Back in the late 1950s, there was hardly a blueprint around that did not include specifications for a large, shallow hole to be sunk into the living-room floor. That, as the architect told it, was the conversation pit. Its ostensible purpose: to create, in the vast tundra of the "living-dining-play area," a separate denlike arena that could either remain distinct or be absorbed at party time into the whole. There, while others went about frivolously at ground level, the more serious-minded could step down to form a sort of basement discussion group. Nontalkative families tucked pillows and blankets into it, called it a rest area. Some put the barbecue there, achieving a pit-within-a-pit effect. There seemed no end to the pit's potential.
But whatever the activity delegated to the area, there were dangers inherent in its design. At cocktail parties, late-staying guests tended to fall in. Those in the pit found themselves bombarded with bits of hors d'oeuvrcs from up above, looked out on a field of trouser cuffs, ankles and shoes. Ladies shied away from the edges, fearing up-skirt exposure. Bars or fencing of sorts had to be constructed to keep dogs and children from daily concussions.
Today, few homebuilders are insisting on conversation pits, and a remedy has been found for homeowners discontented with the ones they have. A few cubic-yards of concrete and a couple of floor boards will do the trick. No one will ever know what once lay beneath.