Above, the 1970s modern two-level platform in painter Frank Stella’s loft, from the classic book Inside Today’s Home. Below, a recent photo of the renovated 1950s conversation pit in the Number 31 Hotel in Dublin.
Maybe it’s because I grew up around a hip artist aunt whose 60s/70s handmade house had a seating platform in it, but I am mourning the disappearance of the freeform seating arrangement. And apparently I am not alone. The seating platform and conversation pit of the postwar period (sort of the inverse of each other but amounting to the same thing, mood-wise) probably have their origins in the interior design of the Middle East or North Africa. Over time this form spread to regions within that sphere of influence, such as Greece, Turkey and Spain. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, conversation pits and raised seating areas looked variously Eastern, hippie, shagadelic, or modernist, but the effect was the same. Obviously architectural design influences mood and behaviour, and these seating styles do inherently invite a completely different form of socializing. And a different quantity of it. As a kid at my aunt’s I would spend all day on her padded window seat platform, which was large enough for about 6 people (maybe 4 stretched out) and which was covered with a huge, natural pale brown Greek flokati and pillows, far more comfortable than any couch or chair. Now when I visit her we still invariably congregate there. Of the two styles I think I actually prefer the seating platform, because it allows you to be even more free-form and informal than most sunken pits, and because it’s cheaper to build. Below, seating platform/window seat in British Columbia; further below, seating platform in the Standard Hotel in LA, by ChimayBleue on Flickr.
Above, three photos of perhaps the most famous modern conversation pit of all: it’s in Eero Saarinen’s Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, built in 1957. The top two photos are recent; the last photo is how it originally looked.
Above, the Edersheim apartment by architect Paul Rudolph, 1970. Most Paul Rudolph houses featured a conversation pit or equivalent seating arrangement. Below is a related but sort of rustic space age option: suspended sitting and sleeping pods in architect Bruce Goff‘s experimental Bavinger House (1950-55; photo by Lizzy Brooks is from here). Below that is another Bruce Goff building, the Nicol House of 1965, photo by Robert McLaughlin.
Teen conversation pit, above; below, the early 70s living/dining room of sculptor Sydney Butche—it appeared in House Beautiful in 1972.
Below, some historical precedents:
The seating area above, an “estrado,” is from Cervantes’ 16th C house, now the Museo Casa Cervantes:
Estrado is the name given to the reception room which is characteristically taken up in part by the a dais ( the estrado itself) covered with rugs where normally the women sat in Moorish fashion on cushions following the Spanish custom of Islamic origin which foreign visitors found very surprising although it in Spain it survived practically until the Bourbon era.
There are numerous testimonies to the use of the estrado, both in literature and in painting in Spain and in the inventories which document household contents. It was normally the most richly decorated room in the house and the one used for receiving visitors .
Above, the Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince (Çifte Kasırlar / Veliahd Dairesi), via onethirteen. Below, the low seating platform (at right) on Crete is typical of many traditional Greek houses, though some of them are more comfortably padded than this one.
If building code (or cost) prohibits conversation pits and sunken living rooms, then raised seating platforms are a great cheap substitute – for that matter, make a raise platform with a recessed area within it. If you have an appetite for more images, see here and here, and there are more photos below. And if you’ve ever made one of these, man I’d like to see it.
Above, Leslie’s California house with original sunken living room; below, lounge in San Diego hotel with original seating platform. Click on photos for sources.