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Sunken Living Rooms & Elevated Expectations

Thinking outside the box, about the box.

Like crows feet for the eyes of the home, a sunken living room can give away a properties age. That’s not a bad thing, its just a thing. So let’s talk about it.

“Well, they aren’t making any more of it.” One will say to the other without fail whenever contemplating the purchase of land. Nobody laughs but both will nod in quiet agreement at this submission of sage sentiment. What these two fictional (but very much inspired by a true story) characters are correctly touching on for the sake of my point is that a finite asset naturally increases in value over time. Land deserves your attention because of this very trait but so too does the finite space within your home.

Welcome to the great indoors.

A frontier populated by problem solvers and dreamers alike where expansion is forever inward and perspective is everything. Entire aesthetic movements are based upon the artistry of presentation and uniquely arranging the same puzzle pieces in a sensible manner. A canvas with which the edges are defined by the outside walls and it is up to the designer to pontificate the interiors purpose and find a way to present space that both accentuates and elevates the subject.  Furniture can only go so far and design runs bone deep.

The subconscious reaction to more traditional and closed off interiors that hallmarked the early 20th century, the 1940’s saw the rise of a more open concept and modernist approach. A meditation of sorts on some of the trendy European and Bauhaus movements of its time, Mid-Century Modern employed the use of post and beam architecture that afforded designers the ability to completely open up floor plans sans bulky interior structural walls.

Here, centrally affixed within the ethos of Mid-Century Modern style, is the employment of one such proposal – the eponymous Sunken Living Room or Conversation Pit. Popularized by architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard for their seminal work on the Miller House in 1958, the feature went mainstream as a primary set piece for the Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960’s thus cementing its place in household foundations.

An elegant spatial solution to the unanticipated problem of open concept living, one that provides depth and definition to a room with no true borders. At its best the sunken living room cleverly delineates a space without destroying any sight lines while at its worst the room clumsily adorns the home like some forgotten regalia of yesteryear all the while asking its guests … to step down … into it.

Yes, its presence shows its age but we kind of like it that way. And its making a comeback.

This multilevelled kaleidoscope of good intention, brazen with its desire to facilitate intimate discussion is damn near prescriptive in a post pandemic world. While its delivery can run the gamut from the fantastical to the benign this is a feature worthy of additional consideration for what it can do for a home. Seamlessly blend flooring transitions, elongate roof lines, as well as add some needed retro panache to any property.

A key tenant to Mid-Century style is the delicate synthesis of form and function. A brilliant dance between need and want and there is just something so four dimensionally poetic about attempting to use a space to its full potential that we find inspiring.

So next time you see one feel free to pour yourself a drink and put on your favourite Al Green record, but please, just watch your step.