What to Know About Sunken Living Rooms

October 12, 2023

The popular and unique sunken living room of the 1960s is gaining popularity once again. These spaces, also called conversation pits, are versatile and can be comfortable and welcoming. If you’re simply curious about this kind of living room or are considering adding one to your custom home design, here’s what to know about sunken living rooms:

What is a Sunken Living Room?

Sunken living rooms are a feature where the living room is lower than the rest of the home, like a pit. This is why these spaces are also called conversation pits. This kind of space requires a recession in the floor so this feature is best for homes with a crawl space or concrete slab foundations.

While in construction, the builder changes the foundation to create a sunken space in the concrete slab. For homes with a crawl space, the builder creates the recessed shape by framing lumber. They’re typically not recommended for homes with basements because the recession reduces headroom in a basement. Typically, basements are a better investment than crawl spaces, but if you want a sunken living room, you may need to compromise.

Another option would be to leave the foundation untouched and create the illusion of a recession in the living room by building up around it to elevate the floor around the sunken or recessed area. In this scenario, you are sacrificing some height in the living room instead of the basement, but also aren’t making permanent foundation changes.

The sunken living room can be nearly any shape, size, and depth. In the past, sunken living rooms were typically carpeted but any type of flooring can be used. This design feature is unique and can be incorporated into any custom home design.

8 Design Ideas For a Sunken Living Room

Sunken living rooms are versatile and can be designed to fit in any type of home. Here are a few design ideas for a sunken living room:

1. Embrace the Mid-Century Aesthetic

Sunken living rooms were at the height of popularity with mid-century design. Lean into exposed wood beams or wooden trim to add warmth and a rustic feel. Opt for mid-century vintage furniture to complement the sunken living room.

Choose mid-century color combinations to add to the sunken feel. Popular combinations include pink and teal, yellow and blue, or a neutral color like beige with an olive green.

2. Make it Modern

One of the most popular architectural designs for your custom home is the modern design. In this design trend, keep the sunken living room minimal with clean lines. Asking for built-in sofas or other seating will elevate the space and make it feel luxurious. Light up your space with modern lighting to emphasize the modern design. Or, choose recessed lighting to really highlight the minimalism of the space.

3. Bridge Indoor and Outdoor Living Spaces

Blending indoor and outdoor living spaces is a popular home design trend right now. A sunken living room is a great way to create a flow between your indoor and outdoor spaces. Your sunken living room can flow right out onto a patio for entertaining.

As you or guests enter a lower living room, it’ll feel natural to move outdoors. If you want more space, simply ask for larger sliding doors or even bifold patio doors. This will double your entertaining space without a barrier between the indoor and outdoor spaces.

4. Brighten Up Your Space With Plants

To keep your sunken living room from feeling too dark or drab, add plenty of plants. Plants can help create an inviting area for relaxing or entertaining. Try a neutral color palette and let plants and flowers add pops of color. Picking the right plants for your space is a useful indoor gardening tip and will set you up for success.

5. Lighten Up With a Skylight

Adding a skylight right above your sunken living room will fill the space with natural light. Plus, the skylight will accentuate this unique design feature. You can opt for a simple skylight or choose something larger and more dramatic if you want this area to be a show-stopper. They’re also a good great room design idea to try.

6. Make it Cozy With a Fireplace

Sunken living rooms are great at creating cozy gathering spaces. Increase the coziness with a fireplace. This will make the perfect spot in your home to decompress after a long day with a hot beverage and the sound of a crackling fire.

If you prefer a faux model or have no fireplace, you can still achieve a cozy feel. There are many different fireplace options for your custom home and you’re bound to find one that fits your needs.

7. Incorporate Built-Ins

Sunken living rooms often have a very specific design and it can be hard to add more furniture down the road. Avoid that problem by adding built-in shelving and storage.

Built-in shelving is an easy way to incorporate more storage into your custom home design and it combines style and function. Built-in bookshelves will offer ample storage for books and knick-knacks without separate bookshelves taking up space in the room.

8. Create a Reading Nook

If you or another family member is an avid reader, why not use part of your sunken living room to create a cozy reading nook? Sometimes all you need is a comfy chair and cozy blanket, along with good lighting that creates a great reading nook. Keeping it simple with plenty of good lighting is just one of the many reading nook ideas to try in your custom home.

Pros and Cons of Sunken Living Rooms

As with any design feature in a home, there are some pros and cons of sunken living rooms.

3 Pros of a Sunken Living Room

Sunken living rooms can offer some benefits to your home design:

1. They Help Break Up Large Spaces

Sunken living rooms are great for homes with open layouts because they can help create some dimension in a large living room. There are benefits of an open concept floor plan, but sometimes open space can feel monotonous.

Having a sunken living room gives your home some dimension without putting up walls. It can even help define spaces in an open concept floor plan. A sunken living room will allow you to still have an open concept layout while still creating separate living spaces.

2. Sunken Living Rooms Encourage Closeness

If you’re looking for a way to create a space that encourages a close and cozy atmosphere, sunken living rooms are a great choice. They feel separate enough from the rest of the home without closing the area off completely. Because the space feels separate, it can be an excellent area for family time, watching movies, or small, intimate gatherings.

3. They Can Make a Room Look and Feel Bigger

Sunken living rooms can help open up a room and make a space look and feel bigger. Not only does the recessed area of the sunken living room actually increase the distance between floor and ceiling to make a room feel bigger, but the atmosphere of open, airy spaciousness often extends to the rest of the room too. This is particularly true when paired with other design elements like natural light, balanced lighting, the right color palette, and more.

3 Cons of a Sunken Living Room

Just like any design feature, there are some potential drawbacks to adding a sunken living room to your home:

1. They Are Difficult to Change

Because of the very specific design feature, rooms featuring sunken living rooms can be difficult to change later and you do have to work within some parameters because of this structural feature.

It will be hard to rearrange furniture as most furniture is chosen and placed to fit just right. So if you’re someone who likes to rearrange your room layout every so often, this design may not be a great fit for your home.

2. Sunken Living Rooms Can Be Inconvenient

Due to the sunken nature of the living room, they may disrupt room flow and make things feel clunky or awkward. Having to go up and down steps to access the space may also be unsafe for those with mobility issues or who are unsteady on their feet.

3. There Are Extra Structural Considerations

Any time you add or change what will be a permanent feature in your home design, there are structural considerations that need to be made. Although you can create the illusion of a sunken living room without touching the foundation, a true sunken living room requires changes to the foundation to accommodate it. In addition to that, you also need to consider shape, size, depth, furniture, ceilings, surrounding rooms, and more.

An experienced builder can help you work through these elements, but it’s essential to work with someone trustworthy, reputable, and experienced. Getting something wrong or missing a detail when there are extra structural considerations and cause serious and expensive issues down the road. Knowing what to look for in a custom home builder and choosing the right partner for you makes a big difference in making sure you get what you want and what you need without the headaches.

This is just an overview of what to know about sunken living rooms. If you want to incorporate a sunken living room into your custom home design, contact Custom Home Group at 717-284-4090. We can help bring your dream home to life!