From living rooms and kitchens to patios and ’70s-inspired conversation pits, there are myriad ways to make use of sunken spaces.

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Letting in the light, blurring the boundaries between inside and out, and creating communal areas to gather with family and friends are almost always at the top of homeowner priority lists when it comes to renovating. But adding a box-like, open-plan living, dining and kitchen area isn’t always the way to go. As you’ll see from the houses below, a sunken room can not only make for a far more interesting home, it can also bring people together. And sometimes it just makes the best design sense.

1. In-Between Rooms

Locating a sunken kitchen between two rectangular volumes achieved two aims in this house. Architect Marmol Radziner designed it to maximize available space and to create additional opportunities for indoor-outdoor flow. Two offset rectangles sit at either end of the narrow site, and the kitchen serves as the bridge that unites the two. The design effectively splits the home into thirds.The dining nook—on the same level as the kitchen—turns the zone into a spot for socializing; the home was designed for a young family and is located on a large landscaped site. Sinking the kitchen also opened it up to views of the pool and garden beyond.

2. Space Saver

Apartment dwelling is on the rise as cities encourage higher-density living over urban sprawl, but creativity is often needed to deliver the needs and wants of the homeowner within a confined footprint.Split-level dwellings can make the most of the available space. In this apartment on the ground floor, sinking the kitchen allowed for a mezzanine level overhead for extra living space.The floor of the living area sits level with the kitchen countertops. Sealing off the kitchen with a glass wall keeps things hygienic without isolating the two rooms from one another.

3. Designed for Comfort

Sinking a living room “pit” below floor level creates an inviting, ultra-comfortable place to hang out in this beach house, and doing so also provides bench seating much of the way around the room. Designed for architect Rachel Nolan of Kennedy Nolan and her young family, the pit edge is wide enough to house a futon—her favourite spot to take an afternoon nap.The sunken living area has been carpeted for extra coziness, while the adjoining dining-kitchen area has polished concrete underfoot. Like the rest of the home, the living area is simple and sparsely furnished, designed for relaxed family weekends spent doing not much at all.

4. Feeling Groovy

Conversation pits were all the rage in the ’70s, so the owners of this penthouse apartment above a cafe in embraced the decor of the decade to go with their sunken space. They chose white leather and shag carpet for the conversation pit they’d requested as part of a wider renovation. Located in the parents’ retreat, it was designed to enable the couple to have their friends over without disturbing their twin babies.

5. All Lit Up

Sunken spaces aren’t restricted to the indoors, of course. Sinking circular garden beds into the soil enables your backyard to become a work of art both day and night, with the help of lighting.

6. Split-Level Lounging

The three zones of this outdoor area have been divided into clearly defined spaces: an outdoor kitchen (complete with pizza oven), a dining space and a lounge area. Dropping the lounge area down a level turns it into its own welcoming escape.Cushioned hardwood bench seating surrounding a wood-burning fireplace makes the area entertaining-ready all year round, and there’s even a built-in icebox to keep chilled drinks within arm’s reach.

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