Sunken Living Rooms – Is This Right For You?
Sunken living rooms – a statement space that draws its fair share of controversy, dividing homeowners between those that love and hate it. Opinions aside, this fun home feature first became popular during the 60s and 70s, aiming to give more intimate spaces for social gatherings in the home. They thrived for nearly 20 years, before abruptly falling out of fashion. Nowadays, the trend has resurged in some modern homes and with so many older homes featuring this sunken space, you’re guaranteed to come across them on home tours. So what exactly is a sunken living room and is this fun and funky space right for you? Let’s find out.
What is a sunken living room?
Today, you’ll typically find sunken living rooms in mid-century modern homes or brand new contemporary ultra-sleek builds. Also known as a conversation pit, sunken living rooms are a slightly lower “sunken” area of the home that usually houses the living area. Sunken living rooms used to be a popular home staple but eventually fell out of popularity.
However, there are still homeowners that look for this blast from the past trend. If you own a home with these sunken rooms, there are plenty of ways to create an aesthetically pleasing sunken space in your home. They can be perfect for a variety of purposes, beyond a standard living room. Or if you’re buying a new build, you may want to consider adding this cozy feature to your home.
The advantages of a sunken living room
Many see this space as outdated, but there are advantages to having a sunken room regardless of if you’re living in Dallas, TX, or renting a home in Charlotte, NC. Let’s take a look at the benefits of these spaces whether you’re a homeowner or renter.
Sunken rooms create an intimate area
Sunken living rooms are known for giving your home a cozy space for social gatherings. “The benefit of a sunken living room is that it creates drama and intimacy in the space and can designate different areas of an open floor plan. Keep in mind that it may pose a slight safety hazard – beware of a trip and fall. Consider your situation and whether the risk is worth the reward in this case.” – Silver Rabbit
Gives open concept homes dimension
Another perk of this quirky space is they can give any open concept home layers. The few steps down will signal it’s a new space. “Sunken spaces, specifically living rooms, are great for defining the room from an open floor plan and creating a sense of coziness. It’s also a great way to give the living room some additional ceiling height, especially if you’re limited with living space above.” – Potts Design & Co.
Offers versatile space
Sunken living rooms can be decorated to suit all designs and purposes. Make this space your movie room, conversation room, or even a sunroom. The possibilities are endless, especially if you’re adding this space into a new build. Think outside the box on what a sunken space can be for you. Like any room, the decor will tell all. Are you going for a space that speaks to where it came from or where it’s going?
Things to consider before going full sunken
Adding a sunken living room to your current home may be difficult
Adding this home feature to your current home is a big project that requires you to alter the home’s weight-bearing structure. While this may prove to be difficult, it can still be done. If you love the look of sunken spaces, it’s best to buy a home that already has a sunken room or add it to a new build.
Planning is extremely important
“Make sure you think and pre-plan about what you want in your sunken living room because it will be permanent, and you will not likely be able to change much of it afterward because of the sunken slab. Plan and ensure you know exactly how many people you want to sit there, so you know the correct sizes and sizes of the sofa. A sunken living room is a cozy space, so sofa size and width are important. Also, check other permanent architectural features like views or a feature you want to have like a fireplace or electrical provisions for a TV.” – Architect Russell
A sunken living room may not add home value
If you’re looking for projects to increase your home value, a sunken living room may not be the best option. That said, there are still plenty of ways to make this home feature extremely attractive to homebuyers.
Sunken living room ideas
The sunken living room is a feature that can be decorated for the ages. Whether you’re looking for a deco, contemporary, modern, or groovy space, the design is really up to you.
Select furniture that completes your vision
Be selective when choosing furniture for your sunken living room. Taking proper measurements of your sunken space is an essential step in choosing the right furniture. In most sunken living rooms the statement piece will most likely be the couch. For example, a low couch will give the space an extreme sunken feel, while a bright color will make the space stand out. The furniture will help make the space pop, especially if you want your sunken room to be a statement in your home.
The right decor will define the space
A fun part of decorating your sunken living room is playing with the element of height. “A sunken living room creates the feeling of space and height, maybe a great family space. We recommend the design be cozy and inviting.” – Eddie Design and Remodeling
The best part of creating the vibe for your sunken living room is that the options are endless. “Flameless fire pits are a great way to highlight an indoor space. Most of them run on electricity and water vapor. They are safe and add an amazing amount of ambiance. Try going with a darker floor and lighter walls will warm up the space – a great look to go with is a darker porcelain faux wood plank flooring. Most of them look very similar to real wood and will last you a lifetime. Also, consider a decorative wall tile to enhance the space as well.” – Stone Age Tile
Update your sunken living room to feel more modern
If you already have a sunken living room in your home, there are so many ways to elevate your space. Consider ways to give the space a new feel, like new furniture and new decor, and create a vibe around what you use the room for. You can create a sunken movie room space with dim lighting, oversized couches, and surround sound. Or consider a minimalist approach utilizing available natural light if you’re looking for a bright space
“Sunken living rooms are a classic element of the past that can be updated by using downlighting and natural fabrics. The center of the seating area can have a modern transparent glass coffee table. This will open up the space and give it a modern touch.” – Gileta Design
Are sunken living rooms for you?
A sunken living room is a unique home feature that can feel like a destination. For homeowners that have an existing sunken room, elevating this space will only make it better. There are countless ways to get design inspiration whether you’re looking for cozy sunken rooms or a modern and minimalistic conversation pit. For new home builders, consider adding this living space to your home to give it something special, especially if you’re working with an open floor plan.
TWA Terminal Photo by Brett Weinstein
Russell M. Henderson is a practicing RIBA Chartered Architect based in Tanzania, East Africa.
The photography is by Russell M. Henderson
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