Whatever happened to the seating platform, the conversation pit?

Modern Seating Platform

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.

conversation pit

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.

At the lake

The Standard Hotel Downtown LA

Miller House, Columbus, IN, designed by Eero Saarinen, 1957

miller house by saarinen, photo by ezra stoller

Saarinen's Miller House, 1957, via High Steel Heels 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.

Edersheim Apartment by Paul Rudolph, 1970

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.

Bavinger House by architect Bruce Goff

Bruce Goff's Nicol House, by Robert McLaughlin

teen conversation pit

Teen conversation pit, above; below, the early 70s living/dining room of sculptor Sydney Butche—it appeared in House Beautiful in 1972.

Seating platform, house of sculptor Sydney Butche

Below, some historical precedents:

Estrado, from the Museo Casa Cervantes

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 .

Topkapi Harem - Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince

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.

Postcard - House in Rhodes

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.

Dutch conversation pit

Conversation pit

Conversation Pit

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.

The Pearl Hotel

Furnishings 13

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to “Whatever happened to the seating platform, the conversation pit?”

  1. Alice Says:

    Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy this blog. You must have a great file system. This entry about conversation pits was especially good. And shag rugs! Yikes!!!

  2. Sarah Says:

    great post! I would like to have a seating platform inside my conversation pit.

  3. admin Says:

    Don’t you want a conversation pit inside your seating platform? PS Hi Sarah!

  4. admin Says:

    PS Alice: Thank you! But my file system is atrocious! Thank god for all the photographers on Flickr though, and their diligence at tagging their photos correctly.

  5. John Hopper Says:

    Thanks for the great post on the much maligned, but sorely missed, at least by me, conversation pits.

    Seating arrangements in many contemporary interiors now either seem to be arranged around the plazma screen, or are in what I think was originally termed, at least in the UK, as the ‘California Look’. That is two couches facing each other seperated by a coffee table.

    Conversation pits seem informal and relaxed and you are always facing someone, so you can always engage in conversation, which is the point I suppose.

  6. Jonathan Says:

    Wow, what a great blog about conversation pits. I’ve been curious about them. I’ve only seen them in retro books, but not in real life.

    I have wondered where have they gone to. I also wondered if they were just popular in design books of the 1970s and never made it in the mainstream. I’ve been house-shopping for a few years and have never seen them.

    I also wondered if there is any reason to speculate if conversation pits have evolved to sunken living room. Now, I’ve seen plenty of sunken rooms and I’ve even lived in a house with one when I was a child.

    However, I think sunken living rooms were around before conversation pits were.

  7. Diary of A Teenage Girl at 3LD « Culturebot Says:

    […] set for the production is a 70’s style “conversation pit” with Minnie’s bedroom in the middle. The design is Sensurround in the best possible […]

  8. Carpeted Pits & Platforms « Supergraphic Strategies Says:

    […] In order of appearance, the images in the first section under “Carpet Pits & Platforms” are from: Living for Today (1972), The House Book (1974), unknown, unknown, Ugly House Photos (1974), and The Bed and Bath Book (1978). The images in “Carpet & Cushion Couches” are from: The Bed and Bath Book (1978), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), The Bed and Bath Book (1978), and The Bed and Bath Book (1978). The images in “Modifications” are from: Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), The Bed and Bath Book (1978), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Bloomingdale’s Book of Home Decorating (1973), unknown, and Sunset Children’s Rooms &Play Yards (1980). The first image and the text blocks in “Construction” are from The House Book (1974) and the remaining images are from this website (2005)- look at the link under “Riser Construction.” Additionally check out a post on pits and platforms by Ouno Design. […]

  9. The brain-friendly hotel « The Nature of Innovation Says:

    […] for conversation. Heck, we might consider a neuro-friendly, amorphous version of the 1950′s conversation pit (with universal accessibility, of […]

  10. The Big Wait | On Life and Lava Says:

    […] was alone in my (previously secret) love of houses with sunken living rooms, but it seems there are more of us out there. Happy Friday! GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  11. Pinnacles of the Pits, Pt 1 | Knibb Design Blog Says:

    […] you to the Ouno design blog for material and […]

Leave a Reply