The influential early conversation pit in Saarinen's Miller House

A conversation pit is an architectural feature that incorporates built-in seating into a depressed section of flooring within a larger room. This area often has a table in the center as well. The seats typically face each other in a centrally focused fashion, bringing the occupants closer together than free-standing tables and chairs normally would. In residential design this proximity facilitates comfortable human conversation, dinner parties, and table top games. Their disadvantages include accidental falls and uncomfortable interactions with those standing above in the main room.[1][2]


Saarinen's restored conversation pit at the TWA Flight Center
Looking down on the dining area and conversation pit on the BB ranch.

The conversation pit was popular from the 1950s to the 1970s, seen across Europe as well as North America.[3] Modernist architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard used a conversation pit as the centerpiece of the influential Miller House (1958) in Columbus, Indiana, one of the earliest widely publicized applications of the concept.[4][5] A red conversation pit (since covered, but recently restored) was later incorporated by Saarinen into the 1962 TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.[6] Other influential residential projects include the 1955 Cohen House in Sarasota, Florida, by architect Paul Rudolph, for whom the conversation pit became a signature element,[7] and many of Bruce Goff's houses[2] beginning in the 1920s, including the Adah Robinson house in Tulsa, Oklahoma[8] and the 1965 Nicol House in Kansas City, Missouri.[9]

Many conversation pits have been filled in during renovation to create a uniform floor level.[1] The conversation-pit concept influenced the popularity of the somewhat less radical sunken living room,[2] most familiar from the Dick Van Dyke Show on TV.[2] In the late 1990s conversation pits and sunken living rooms were offered in home plans as a way of creating an informal space within a large space.[10]

Season 5 of Mad Men, released in 2012 and set in 1966, featured a conversation pit in Don Draper's new Manhattan apartment.[11] The show's stylish living room led to a reappreciation of the conversation pit and mid-century modern design in general.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Design: Fall of the Pit". Time. February 22, 1963.
  2. ^ a b c d Germany, Lisa (March 1983). "Architects in Wonderland". Texas Monthly.
  3. ^ "Conversation Pits and Cul-de-sacs: Dutch Architecture in the 1970s". 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  4. ^ Roman, Antono (2003). Eero Saarinen: An Architecture of Multiplicity. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-56898-595-4.
  5. ^ Stephens, Suzanne (February 2011). "Miller House and Garden". Architectural Record. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  6. ^ Smith, G.E. Kidder (1996). Source Book of American Architecture: 500 Notable Buildings from the 10th Century to the Present. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 446. ISBN 1-56898-024-8.
  7. ^ Treadwell, Sally (November–December 2007). "The conversation pit". Old House Interiors: 16.
  8. ^ "Adah Robinson Residence". Archived from the original on 3 January 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  9. ^ Gabriel, J. Francois (1997). Beyond the Cube: The Architecture of Space Frames and Polyhedra. John Wiley & Sons. p. 52. ISBN 0-471-12261-0.
  10. ^ Daspin, Eileen (August 1, 1999). "Conversation Pit is Groovy Again". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  11. ^ Kambhampaty, Anna P. (July 22, 2022). "Sit Down. Let's Talk. The Conversation Pit Is Back". The New York Times. Retrieved July 25, 2022.