Removing Your Sunken or Raised Living Room From Your 1970's OC Home

Oh the joys of the sunken living room. I believe this was 1970’s architects’ attempt to create some interest in their design. But for us interior designers trying to simplify and maximize unnecessarily complicated floor plans, these sunken or raised living spaces can be a major bummer. They limit the size and type of furniture you can use in a space and limit how you can use the room.

Fortunately you can actually fill in your sunken living room for a reasonable investment. The price tag is approximately $5,000 +/- depending on your actual square footage. Keep in mind that this doesn’t factor in the cost for new flooring, but if you are already considering upgrading your carpet to hardwood this could be the perfect time to update those sunken 70’s living room vibes as well.

In the case of our Mission Viejo home, it was a raised living room that was two steps up from the rest of the first floor. Along the perimeter of the raised area was an iron railing so that you wouldn’t fall off the platform…super classy. When we bought the house we assumed/hoped/prayed it was framed with wood and easily removed, but no. This was the beginning of a very long list of unfortunate surprises during our remodel. Instead, the raised platform was actually 10” of dirt with a 4” layer of concrete on top which connected to the outer footing and stem wall. There were a slew of other things that we had modify after we removed the raised living room (i.e. the stairs which connected to the top of the platform and the fireplace) but the cost to jackhammer it out, connect new rebar to the existing foundation and pour new concrete was $12,500.

When I got bids for the job this was by far the most reasonable and it was one of those times when, as I watched it all unfold over the next two weeks, I wondered if I was paying them enough because it was CRAZY how much work (and dust) went into the whole thing. Once it was gone our living room felt about 1,000 times bigger. Worth. Every. Penny.

We used Professional Foundation Repair based out of Garden Grove in Orange County. I recommend them to my interior design clients whenever a similar project comes up. Visit their website and get their contact info here: professinoalfoundationrepair.com

Now for a few before and after photos of our space…

BEFORE  I don’t have the best before photos of this angle, but the front door is to the right of this photo. You can see the edge of the platform to the right - the previous owner took out part of the railing. Notice the original wood burning fireplace sits on the bottom of the platform.

BEFORE

I don’t have the best before photos of this angle, but the front door is to the right of this photo. You can see the edge of the platform to the right - the previous owner took out part of the railing. Notice the original wood burning fireplace sits on the bottom of the platform.

BEFORE  This is a very common floor plan in South Orange County, Mission Viejo specifically. The 70’s stairs connect to the platform. You can walk under the stairs (if you’re under the age of 12) and into the TINY dining room. There aren’t words for the awkwardness and inefficiency of this layout.

BEFORE

This is a very common floor plan in South Orange County, Mission Viejo specifically. The 70’s stairs connect to the platform. You can walk under the stairs (if you’re under the age of 12) and into the TINY dining room. There aren’t words for the awkwardness and inefficiency of this layout.

PROGRESS  Progress shot of the stairs. We had to have the stairs rebuilt before we got rid of the raised living room since they connected to the top of it.

PROGRESS

Progress shot of the stairs. We had to have the stairs rebuilt before we got rid of the raised living room since they connected to the top of it.

PROGRESS  Filling in the slab and leveling it out - after two weeks of jack hammering and a 27” layer of dust throughout the house.

PROGRESS

Filling in the slab and leveling it out - after two weeks of jack hammering and a 27” layer of dust throughout the house.

AFTER  Everyone who I told I was changing the stairs to run straight down instead of coming out into the room was seriously opposed to the idea, with the exception of my husband (who knows better than to question my design judgement). No one could quite catch the vision, but that is precisely why you should hire (and TRUST) a good interior designer…they see things in ways that most people can’t and get you the absolute most out of your space. Here we achieved a beautiful simplistic focal point right when you walk in the front door as well as ample space for a long dining table (could easily fit 12 people) and a spacious living room. If we were to create a grand curved staircase or even wrap it around in another way we would have been taking up precious real estate in my favorite room in the house. Not to mention the stairs end right at the entrance to the kitchen. And let’s be honest… when I’m coming downstairs that is always my first stop :)

AFTER

Everyone who I told I was changing the stairs to run straight down instead of coming out into the room was seriously opposed to the idea, with the exception of my husband (who knows better than to question my design judgement). No one could quite catch the vision, but that is precisely why you should hire (and TRUST) a good interior designer…they see things in ways that most people can’t and get you the absolute most out of your space. Here we achieved a beautiful simplistic focal point right when you walk in the front door as well as ample space for a long dining table (could easily fit 12 people) and a spacious living room. If we were to create a grand curved staircase or even wrap it around in another way we would have been taking up precious real estate in my favorite room in the house. Not to mention the stairs end right at the entrance to the kitchen. And let’s be honest… when I’m coming downstairs that is always my first stop :)

AFTER  The fireplace used to sit on the bottom of the raised platform, now the original wood burning firebox sits about 14” off the ground. We could have added a hearth underneath, but I am really into these minimalist plaster fireplaces right now and was stoked I had the perfect reason to do one here. The asymmetrical art shelves and 13’ long built in sofa cover up what was left of the stem wall that couldn’t be removed. I wanted the solution to look very intentional.

AFTER

The fireplace used to sit on the bottom of the raised platform, now the original wood burning firebox sits about 14” off the ground. We could have added a hearth underneath, but I am really into these minimalist plaster fireplaces right now and was stoked I had the perfect reason to do one here. The asymmetrical art shelves and 13’ long built in sofa cover up what was left of the stem wall that couldn’t be removed. I wanted the solution to look very intentional.

AFTER  When in Orange County one must have a Dutch Door. It should be part of the building code :) We changed the standard 80” high door out for an eight footer. It accentuates the awesome height of the space - which is one of my favorite features in the house - but also one that was totally diminished by the weird raised living room.

AFTER

When in Orange County one must have a Dutch Door. It should be part of the building code :) We changed the standard 80” high door out for an eight footer. It accentuates the awesome height of the space - which is one of my favorite features in the house - but also one that was totally diminished by the weird raised living room.