My neighbor's groovy "conversation pit" perfectly preserved from 1974


201011181347 During a recent trip to my New Jersey hometown, I had a chance to revisit the "Conversation Pit" located in the basement of the house next door to where I grew up.

The Pit (as we called it) is quite literally unchanged since the day it was completed in 1974 -- original pillows, hanging basket chairs, groovy wall graphics, foam-padded lounge areas, stainless-steel mobile, track lights, and all.  As kids, we were never allowed to play in The Pit, lest we soil the pristine white shag with our grubby little paws. We always wondered what the adults did in there, and our banishment only added to the mystery.

Anyhow, during my visit, my neighbor mentioned she was considering the idea of remodeling The Pit. This triggered howls of protest both from her own daughter, and from me.  I threatened to alert the Smithsonian Institution of The Pit's existence. "If you go ahead with the remodel," I warned, "The Smithsonian will slap you with a Historic Landmark designation so fast it'll make your lava lamp bubble over."

She laughed, then relented. The current plan is to "restore" the pit by simply replacing the carpet, and leaving it at that. Whew!

My Neighbor's Basement Conversation Pit


  1. Ah, the conversation pit. The house we bought in 1976 actually had one built-in; *as part of the standard floorplan*!. It was amazing. I note that your neighbor’s seems to lack a wet bar, which, to my childhood imagination, seemed a critical component of ours.

    1. edgore, excellent point about the wet bar. I’m happy to report there is also a wet bar in this basement, just down the hall from the Conversation Pit, and right in front of the very schwanky pool table.

  2. That very clean, very white, carpet is original!? I’m impressed with that alone.

    The truly fabulous wall decor is just a bonus.

      1. Oh you kids… blow was so ‘8s. In the ’70s, we smoked a ton of pot and did too much acid.

        But where’s the shag carpet and the bong?

        1. I hear you. I just couldn’t imagine having any kind of fun trapped in that room on acid with a bunch of other people.

          And white carpet just didn’t fit the pot vibe to me. It seems like the bong stains and burn marks would be a problem.

  3. A kid in my neighbourhood had a basement lair that looked a lot like this, except very, very silver. His mother, I suspect, fancied herself a cutting-edge interior designer. At the top of the stairs there was a sign that read, in huge silver appliqué wall lettering, “Teen Scene,” with a gorgeous black-and-silver zig-zaggy arrow pointing down the steps.

    If you were a teen wanting to make the scene, you followed that arrow. Oh yes you did.

  4. That is awesome. It reminds me of the film The Ice Storm. Flashback to the ’70s when people cared about personal actualization, not monetization. Simpler times.

  5. I would prefer that set-up over conventional overstuffed sofas and sectionals any day. Even the flower power wallpaper is OK by me.

    White shag carpeting, on the other hand, belongs only in a museum…behind glass.

  6. Yes, for heaven’s sake don’t destroy it now! It’s taken decades to go from fashionable to hideous and now back up to amusing historical ironic status.

    It reminds me of an article I saw in a home decorating magazine from around 1962. A couple had bought an old Victorian in the Haight-Ashbury, and decided to modernize the exterior. So they ripped off all the fussy old-fashioned decoration and put up nice, modern, streamlined aluminum siding. If they’d waited just a few years, they’d have known how foolish that idea was. No doubt it’s now the least attractive and valuable house on the block today.

    1. I once saw a home improvement book from the fifties, detailing how to turn “outdated” paneled doors into “modern” smooth-faced doors. My parents and I laughed and laughed: they’d just spent thousands replacing all the smooth-faced doors in their house (built in 1958) with paneled ones.

      Dated or not, that “conversation pit” looks like a great place to hang out.

  7. Uhm…are there… you know… “security cameras” in each of these pictures? Seriously, what’s with the spooky-as-hell built in surveillance system in this “conversation room”?

    1. Naturally, you’d want to record the “conversations” so that you could watch them over and over and over.

  8. This is neat! But I love the fact kids were not allowed to play in what is essentially a playroom. Design fascism melded with baby boomer narcism!

  9. Granted, the color scheme is a bit…off, but I love the idea behind these spaces.

    It’s organized around people talking to each other, sitting and stretching out at will. The focus is on conversation, not staring at a screen.

    Go into (too) many people’s homes and their living room is set up to worship a big screen. We just had a party and a number of guests asked where our TV was, confused that our living space was set up so people could chat, not watch.

    Long live the pit!

  10. The house in New Jersey that I bought in the early 1980s came with a sort of rustic tiki bar in the basement and a picture of Bruce Springsteen painted on the wall. And the next spring a marijuana plant appeared next to the garage, where the previous owners’ kids used to smoke.

    Nowhere near as cool as that groovy wallpaper, though.

  11. I never knew what it was called, but there was one in my childhood too. My grandmother was the personal assistant to a prima ballerina in Palm Beach. Everything in that room was stark white, even the accessories on the book cases above the conversation pit.

  12. I had one of these in my old basement in Prince George- except it was themed blue. It had a fantastic wet bar complete with large mirrors everywhere and a stage. We discovered it also had a working sound system, small disco ball, and (my favorite part) a Black Light.
    I didn’t know they were called ‘Conversation Pits’ though. More of a ‘Party Pit’ for my house. :D

  13. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some old “conversation” films that were filmed there. Looks like swinger heaven, not that I would know, of course.

  14. gotta keep the shag, unless of course it’s replaced by new shag :) I’m mean seriously, what else could do that room justice???

  15. I love this. I must have this. Truly a treasure. Perfect for group sex, or a 16 hour DnD session, or both!

  16. Wow! I really liked this kind of thing when I was a kid, can’t understand why it went out of style. Last summer I found a hanging basket chair exactly like the one in the picture – it now hangs in my rural retreat, where there is also a cable spool table…

  17. This just made me feel so much better about my late parents’ house which I’ve recently moved into (built 1964, my parents were original owners). More specifically, the sunken family room (& den) on the first floor, which with its brick fireplace and wood-paneled wall, is suddenly looking better. Thankfully it’s just hardwood flooring with a rug… not that my sinuses (or my design sensibility) could handle shag carpeting.

  18. Wow. I briefly had custody of one of those hanging wicker chairs. Excellent for meditation, as long as your ceiling anchor is well secured.

  19. Just shows you:Only those of us who survived the 1970s realize just how horribly silly that entire decade really was.

  20. my GOD, it is a thing of beauty! I love good interior design from the 1970s. The problem is that most of it merely existed in magazines and mansions. I wish this room was in MY house – I wouldn’t want to remodel it either. What a perfect place to hang out, play some PONG, or maybe have a key party.

    Okay, for realsies, I want it simply for playing video games. It looks like it would be a wicked cool home theater, too.

  21. Post these photos on Pottery Barn Teen, sit back and wait for the orders to fly! Just redid my tweens room… would love the hanging basket chair and wallpaper.. it’s coming back!!!
    Seriously have some great memories from that Pit, from Mud Man, to … what was that board game we used to play?…
    Restore.. don’t redo!!! and that shag does look darn good for the use it got over the years…

  22. I don’t recall conversations in the “Conversation Pit”……but do recall vividly heated arguments with The Dan about the ERA Amendment and women’s rights……he LOVED these!!! Me? I just had another glass of wine!

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