Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Step-down living rooms


I've been working on a house that has a step-down living room. A feature in many early 20th century homes and historic ones as well, the step down or sunken living room seems to have fallen out of favor (I even had a hard time finding images to share!). I think, however, that the step down living room provides a great hint of glamour and interest to a home, what do you think? Generally these are 1 or perhaps 2 steps of 4" each, nothing major. Everyone knows descending a staircase is the best way to make an entrance -most houses in movies feature a step down into the main space for this very reason. How else could Joan Crawford or Bette Davis enter a party with a splash? For instance, the home from the movie 'the holiday' which Cote de Texas recently featured (seen above) is worth of a movie-star entrance.
Of course the reason this feature is not regularly found is for practicality: accessibility and ease of structural building (read $$). I feel however it's such an easy way to get a taller ceiling in a room and also provides access to a terrace and is a wise place to spend a little $ for a lot of style. I found this rather unattractive room below doing a google search above -however, the step down living room was listed as a selling point! Return on investment!

18 comments:

the sweet life with olives said...

I actually have a step down living room... and come to think of it I've seen them a lot here in Rome. When we first bought this house it was a major source of discussion and planning problems. Not an easy feature these days, but the finished result now that it's all renovated is very nice and creates a nice feeling of movement. Only difficult for kids who tend to tumble a lot but at least it's only a few steps! I happen to have a picture of an original 70's super hipster step down living room with green carpet and built in furniture... if you want I can email you pics?

Cote de Texas said...

I hope we'll get to see your project!!! I remember when step down living rooms were the norm - we had one in our soft contemporary house growing up!!

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention step-downs. The hotel suite I stayed in this past week is a step-down. You enter the room, there is a closet, mirror and bathroom, then you step down into the sitting/bed area. It almost killed my travel companion: he missed the steps, stumbled and flung his bag across the room before regaining his footing. Wonder if Joan ever tripped down her own stairs? :)

Anonymous said...

I have a step down livingroom in my own home. I have always loved it. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed your take on a subject few comment on. rms vickydarnell

Kathleen said...

The room in the last photo has potential. Start by taking out all the furnishings.

ArchitectDesign said...

Olives, please send me the picture, I would love to see it!
Anon, considering the times, I'm sure Joan stumbled drunk down stairs all the time!
Kathleen, you are surely an optimist.....but i'm a believer that you can make anyplace beautiful -so I'm game!

Edi Style said...

I like them. Especially if books are neatly piled. It comes in handy at the holidays as well.

Great Dame said...

I'm a landscape architect, and one of our current projects is a garden design for a northern French style house with a step-down living room. This one is about 12" below the main level of the first floor, and the living room doors open onto a loggia with minimal thresholds. It's fun because the room is generously sized, but not too grand, and with the LR on basically the same level as the loggia, it all feels very connected to the garden.

David said...

I've been watching a house for sale here in Kansas City. It's a big tudor on a big lot in a great neighborhood.

It's got some odd things going on inside, some plaster work that's mediterranean in feel, and an 80's contemporary kitchen that makes my eyes bleed.

But there's a sunken living room with beamed ceilings, and for that I'd gladly deal with everything else.

design dossier said...

very true, I once came close to buying an apartment that had a step down living room in a beautiful art deco building...the steps make for great "chatting" spots during large gatherings too, all that extra seating..

tagged you!

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Billy Baldwin had a step-down living room in his first New York apartment.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Also, don't you find step-down living rooms SO Loretta Young?

ArchitectDesign said...

AAL, I think I've seen pictures of his apartment. I'm not surprised -those were the times! And they ARE Loretta Young ;-)
DD, I've seen these features a lot in Art Deco style buildings - architects then liked to play in section rather than in plan.

katiedid said...

I hadn't really alot about this device before, but it is quite a wonderful way to add a bit of drama! I appreciate it being called to my attention!

Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

I have always, since I was a little girl, wanted a step-down living room. Never had one, though!

Alex said...

Can you imagine Bette Davis saying, "Buckle your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night" standing anywhere but the stairs up from the sunken living room? It just wouldn't be the same!

Anonymous said...

I have a step down living room room in my co-op in NYC. Most of the apartments in my 1941 building do. But, I've noticed some of the apartments are missing the second step. Why would anyone take it out? It makes the one step just a little too big to be comfortable...

Seattle Architect said...

I think it does add a lot of style. My pet-peeve is when it's down only one step though. One step is a trip hazard! If you are going to do a sunken room, make it at least two steps.