Think about a movie you love. Chances are you also love—or can at least vividly call to mind—the spaces in it. Can you see the main character’s bedroom? Kitchen? Living room? More often than we realize, the design of such spaces is densely packed with emotional information.
Perhaps no one is more keenly aware of this than Boryana Ilieva. For years now, the Bulgarian movie lover and architecturally minded artist has been exploring great design in great films, with great dedication to boot. Her exquisite Floor Plan Croissant project is an ever-expanding series of meticulous watercolors depicting the intimate residential spaces of beloved films like Parasite (whose production designer was the Oscar-nominated Lee Ha Jun), Roma (Oscar-nominated production designer Eugenio Caballero), and Call Me by Your Name (production designer Samuel Deshors). From film footage alone, Boryana draws then paints precise, vivid layouts. Her pieces are so evocative that the movies start playing in your mind.
Beyond inspired, A.frame connected with Boryana to learn more about her distinctive passion. From one movie lover to another, here is what she had to say.
If you’d like to get your hands on Floor Plan Croissant’s artwork, you can: 1) purchase original watercolors through her website 2) buy prints on Society6 or 3) subscribe to her monthly film postcard membership on Patreon. We won’t judge you if you do all three.
You’re both a movie lover and the co-founder of an architectural studio. This makes perfect sense, but not everyone finds a way to so gracefully merge two of their passions, as you’ve done with Floor Plan Croissant. When did you first start dreaming up this project? Was there a certain movie that sparked this journey for you?
One day, the good movies I had seen became too many. In 2015, I was so overwhelmed with feelings for the crushing films of Michael Haneke, David Lynch, Paolo Sorrentino, and Lars von Trier, and new masterpieces were continuously coming out, so I had to start unloading the emotions. If I were a musician, I would have written songs, but I was an architect, and the language I knew was that of houses. The particular films that cracked the process were Amour by Haneke and Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev. The Paris apartment and the gorgeous Moscow condo almost arranged themselves room by room one night in my head. The next morning, I grabbed my pencil and started scratching on a paper, and this was the beginning.
What makes a movie space worth drawing?
The film should have provoked strong emotions in me. If it stays in my thoughts for days, if I torture people around me to see it in order to have someone to talk to about it, then I paint it. Thus I liberate myself from it.
It’s a bonus if in the film there is an interior space which people didn’t pay attention to, but I saw great potential in.
Once you’ve decided on a film space, what’s your approach to creating? How many times do you have to watch a movie or scene to get it right?
I watch segments of a film tens of times. Every time, I look for something different—a color, a detail, a piece of furniture—and most often I find it. Apart from that, sometimes I discover things I didn’t expect. Multiple viewings of a movie never cease to deliver nice surprises.
How do you see your pieces adding to a viewer’s appreciation of a movie?
After I painted the house in Call Me by Your Name, people started writing to me how excited they were to have realized what a long way Elio walked when his nose bled—from the freezer where he grabbed the frozen chicken to the small dark niche where he hid. Plus, it took quite the same long time for Oliver to find Elio hiding there. You can’t feel distances in films, especially with the cuts, but the architectural floor plan gives you that information, and this adds to the emotions.
In general, I was a little shocked when an Italian girl wrote to me during the lockdown: “In this difficult moment for Italy, when we are forced to stay at home, seeing your paintings makes me open my eyes to the beauty that four walls can enclose.” Maybe my project succeeded in transcending the film magic into real life through architecture. I was touched.
What are your thoughts on the work of film art directors and production designers? How do you think designing a space for film differs from one for real life?
When you design a space for a film, you don’t think about pipes, insulation, cables. You are creating pure art, pure architecture. Walter Gropius said it the best: “Architecture begins where engineering ends.”
