The sunken living room may be making a bit of a comeback—but is it a trend just anyone should try? We asked four design experts.

By Lauren Phillips
November 08, 2018
Richard Powers/ArcaidImages/Getty Images

Anyone perusing home design blogs and websites or scrolling through the design-forward corners of Instagram may have seen a growing number of pictures of sunken living rooms or conversation pits—seating and gathering spaces that are slightly (or a few feet) below the rest of a large, open room. Sunken living rooms were popular a few decades ago but slowly appeared less and less often in new homes, and now some might argue that the design trend is making a comeback.

But is it really? And, more importantly, is it a trend just anyone can try, considering it introduces a major architectural feature to a home (and thus requires quite a bit of construction work)? Real Simple asked four design experts for their opinions on the sunken living room or conversation pit look—and got mixed reviews.

Austin, Texas–based designer Maureen Stevens was the most enthusiastic about the trend. “I, for one, am a big fan of sunken living rooms,” she says. “I think it creates a distinction between one space to another without the need for actual walls.”

Kate Arends of design site Wit & Delight notes that sunken living rooms add visual interest to large, open floor plans by breaking up the space, and Christie Leu, of Maryland-based Christie Leu Interiors, grew up with one.

“We had a sunken living room in a traditional home. The effect is similar to a higher ceiling—it makes the room feel more expansive in comparison to the adjacent rooms,” she says.

Edyta Czajkowska of Chicago-based interior design firm EDYTA & CO. says she sees sunken living rooms in lots of mid-century homes. “It can feel like one of the coolest elements in your home, but you have to do it right,” she says.

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Doing sunken living rooms well was one of the primary concerns among the design experts—they’re tricky to add to existing homes and can sometimes look outdated.

“Architecturally and build-wise, it has to be done in the right location and for the right reason,” Stevens says. “For example, it’s kind of a no-brainer, but if your new build is in a flood zone, it may not be a great idea to do this.”

Even if a home already has the feature built-in, decorating sunken living rooms—especially ones built to be conversation pits, or those with atypical shapes—can be costly.

“Whenever you do something like that, you probably have to do custom furnishings,” Czajkowska says. “You have to get a sectional that fits perfectly.”

There are other concerns, too.

“I have small kids, so I kind of view it as not something that is super practical,” Arends says. “I think that there are easier ways to add that architectural element than to have it be sunken in.”

Leu has a similar concern with the practicality of such a space. “The downside is that steps can be tricky for young children and older adults,” she says.

So, should you start looking up sunken living room ideas? It depends.

Czajkowska sums it up well: “There’s a place for everything. It’s something that is very taste-specific—it’s something that you have to think about: Is it right for you and your home?”