own personal Roman Empire is the conversation pit, an architectural home feature that incorporates built-in seating into a depressed section of flooring within a room. 

These days, my idea of socializing involves cultivating genuine connection and enthusiastic conversation, which rules out the loud bars and house parties of my ‘20s. And, unfortunately, my post-pandemic social anxiety sometimes presents other obstacles; I struggle with small talk and stress out during one-on-one hangs. To me, the conversation pit feels like the ideal incubator for my current brand of socializing. Smaller, more intimate groups gather together, sinking beneath the room’s foundation to exist on a separate plane from the nearby reality … all without having to leave home! 

At any given time of day, my brain transports me to a world where my current living room sports the conversation pit. It would serve as the ideal lounge for homemade cocktail hour with a small group of friends. I can visualize piling a group of girlfriends into the pit for a rowdy girls’ night (or even an adult sleepover!), sharing favorite snacks, gossipping, and ignoring whatever movie is playing in the background. And this retro home feature is especially perfect for hosting the three to four guests who end up staying at the house party far after most of the guests have already left. The sleepy afterparty is my favorite type of late-night hang!

I’m not sure who the first person was to say, “Hey, you know what would really elevate my cocktail party? Putting a hole in the floor and then making my loved ones sit in it.” But whoever they were, they were spot-on. When construction workers reviewed the blueprints for the era’s new builds, did they greet the task of constructing the pit with excitement or dread? Did homeowners view the pit as a novelty bonus, like how some families have an in-ground pool or hot tub or swing set or Jack and Jill bathrooms?

And the Carrie Bradshaw in me can’t help but wonder: Why did we let this fabulous home feature fade into the recesses of our memories? (Although, the number of times my great-aunts tripped into our sunken living room in the early ’90s, causing a mild medical panic, could serve as one indication.) My mental rolodex of unanswered questions takes up significant real estate. Roman Empire dudes, while I will never identify with your specific obsession, I must admit: I get it. 

If conversation pits are also your Roman Empire (a sentence that wouldn’t have existed in early 2023), there’s good news: You don’t need to spend your life living in an impeccably retro corner of your own psyche. There are workarounds to achieve the same aesthetic of the conversation pit without hiring a contractor and burrowing into the ground like a fabulous ‘70s squirrel. Floor pillows or gussied-up mattresses, plenty of blankets, a low coffee table or centerpiece, and moody lighting should do the trick, and can serve as a permanent fixture in your home or a makeshift set dressing for a memorable night in. 

Next time you see me staring into space, be sure to watch your step and pop down and join me in my conversation pit-averse!