Since the lockdown began in March and the whole world stayed home, a film and theater designer from the U.S. (Alexander Whittenberg) had the idea to grab some of the biggest production designers working today and give them the mic on his Creative Quarantine YouTube channel. So I watched all of them, including K.K. Barrett (Lost in Translation, Her, Being John Malkovich), the Pixar production designer Ralph Eggleston (Finding Nemo, Inside Out), and many others. I was always astonished by the presence of those magicians—simultaneously peaceful, wise, and yet there was some appealing madness in their eyes.
In what ways has the project changed the way you watch movies, even casually? How about the way you see spaces in everyday life?
I’ve developed the sharpest eye for interior details in movies, and I often can construct the plan of the film apartment in my thoughts right after the film, usually in bed in the dark right before falling asleep. I can’t say if this is a good thing. I want to believe that my architectural awareness doesn’t steal from my emotional sensitivity of the film. I want to believe it’s the opposite.
In everyday life, I am regularly in a movie. It’s enough to install my headphones, and the soundtrack is on. It’s a pleasant curse sometimes.
Whether or not you’ve drawn them yet, what are the most awe-inspiring or impressively designed movies you’ve ever seen?
The home of Deckard in Blade Runner 2049—this palatial sunburnt dwelling—still haunts me, especially when I know it’s a real existing building not very far from me (two borders [away in Hungary] and 770 km). Apart from that, I am in awe of every single frame of footage in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni. The reason these films are so mystical is that the directors shot on real locations. They visited this street or that town and saw poetry in it. And they teach us all to use our eyes for the surrounding world in the same way. Antonioni shot L'Avventura on a naked rocky island and had the nightmare of his life. He eventually started hating the sea, he wrote. Tarkovsky shot Stalker in a real chemical industrial abandoned area and gave his life for it. These things impress and inspire me.
Which of your pieces has been the most difficult to create?
The octagonal house in mother! [production designer Philip Messina] was difficult to assemble because the interior was, most of the time, like a carousel behind Jennifer Lawrence’s face, but the result was rewarding.
The hardest part for any film house painting is always in the beginning, when I struggle to assemble the floor plan in 2D with a pencil and rubber. There are several projects that I have repeatedly abandoned and then started again from scratch. The Paris apartment in The Dreamers [Oscar-nominated production designer Jean Rabasse] is such a project. The practice taught me that whenever the director and the production designer cheated in the floor plan—for example, a character enters a false door—then my project is probably doomed. For comparison, sketching the floor plan of the ground level of the house in Parasite was a butter-smooth process. Such a pleasure.
What kinds of responses have you gotten from customers? Are any of your floor plans especially popular? We have a feeling it might be the ones from Parasite …
The responses are positive. I am more than happy to have built a platform for discussions with cinephiles and people of design. These types of people don’t necessarily cross paths in life, but below in the comments, they do. Of course, what unites them in the first place is the common emotions a movie provoked in them. Some of the most beloved for discussions are Parasite and Call Me by Your Name.
Do you have any tips for artists (of any kind!) who are considering taking a leap on a new or risky project?
Prepare for the disappearance of many friends in your life (the non-supportive ones). Prepare for rearrangement of your values in a way that some people won’t understand (and eventually vanish from your life, too). Prepare for 24/7 heaven and hell rotating, which I think I might pаrаphrase to “being alive.”
What movie floor plans are you eyeing next?
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Charlie Kaufman [production designer Molly Hughes] is what’s coming as a painting in the nearest future. I am also curious about the next film from Wes Anderson, and, in the far future, I am excited about anything coming out from Hirokazu Kore-eda. In 2020, when we almost didn’t have new films, I learned to look far back towards the ’60s and ’70s, and it’s been so warm and comfortable there. In August, I saw (and painted) the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, and I want to do the same with Ingmar Bergman’s body of work. I am moved by the idea of drawing his home on the island Fårö, where he shot his film Persona in 1966.
Are there any other cinema-centric artists you admire that we should know about?
I follow the beautiful film posters that @doyrivative (Akiko Stehrenberger) paints. There is also @idrawfilms, who draws film details while watching the film. The result is pretty charming and insane.