Stressless Style

The Revival of the Mid-Century Modern Conversation Pit

The February 1959 issue of House & Garden unveiled the immaculate home of J. Irwin and Xenia Miller in a 20-page feature that took the design world by a storm. Designed by the great architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard, this residential home in Columbus, Indiana featured a sophisticated conversation pit lined with lavish, brightly colored pillows. And it was an instant hit!

The conversation pit and its cousin, the sunken living room, quickly became a staple of mid-century modern design. Saarinen even incorporated a brilliant red conversation pit into the 1962 TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Renovations are currently underway to restore the TWA Flight Center—and its iconic conversation pit—to its original glory.

And even Don Draper, the dapper main character on the sensational TV series Mad Men—a show set in the heart of the mid-century modern era—had a chic sunken living room in his Manhattan apartment.

The Antidote to Digital Screen Fatigue

Today, thanks to the resurgence of mid-century modern style, the retro conversation pit is once again popping up—or in this case, sinking down—into contemporary homes. Perhaps its newfound popularity is rooted in our innate desire to make significant connections with other humans. Unfortunately, our cluttered, digital lifestyle often leaves us binge-watching the latest streaming sensation instead of getting to know those around us through genuine conversation.

The very purpose of the conversation pit, a recessed area of a room often with built-in seating—is to encourage people to move closer together and to have relaxed, yet intimate, meaningful discussions. Within a well-designed conversation pit, everyone is focused on each other rather than an immense flat-screen TV.

No longer limited to just living rooms, the contemporary conversation pit can be found meticulously incorporated into an outdoor patio or deck, or even as a stunning addition to an infinity pool. Indoors, the modern conversation pit is the pinnacle of luxury and sophistication. These expertly designed step-down oases have become a popular and creative way to divide space within an open-concept home because they eliminate the need to define areas with walls.

Step into History

And what of the Miller House? In 2009, the Miller family donated it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and public tours began in 2011. You should take a tour of the incredible house and marvel at the seminal mid-century modern conversation pit. Perhaps you’ll get inspired and finally be ready to step down into a stylish conversation pit of your own.

Not quite ready for serious construction? Learn how you can transform any room into a conversation pit, ditch the digital clutter, and rekindle meaningful friendships.