As in conversation pits, that is: architectural elements that first appeared in the 1960s. A conversation pit is a sunken area of floor, frequently in front of or surrounding a fireplace where people got together to talk. Sometimes it is hard to understand the enthusiasms of a previous generation but the conversation pit is beginning to look very attractive again, at least to me. However, conversation pits are of their time and it'll be the brave architectural student who suggests resurrecting them. They really are one of the curiosities of 1960s interior design.
Other than the date on a magazine cover and some poor quality printing, what makes a decorating scheme seem of its time? I mentioned the delving of conversation pits (this house was built in 1961), thickets of tropical plants indicate the 1970s, as does feverishly strong color. Texture plaguing every surface especially of textiles was common during that decade, as was an elephantine swelling of upholstery forms. The migration of mirror from frame to wall to ceiling was a 1970s phenomenon - as ceilings became increasingly an area for elaboration. The integration of technology and lighting into architectural and decorative schemes was a developing and clearly exciting area for designers - in fact, a new profession, that of lighting designer, began during these years.
Drama as a decorative quality was seemingly much sought after by the designers of the 1970s, and that some residential interiors share that quality with hotels of the period can be no accident.
Admittedly this is an 18,000 square foot house, with at least six separate areas for entertaining, but look at the two photos below. Described as a library, this space with its own conversation pit facing the television and wine collection, under-lighted furniture and up-lighted planting could equally be perceived as part of an large hotel lobby, hushed and softly glowing.
The bedroom with its own foyer, dressing area, bath lounge with ocean view, sunken whirlpool bath, and console from which everything electrical - draperies, television, music, even the outdoor jacuzzi - could be controlled.
The short description of the decorator, Stephen Chase, gives a peek at the fashions of the time:
"Richly tanned and wearing a quasi military outfit with green and scarlet epaulets. Mr Chase appears more like a young Field Marshal Alexander of Tunis than an interior designer. His tan, it must be noted, is not from Palm Springs or Los Angeles but from the tropical sun of Hawaii."
Photos by Fritz Taggart from Architectural Digest, July/August 1974.