Conversation pits are back! Here's how to tap into the unexpected retro trend resurgence

Conversation pits were a staple of the 70s, and now they're all over TikTok

All white basement living room, sunken sofa, central staircase.
(Image credit: Simon Brown/Future Publishing Ltd)

Is it any wonder that conversation pits have become such a big deal on TikTok? 

One of the hottest home decor trends of the year, conversation pits (or sunken sofas, if you prefer) are the perfect antidote to the isolation we felt during lockdown and the pandemic.

Why? Because they are one of those living room ideas that enhance feelings of togetherness, intimacy and connection. And they manage to achieve all of that while looking seriously cool at the same time, too.

Modern contemporary sunken living room interior design with comfortable sofa, TV on the wall

(Image credit: Getty)

'It’s interesting to see how decades-old styles are coming back around,' says Colette Toman, interior stylist at Make My Blinds. And it's especially 'fun to see conversation pits making a comeback.'

'Their sunken built-in seating brings people closer together, which is ideal for a social space, and quirkier than a standard sofa.'

Conversation pits are a VBD

Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, conversation pits were pretty much the only living room trend worth knowing about (see the post by 3D artist Joe Mortell below for a truly retro reimagining of the look).

Their popularity was largely due to the fact that architects and designers saw them as a way to avoid the clutter of furniture. Over time, though, they have disappeared from our homes – so much so that many of us will have only seen the once incredibly popular design on TV. Thanks, Mad Men!

'A conversation pit is an architectural feature that typically has built-in seating and is constructed below floor level,' explain Sabrina Panizza and Aude Lerin, co-founders and creative directors of PL Studio.

'Embedded within the floor of a larger room, they’re typically accessed by a small staircase that leads into an area of L or U-shaped modular seating that can be arranged in various ways.'

The dynamic design duo add: 'Moreover, sunken lounges can create a space within a space, becoming useful tools for creating broken-plan interiors and the illusion of taller ceilings.'

'They can also prevent furniture from obstructing outward views, so they are an appealing option for homeowners looking for a minimalist look and a cosy mid-century aesthetic.'

How to create your own conversation pit

I know what you're thinking: that all sounds great, but how can I recreate the look in my own living rooms without taking on a huge home renovation job?

Modern contemporary and comfortable home living room with comfy couch, sunken lounge

(Image credit: Getty)

Well, you'll be happy to know that there are a few options available to you.

1. Raise the floors

'A traditional sunken lounge, where the entire addition is recessed in comparison to the existing main level of the house could be an expensive exercise,' admit Sabrina and Aude. 

'A less pricey option is to raise the floor level of an area of the room and then create a sunken space in that area, accessed by a small set of steps.'

'This works best in properties with high ceilings, as you will lose a bit of height by raising part of the space. However, it will still give you the opportunity to sit on a lower level, making you feel more grounded and more engaged with other people around you.'

2. Dupe it using modular furniture

If that still sounds like a lot of work, do not despair: you can dupe a conversation pit using clever furniture arranging techniques.

'It couldn't be easier to achieve a similar effect without making major structural changes to your home,' says Francesca Hadland, styling expert at Bridgman

'Conversation pits typically position seats to face each other in a centrally focused fashion, a design that can be easily replicated with a modular sofa.'

'Transform your sitters into socialisers with a U-shaped sofa set and well placed coffee table at its centre and voila! You now have the perfect place to enjoy comfortable conversation, dinner parties and tabletop games with your guests.'

The Cloud Sundae Large Corner Sofa in Soft Teal

(Image credit: Snug)

'An authentic conversation pit often involves a hefty renovation, not to mention it’s a permanent design fixture, which is where our modular sofas come in handy as the perfect dupe,' agrees Dani Burroughs, head of product for Snug.

'Our large corner sofas can easily recreate this trending set up. Simply add a corner piece and snuggler to each side of a U-shaped sofa – this square seating shape allows for a very small walk way just like a conversation pit. 

'Embrace tactile textures and dial up the cosiness with complementary scatter cushions and throws for ultimate comfort. Just don't forget to add a low-level coffee table in the middle too for storing all the snacks.'

3. Give it the IKEA treatment

'By choosing low, modular sofas, you can give the space a distinctly lounge feel and offer an invitation to relax,' say Sabrina and Audre.

Enter the fray, then, IKEA!

JÄTTEBO modular sofa | £1,625 at IKEA

JÄTTEBO modular sofa | £1,625 at IKEA

This modular sofa has a simple shape with clean lines and is soft, comfortable – and practical with storage under the seat. Plus, you can arrange it any which way you like. Conversation pit, anyone?

Clotilde Passalacqua, home furnishing direction leader at IKEA UK & IE, is a big fan of the conversation pit's ability to add a 'clean, design focal point to living spaces' – and knows exactly how to recreate the look.

'We are seeing more and more people explore modern interpretations of the conversation pit in their homes and this is most easily done using modular furniture -  like the IKEA JÄTTEBO series,' says Clotilde. 

'The range could be used to create a similar effect to a conversation pit, by placing the pieces in a continuous U-shape. This adaption allows renters and those who do not want to commit to a full-on renovation the chance to enjoy the cosy, retro feel of a conversation pit without the fuss.'

4. Get creative with positioning

While you may feel inclined to purchase a new modular sofa to recreate a classic conversation pit vibe, there is an even easier option available to you.

'If you are looking for a simpler way to create the illusion of a conversation pit, you could try arranging your furniture in a way to foster this same feeling of relaxation and human connection, creating a conversation nook by facing furniture pieces towards each other,' says Sabrina and Aude. 

'It is important not to add a TV as that would prevent human interaction and evoke a cinema room feel instead!'

A sunken seating area in a minimalist window, overlooking a window

(Image credit: Getty)

Never have we ever been so inspired to transform our homes, quite frankly. Anyone else in the mood to get creative with their seating (and blast out some Abba on the speakers, obviously)?

Do conversation pits still exist?

Conversation pits were popular throughout the mid-20th century, but slowly disappeared from our homes over time –  largely due to practicality purposes. 

'In the wake of the pandemic, conversation pits started to make a comeback as people were looking for new ways to spend quality times with their loved ones,' explain Sabrina and Aude. 

'They exude a sense of togetherness and re-introduce the feeling of community that we are all longing for.'

Dani adds: 'Currently trending on TikTok, these nostalgic spaces prioritise a cosy chat over watching TV, encouraging people to make up for time lost over the past few years.'

Why did they stop doing conversation pits?

Just as we have seen with so many interiors trends, conversation pits eventually fell out of favour with the masses – partly because those with families found them impractical, but also just because they felt dated as new trends took hold.

Over time, a large number of conversation pits have been filled in during renovation to create a uniform floor level in people's homes. 

Branded an 'audacious architectural feature' by Francesca, the styling expert notes that a conversation pit 'may be unrealistic, whether for your budget or the size of your space.'

Thank goodness, then, that it couldn't be easier to achieve a similar effect without making major structural changes to your home.

Can you have an outdoor conversation pit?

'The conversation pit design can be replicated outdoors to create a more sociable outdoor space, whether in a sunken area or on a regular patio space,' says Francesca.

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.