Are sunken lounges the next big thing or just a blast from the past?
A collective obsession with nostalgia is a phenomenon that’s making waves across all cultural spheres: music, art, and of course, interior design. It’s one of the driving forces behind the increase in popularity of 70s inspired interiors, the return of 80s pastel shades, the ever-enchanting concept of ‘cottagecore,’ the newfound quest to pick-up old-fashioned skills like knitting, crocheting and pottery-making and, it could be said: the sunken lounge.
While nostalgia has been working its magic, months of catching up with loved ones online has led to a desire to detox from technology and connect face-to-face. And, in the home design space, when you combine the desire for connection with the warm fuzzy feelings nostalgia creates, it makes sense that the sunken lounge – also known as a ‘conversation pit’ – should re-emerge. Just this year, a home in inner Melbourne made property headlines for an “unusual” sunken lounge – something the agents referred to as a rare find in a newly built home.
Here, we run through what a sunken lounge is, what their advantages and disadvantages are, and how you can channel the spirit of the conversation pit trend in your home without the need for an excavator.
What is a sunken lounge?
As the name suggests, a sunken lounge is a living space set into a sunken section of flooring. Occupants must descend into the space – traditionally furnished with custom, built-in lounges – via a small set of steps. Its other moniker, the conversation pit, hints at its purpose. To bring people together for the purpose of conversation rather than to stare at a television screen.
Are sunken living rooms dated?
Sunken lounges and conversation pits peaked in popularity from the 1950s to the 1970s – although that may be changing.
Architect Jeremy Bull of Alexander & Co included a compact sunken lounge in the redesign of his family home in Sydney. Not only did the in-built lounge save precious space, it also gave the rear section of the home an uninterrupted view of the garden.
Advantages of sunken lounges:
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of a sunken lounge is the sense of intimacy they create – especially when they’re positioned close to a crackling, open fire. Deep and meaningful conversations are almost a certainty of the setting.
Architecturally speaking, however, conversation pits are a useful device to create the illusion of higher ceilings. In mid-century homes, where floor-to-ceiling windows were favoured, a sunken living room prevented furniture from obstructing the view.
When designing her eco-friendly home in the Barrabool Hills, artist Natalie Anderson prioritised the inclusion of a sunken lounge. “I wanted to borrow from the things I loved in my childhood: split levels, sunken lounges and plywood walls,” she told Inside Out.
Downsides to sunken lounges:
Conversation pits aren’t for everyone. The stepped-down design can be a trip hazard, not only for the uncoordinated, but for the elderly and small children too.
Building a conversation pit is also a costly exercise – not only do they require forward-planning during a renovation or new build, they may also require the commission of custom furniture and cabinetry.
Another downside to the sunken lounge is that they can clash with yet another beloved element of Australian interior design: the open floor plan. If you’re preparing food in the kitchen and have guests in the sunken lounge, the disparity in height can make for an awkward, or even difficult, exchange.
How to get the look in your home:
There’s never been a better time to create a ‘cheat’s’ version of the conversation pit at home. Rather than creating a true sunken lounge, you can evoke the spirit of the concept in your living room by simply arranging your furniture in a way that fosters connection.
The curved furniture trend lends itself well to this idea, as circular lounges with generous proportions positions people to gather and chat. TV technology that recedes into the background (like Samsung’s The Frame) will also limit distractions in the living room.
Rather than committing the owners of an elegant Melbourne home to a traditional conversation pit, interior designer David Hicks opted for a large round sofa. “Although not sunken, the circular white linen sofa is reminiscent of a conversation pit,” he told Belle.