Let’s Make a Pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957

One of the stories in David Sedaris’ Naked is about his Greek grandmother. At one point, she is moved into a high-rise complex for the elderly. Sedaris describes his visits:

I enjoyed pretending that this was my apartment and that Ya Ya was just visiting. “This is where I’ll be putting the wet bar,” I’d say pointing to her shabby dinette set. “The movie projector will go in the corner beside the shrine, and we’ll knock down the dividing wall to build a conversation pit.” “Okay,” Ya Ya would say, staring at her folded hands. “You make a pit.”

When I read this, my first thought was of the conversation pit at the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. Eero Saarinen designed the house in 1957, Dan Kiley designed the ground-breaking (no pun intended) modern landscape, and Alexander Girard designed the interiors. Of course, the house is a masterpiece of modern architecture and design. The interplay between the sleek and hand made folk art is remarkable, and the breakdown of the interior versus exterior space is elegant. But, I can’t stop thinking about that pit. When you are in there do you see everyone’s shoes when the move out of the pit? Does it promote licentious voyeurism from the ground level up? Do you set your drink on the floor/edge of the sofa? I ponder these questions. And there is something about conversation pits that screams “Key Party.” Maybe I won’t dig that hole in my living room.

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, from exterior

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, from exterior, Photographer Ezra Stoller. © Ezra Stoller/Esto

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, the pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, the pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, dining room

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, dining room

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, hall

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, hall

Miller House exterior

Miller House exterior

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5 Responses to “Let’s Make a Pit”

  1. marian bantjes Says:

    A few years ago when I saw the Girard show at The Cooper Hewitt, they had a conversation “pit” (except that it was raised due to the fact they weren’t willing to dig a hole in the floor of the museum), and I have to admit I fell in love with it immediately. I began to give serious consideration to constructing one of my own, but alas, carving holes in floors is more complex than you might imagine. But if I ever get to build my own house, rest assured it will have a conversation pit, and i will invite you over for lovely conversations! No keys required.

  2. Nancy Bernard Says:

    Funny how good design, even when it incorporates all the trendy tropes of an era, stands up. This reminds me of a hippy house we saw in the early 90s which had everything you’d expect in a hippy house, but was still beautiful and charming in the just-post-Memphis-Design age.

  3. Sean Says:

    Nancy, are you sure that wasn’t the strange movie with Bette Midler and Danny Devito and the Memphis house?

  4. Sean Says:

    We could hang out in the pit and discuss sophisticated issues like existentialism, or children’s beauty pageants.

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